The Top Five Strength Training Exercises

If you know me, you know that I’m all about simplicity and minimalism. That can also be applied in my workouts.

I love how running clears my head and grounds me mentally. I love how all you need in order to start running is a pair of shoes. I love that I don’t need to think about what I’m doing because it’s repetitive and ongoing.

But the thing with running is that the more you train, the better you get, and the longer you have to run in order to improve your performance. Not quite as simple as it used to be.

I got to a point where I just didn’t have the time or energy to train for 1-2 hours a day. So I looked to mix up my routine, and that led me to strength training.

The ideal strength training routine is about 30 minutes a day, 2-3 times a week.

That I can do. In fact, I think almost anyone can carve out that much time. A lot of strength training is actually the recovery days in-between.

I know there’s a curve where beginners get results really fast and then plateau, but still…it was crazy awesome the results I got with so little time invested.

And it was fun!

I’m not saying running is bad and strength training is all good. But I am saying that mixing up your routine is a good idea. And if you want your whole body to actually be more fit, not just your legs, then this might be for you.

And even strength training can be maximized, as I learned from reading the works of various certified personal trainers. If you want to get the most bang for your buck – or results for your time invested – here are the top five moves you should be doing, according to the professionals.

All you need to perform these exercises is dumbbells and a pull up bar (or park with monkey bars!)

And when you’re ready to take it up a notch, you simply increase the weight resistance. Your workout doesn’t lengthen in time.

And keep in mind, while some of these exercises may be thought of as “manly” they aren’t for men only. Women are just as able to do these moves, and they make us stronger and sleeker too.

The goal of any strength training routine is to build muscle and burn fat. So whatever your training goals, these moves will help. Even as a runner, adding strength training into the mix has helped increase my speed and recovery.

Important note:

It is recommended that you don’t lift more than three times a week. The reason is that your muscles need time to recover and rebuild between workouts. You can do cardio in between strength training sessions. Just be careful and don’t overdo it.

Overtraining is common in beginners. And even if it feels like you’re getting ahead, nothing will set you back like an injury. So take it slow, and make sure your form is good before increasing your resistance. That’s why all gym weight rooms have mirrors. (Not so you can admire yourself!) So you can see right away if your spine is curved or your movements are wonky. I’ve included video demonstrations of all these exercises to further stress the importance of form!

So without further ado, here are the Top 5 Strength Training Moves you should try!


There is something about a squat, and I don’t know why women aren’t advised to do them more, as they are especially beneficial for the pelvic floor area post-pregnancy.

I do all the variations of squats that are listed in this video. 8-15 reps per set. 3 sets. Over time, when it gets too easy, add more weight.


Contrary to popular belief, pull-ups aren’t just for men. Women can do them too! While they are still a challenge for me, I’m getting better.

You can use a resistance band to help if you aren’t able to perform a proper pull-up yet. Or you can do what I do, which is give yourself a little jump up and then focus on lowering yourself in a slow and controlled motion.

I do 3 sets of 8.


Deadlifts are awesome! I do Romanian deadlifts, like the ones featured in this video. I just use dumbells instead of a barbell.

Be extremely careful when starting out that you don’t strain your back. It should be your glutes and the back of your legs doing the work. I think to myself “legs” every time I do one to keep the focus on my legs and not my back.

I do 3 sets of 10-15


It really helps to have a bench for this one. I don’t have an adjustable weight bench, but I do have a normal sitting bench in my basement that works just fine. I think of these as an inverted push-up – one with adjustable weight increments.

I do 3 sets of 8-12.

Overhead Press

The form isn’t that hard on these, but they are really tough to do. I guess it’s not that often in everyday life that we need to lift things above our heads…and thank goodness! They are great because they target those muscles that aren’t used quite as often.

I do 3 sets of 8-12.

Bonus: Bent-Over Row

Of course, if you have time for one more I’d add in my favorite: bent-over rows. They utilize a whole muscle group in the arm and upper back, so you the results are large compared to effort. I’m able to go pretty heavy if I do one arm at a time. It’s fun to do moves that make me feel strong and capable.

If you don’t use a bench like in this video, then go a little lighter and pay close attention to your back.

I do 3 sets of 8-15.

So there you have it! A quick and simple strength training routine that hits the whole body, and will leave you sweaty, sore, and stronger each day.

What are your favorite workouts when you don’t have a lot of time? How do you increase the challenge without taking hours out of your day for training? I’d love to know your input, as I am still fairly new to this whole thing.

Photo by Becca Matimba

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