Strength training strengthens your bones, increases muscular fitness and builds and maintains lean muscle mass, according to the "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans," published by the Department of Health and Human Services. Your strength-training routine should consist of regular workouts using a combination of free weights, resistance machines and body weight exercises.
Body Weight Only
If you prefer not to go to the gym, do your strength workouts at home with body weight exercises. Do pushups to strengthen your chest, shoulders and triceps. If you find regular pushups difficult, keep your knees on the floor to assist you. Do three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions. Strengthen your legs and work your quadriceps, hamstrings and butt with lunges; do three sets of 20 to 30 reps.
Pushing and Pulling for Strength
Focus on compound multi-joint exercises that work your major muscle groups. Pressing exercises for your chest and shoulders also engage your triceps, and pulling exercises for your upper back also work your biceps. Work your chest with the barbell bench press or the seated chest press if you are uncertain about using free weights. Work your shoulders with the military press or seated shoulder press. Do lat pulldowns or single-arm dumbbell rows for your upper back. Isolate your biceps with dumbbell curls, and your triceps with triceps pushdowns. Pullups increase your upper-body strength, specifically targeting your upper back and biceps. Rig up a pullup bar in your garage or yard, and perform three sets of six to 12 reps. If you find pullups a challenge, place your feet on a bench or chair and gently push off with your legs to assist you.
Strengthening Your Lower Body
The barbell squat primarily targets your quadriceps, but also works all your lower-body muscles. It is a demanding exercise that engages the core muscles of your abs, obliques and erector spinae of your lower back as stabilizers. Because of this ability to activate such a wide range of muscles, squats make you stronger. Do the leg press if you prefer not to use free weights. The leg press doesn't engage your core muscles, but effectively works all your lower-body muscles. Isolate your hamstrings with seated leg curls, and your calves with seated calf raises. Do three sets of 10 to 15 reps of each exercise.
Don't Neglect Core Strength
Strengthen your core with planks, and work your abs with crunches. Hold the plank position for a slow count of 20, relax and do two more sets. Do three sets of as many crunches as you can. If you have access to one, lie on an exercise ball to do your crunches. According to the American Council on Exercise, exercise ball crunches activate more muscle fibers than traditional crunches.
Preparation is Key
Whether you chose to workout at home or use a gym, do a full-body routine three days a week. This could be on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Allow a rest day between workouts to help your body recover. Start each workout with a thorough warm-up. Warming up prepares your body and muscles for more strenuous activity and minimizes the risk of injury. Warm up by skipping rope, or with a five- to 10-minute jog around the block. Alternatively, a 10-minute ride on a stationary bike or 10-minute brisk walk or light run on a treadmill should prepare you.