Structuring a Strength Training Program – for Amateurs

Beginning strength training and lifting weights can be daunting. The aim of this article is to simplify the steps you need to take to get started. If you are still not confident with starting strength training, reach out to a suitably qualified exercise professional for help.

Set achievable goals:

When starting a strength training program, it is important to first outline what your goals are and what you want to achieve. This may vary from the day-to-day worker to the athletic population. For example, an AFL footballer will do a lot more strength work centred around explosiveness in the legs, whereas a middle-aged man might just be working on overall strength to maintain his day to day function and help manage his weight.
Set your own goals for your training or see a qualified exercise professional such as a physiotherapist, exercise physiologist or exercise scientist to help you set achievable goals.

How often should I do strength training?

At least twice per week is ideal. If you are training twice per week, it may be best to focus on doing “full-body” sessions. This would include a combination of upper body, lower body, and “core” based exercises.
If you train three times per week, it may to best to split your sessions into 1x lower body, 1x upper body, and 1x full body sessions.
If you train 4x per week, it may be worth doing 2x lower body plus 2x upper body sessions.

What muscles should I train?

In order to get burn the most energy and build the most muscle, it is best to train your larger muscle groups, such as: The gluteals, quads and hamstrings, calves (lower body). And the shoulders, upper back, pectorals (upper body). A good way to hit a majority of these muscles in one exercise is by doing compound exercises, such as deadlifts, back squats, bench press & hip thrusts.

How heavy should I lift?

We should be aiming to lift weight at about 80% of our maximum capacity. This equates to about 8RM (repetition maximum) roughly. You can get tested top figure out your 1RM for certain exercises, but there is a better way. Reps in Reserve (RIR) is a great indicator of how heavy you should lift, and only requires a bit of trial and error. You should aim to do most strength exercises leaving 1 to 2 Reps in Reserve – that is, you lift as many times as you can until you feel like you can only do 1 to 2 more reps only.

Reps and Sets

As a general guide, most exercises it is best to do 3 sets, of around 6 to 12 reps, depending on the exercise. Between sets, we should be having a rest of around 2-3 minutes. It is ok to train a different muscle group as you rest another.

How long should I train for?

In short – as long as it takes, or as long as you have! If you only have a half hour to spare to train, utilize this by doing 3 good quality exercises. If you have an hour, great! Fit in 6 exercises. Intensity and consistency of strength training is much more important than duration. In general, try and aim for roughly 45 minutes per session.

Recovery and Supercompensation

Recovery is the most important part of strength training. During this period, our muscle fibres repair themselves and become bigger and stronger. This is called Supercompensation – the idea that when we introduce a load to our muscles, they recover and improve their strength capacity. Tips for recovery: Hydration, Nutrition and Sleep! These three things are the most important tools for recovery. Try and get 8hrs of good-quality sleep, and drink enough water to ensure your urine is closer to a clear colour. Eat protein in most (or even every) meal. If you don’t eat much protein, feel free to use protein supplements.

Progression and Volume

Volume of training is the total amount of load our body is put through, and can be represented in a simple equation: Volume = Load (weight) x Reps x Sets. For example: 100kg x 10reps x 3 sets = 3000 units of volume for that exercise. To progress your overall strength over time, we want to gradually increase our training volume. There are a few ways of doing this: we either increase the load/weight we lift, or the reps and sets we do. Our intensity of training should remain the same! For the everyday person, we should aim to increase overall training volume every 2 weeks or so.


Varying our training programs from time to time helps our bodies to adapt and continue to become stronger. Every 6 to 8 weeks, substitute out a couple of exercises in your program for some new ones that target similar or different muscles. This new stimulus helps our body stay adaptable.

In Summary:

– Keep it simple: follow a program with simple (not fancy!) exercises, and do it consistently. Aim to do strength training at least 2x per week.
– Have achievable goals!
– Do each exercise at about 80% of max intensity, aiming to leave 1 to 2 reps in reserve each set.
– Train big muscle groups if possible, for 3 sets of around 6-12 reps. Training sessions don’t need to last longer than an hour.
– Progress volume every two weeks by changing reps, sets or load.
– Mix up your exercises every 6 to 8 weeks.
– Recovery is important! Drink lots of water, eat enough protein, and get 8hrs of good-quality sleep.

Do you have any questions?

  • Call us on (03) 9857 0644 or (07) 3505 1494 (Paddington)
  • Email us at admin@mdhealth.com.au
  • Check out our other blog posts here

Our clinical staff would be happy to have chat if you have any questions.

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