Muscular strength is a fundamental component of physical fitness that plays a crucial role in our daily lives. It is essential for a wide range of activities, whether lifting heavy objects, playing sports, or simply performing daily tasks.
It’s not solely for meatheads who want to fill out their tank tops. Muscular strength is vital for everybody.
- What is Muscular Strength?
- The Main Movement Patterns
- 8 Best Muscular Strength Exercises
- How to Build Muscular Strength
- Importance of Muscular Strength
- Muscular Strength for Life
What is Muscular Strength?
Muscular strength is a muscle group’s ability to generate maximum force against resistance. This force allows you to lift objects, generate power, and keep your bones resilient. This force that is generated is determined by two things.
The first is your muscle size. The bigger your muscle, the more capacity you have to generate force. This is why bodybuilding sports are not only for show. The more muscle you have, the stronger you are.
Secondly, your nervous system also helps generate force. Your nervous system is what primarily sends the signal to your muscles to generate force. You can think of your muscles as the light bulb and your nervous system as the electricity. The more power you have, the more force you can generate. Training the nervous system comes down to frequent practice.
For example, training specific lifts teaches your nervous system to coordinate certain muscles to push, pull, and squat. These actions require force, and having big muscles is only part of the equation.
The Main Movement Patterns
Building muscular strength can feel overwhelming, especially for beginners. We’ve all seen those charts at the doctor’s office with hundreds of different muscle groups. The average gym beginner is thinking, “Holy snaps! Do I have to train every single one of those muscles?”
Technically, you should train each muscle to ensure overall development. The good news is that many exercises train multiple muscles concurrently. In fact, you can break down human movement patterns into less than 10 main movement patterns.
This is also the secret trick of personal trainers. We don’t study and test every single exercise ever invented. However, we understand and can identify which exercises fall under which movement pattern to assess it and create a comprehensive customized training program.
8 Best Muscular Strength Exercises
Push, pull, squat, hinge, lunge, and rotate are foundational movement patterns. Here are the best beginner-friendly exercises for each movement pattern:
Horizontal Push — Dumbbell Bench Press
The horizontal push movement pattern is all about generating pushing force. This is where you are pushing horizontally and involves a lot of the upper body muscles. The muscles that are mainly doing the pushing are your chest, shoulders, and triceps. The dumbbell bench press is excellent for this.
The dumbbell bench press is a staple exercise in most strength training routines, known for its effectiveness in developing upper body strength, muscle size, and stability. Whether you’re a novice lifter or an experienced gym-goer, the dumbbell bench press is a versatile and valuable addition to your workout regimen.
This exercise involves lifting dumbbells while lying on a bench with your back supported. It’s an excellent alternative to the traditional barbell bench press, as it allows for a greater range of motion and engages stabilizer muscles to a greater extent.
- Lie on a flat bench with your back and glutes on the bench. Your feet should be flat on the ground.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand at the bottom position.
- Push the dumbbells upward until your arms extend.
- Squeeze your chest at the top before lowering with control.
Vertical Push — Dumbbell Overhead Press
The vertical push movement pattern is all about generating force vertically. This will help you pick things up overhead more easily. In addition, training this pattern allows you to maintain overhead mobility, which can often be lost as people get older. This exercise mainly trains the shoulders and triceps.
The dumbbell overhead press, also known as the dumbbell shoulder press or simply the dumbbell press, is a classic strength training exercise that targets the shoulders, upper chest, and triceps. This compound movement is an excellent way to build upper body strength, power, and stability.
The dumbbell overhead press involves lifting a pair of dumbbells from shoulder height to a fully extended position overhead. It’s a versatile exercise that can be performed seated or standing, depending on your preference and available equipment. The primary muscle groups targeted during this exercise include the deltoids (shoulders), triceps, and upper chest, with various stabilizer muscles engaged for balance and control.
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height, palms facing forward.
- Maintain a neutral spine, engage your core, and keep your chest proud.
- Press the dumbbells upward until your arms are fully extended overhead.
- Lower the dumbbells back to shoulder height under control as you keep your torso stable.
Horizontal Pull — Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
Horizontal pulling exercises hit most of the upper back muscles. It is great for improving posture and filling out your t-shirts.
The bent-over dumbbell row is a classic strength training exercise that targets the upper and mid-back, shoulders, and arms. This compound movement effectively builds a strong, well-defined back while engaging several stabilizer muscles.
The primary muscles worked during this exercise are the latissimus dorsi (lats), rhomboids, trapezius, rear deltoids, and biceps. It’s an essential exercise for anyone looking to develop a strong and well-balanced upper body. The bent-over position also trains your lower back isometrically.
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your knees slightly and hinge at the hips, leaning forward until your torso is parallel to the ground.
- Hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other) and let your arms hang straight down from your shoulders.
- Keep your core tight and initiate the rowing motion by pulling the dumbbells towards your hips while keeping your elbows close to your body.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
- Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position while maintaining control and a straight back.
Vertical Pull — Lat Pulldown
The vertical pulling pattern is similar to the horizontal pulling pattern. It is also great for your posture and involves many of the same muscles. By shifting the pull to a more vertical plane, you target the lats more, which can make your back look wider and more defined.
The lat pulldown is a popular and effective vertical pulling exercise primarily designed to target the latissimus dorsi muscles—often referred to as the “lats.” This exercise helps sculpt a strong, well-defined back and engages many core muscles.
- Sit on the lat pulldown machine, ensuring your thighs are secured under the pads.
- Grab the wide bar with an overhand grip, palms facing forward, and your hands positioned slightly wider than your shoulders.
- Maintain a neutral spine with your chest up and core tight.
- Pull the bar towards your chest and think about squeezing oranges under your armpits at the bottom.
- Return to the starting position under control, fully extending your arms as you feel your lats stretch at the top.
Squat — Goblet Squat
The squat is a foundational movement pattern. We often see toddlers and children squat with ease as they play, and it’s an entirely natural movement pattern. As adults, we will lose our squatting abilities if we cease squatting. Without training in this pattern, our legs and glutes can lose the strength to squat with a full range of motion.
This is where the goblet squat comes in. The goblet squat is a highly effective lower-body exercise that combines strength, flexibility, and stability. This squat variation involves holding a dumbbell or kettlebell close to your chest and is easy to execute for exercisers of any experience level.
It primarily targets the lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, but it also engages the core, upper back, and shoulders for stability.
- Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell close to your chest with both hands and stand with a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance.
- Keep the weight glued to your body as you keep your chest up, shoulders back, and core engaged.
- Initiate the squat by pushing your hips back and bending your knees.
- Lower your body as low as your mobility allows while maintaining a neutral spine.
- From the bottom, push through your feet to stand back up, extending your hips and knees until you return to the starting position.
Hip Hinge — Dumbbell RDL
The hip hinge movement pattern is where your spine stays neutral as you bend at the hips. This allows you to isolate your hip joint so you can bend and rely on your hips when picking things up. Not having this function puts more stress on the lower back and knees when picking things up from the floor.
The dumbbell Romanian deadlift (RDL) is one of the best exercises to teach this movement pattern. The primary muscles worked during this exercise include the hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and core.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly closer while holding a dumbbell in each hand with a pronated (overhand) grip. Your arms should be fully extended with the dumbbells hanging in front of your thighs.
- Maintain a slight bend in your knees as you push your hips back and go through the hinging motion.
- Lower the dumbbells along the front of your legs, ensuring they remain close to your body while keeping your spine neutral.
- Go down until you feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings.
- Reverse the motion by thrusting your hips forward in a controlled manner.
Lunge — Dumbbell Walking Lunge
The lunge pattern is similar to the squat pattern because it trains similar muscles like the quads and glutes. However, it allows you to train your lower body unilaterally, improving your stability and balance. The mechanics are also slightly different from a squat.
The dumbbell walking lunge is a staple for this pattern. It challenges your legs, glutes, and core muscles while enhancing your balance and stability. This compound movement has gained popularity among athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and individuals looking to improve their lower body strength, power, and stability. It’s highly functional because many lower body movements in sports and everyday life are unilateral.
The dumbbell walking lunge engages multiple muscle groups, including the quadriceps, glutes, and core. It even trains the calves.
- Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
- Take a step forward with your right leg, ensuring a stride that is long enough to create a 90-degree angle at both knees. Your left knee should hover just above the ground.
- Keep your core tight and your spine neutral.
- Push off your front foot and bring your back leg forward to meet the front leg. This completes one rep.
- Alternate between sides for the recommended reps.
Rotate — Cable Wood Chop
The rotation pattern is often neglected among many gym enthusiasts, but it’s a highly functional pattern. Many everyday movements and athletic moves rotate the spine. Thus, training and developing these core muscles is crucial to improve movement and protect the spine. The cable wood chop is most effective at this.
The cable wood chop is a functional movement that simulates the motion of chopping wood with an axe. It involves a cable machine equipped with a handle attachment, which allows you to create resistance while performing the exercise.
This exercise targets the core muscles while engaging the upper and lower body to create a powerful full-body workout. It is an excellent exercise choice for individuals seeking to enhance their core strength, improve rotational stability, and increase functional fitness.
- Position yourself perpendicular to the cable machine, placing your feet shoulder-width apart. Adjust the cable attachment to roughly chest height.
- Grip the handle with both hands, keeping your arms fully extended and your torso upright.
- Initiate the movement by rotating your torso and hips, pulling the cable handle diagonally across your body and upwards toward the opposite shoulder. Keep your arms extended throughout the motion.
- Slowly reverse the motion to return the handle to its starting position while keeping the motion smooth.
How to Build Muscular Strength
The formula for building muscular strength is relatively simple. It is not necessarily easy and does require a lot of consistency:
- Resistance Training: Resistance training is the most effective way to build muscular strength. You could use weights, resistance bands, or your body weight as resistance. These exercises involve a stretch-shortening cycle against resistance. It makes them more flexible and imposes mechanical tension, encouraging them to grow. I’ll go over some of the best muscle strength exercises later. (3)
- Progressive Overload: To continue building strength, it’s essential to progressively increase the resistance or intensity of your workouts over time. Gradually increase the weight, repetitions, or sets to challenge your muscles and promote growth. Without consistent progression, your muscles won’t adapt and grow.
- Proper Form: Using correct form during strength training exercises is crucial to prevent injuries, prioritize the target muscles, and limit secondary muscle engagement. When your technique is off, the load on the target muscle is reduced, putting you at a greater risk of injury.
- Rest and Recovery: Muscles need time to recover and repair after strenuous workouts. The gym is where you break muscle tissue, but your muscles don’t grow inside the gym. Your muscles repair and grow outside the gym, particularly when you sleep. So program rest days into your routine, and ensure adequate sleep daily.
- Nutrition: A balanced diet that provides adequate protein and nutrients is essential for muscle growth and recovery. Protein is particularly crucial for repairing and building muscle tissue. Without enough protein, you don’t provide your body enough raw material to repair and grow new muscle tissue. Don’t let your workouts go to waste by neglecting your nutrition.
- Consistency: Building muscular strength is a long-term process that requires consistent effort. Minimal progress will happen overnight or even in a week. Stay patient and consistent.
Importance of Muscular Strength
Muscular strength is more than merely being strong and lifting more weight. Its benefits translate to many areas of everyday life.
- Everyday Functionality: Muscular strength is essential for everyday activities like lifting groceries, moving furniture, and picking up your kid. Maintaining adequate muscular strength can prevent injuries and make daily tasks easier and more efficient. The difference between people who feel their age and people who don’t is having adequate muscular strength. (1)(2)
- Improved Posture: Strength training will improve your posture and reduce the risk of low back pain.
- Enhanced Athletic Performance: Individuals engaged in any athletic pursuit can experience improved results by increasing their muscular strength. Strength translates to increased power, coordination, and even endurance. It enables athletes to run faster, jump higher, throw farther, and hit harder.
- Injury Prevention: Strong muscles help stabilize joints, reducing the risk of injury during physical activities. Strength training workouts aimed at hypertrophy also bolster your bones and connective tissues.
- Bone Health: Strength training can help prevent age-related bone mineral density loss.
- Metabolism and Weight Management: Muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat tissue. Muscle tissue also improves blood glucose clearance and metabolic health. This is important for digestion, energy, and even skin health.
Muscular Strength for Life
Muscular strength is important for meatheads trying to impress chicks, but it’s quite frankly necessary for everybody. Your everyday function relies on muscular strength, especially as you get older.
And while muscular strength training can seem overwhelming, you only need a handful of movement patterns to train your entire body. You can build muscle strength and tissue with a simple training program done consistently.
- Suchomel T. The importance of muscular strength: Training considerations. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). April 2018. Accessed October 7, 2023.
- Westcott W. Resistance training is medicine: Effects of strength training on health. Current sports medicine reports. July 2012. Accessed October 7, 2023.
- Krzysztofik M, Wilk M, Wojdała G, Gołaś A. Maximizing muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review of advanced resistance training techniques and methods. International journal of environmental research and public health. December 4, 2019. Accessed October 7, 2023.