Health Tips > Fitness Files > Ask the Expert: A Balanced Approach to Strength Training

Ask the Expert: A Balanced Approach to Strength Training

View All Section Pages

group doing plank rows with dumbbells

From eating well-balanced nutritious meals to juggling commitments in your busy schedule, life is a balancing act. Your strength training routine deserves the same type of approach to effectively perform daily activities and prevent injuries. Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer Patrick Fisher answers the most commonly asked questions to create an optimally balanced strength training program.

Q: What comprises a balanced strength training program?

A: A balanced strength training program includes exercises that work all major muscle groups. In order to achieve this, it requires mindfully planning your workouts to include both upper and lower body major muscle groups.

The upper body’s major muscle groups include your core, arms, shoulders, chest and back. The lower body’s major muscle groups are comprised of your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. I recommend including five to six exercises in your program for the upper body as well as the lower body.

Variety is crucial to a successfully balanced strength training program. By repeatedly performing the same workouts, you may unknowingly be neglecting certain muscle groups which can cause muscular imbalance and lead to injury. For example, many of my clients focus on doing only upper body exercises with weights and neglect the lower body, falsely assuming performing cardio adequately strengths the lower body. While cardio does engage the muscles of the lower body it does not challenge and strengthen the muscles as weighted exercises do. You can mix up the variety of your strength training workouts by switching up the exercises or adjusting the amount of weight and number of reps.

Q: What equipment do I need for strength training?

A: The beauty of strength training is you can use a variety of equipment to get the job done! Experiment with different types of equipment in the gym to see what you like such as dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance machines or medicine balls.

If you find yourself crunched for time, you can still achieve a quality strength workout at home with household items like paint cans, milk jugs and canned goods. Try using water bottles, a backpack or smaller luggage for a workout while you’re traveling. Don’t be afraid to get creative with whatever equipment you have available.

Q: How many sets and reps are ideal for a balanced strength training program?

A: The number of sets and reps performed are largely based on your fitness goals such as losing weight, gaining muscle mass or simply improving overall muscular balance. I suggest completing two to three sets of 12-15 reps per exercise as an excellent starting place.

Q: How many times a week should I strength train?

A: You can do strength training workouts anywhere from two to five times per week, depending on the type of exercise you prefer. Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper recommends 150 minutes of aerobic training per week and spreading it out over three to five days. This should also be paired with at least two to three days of strength training. Bottom line is it is important to allow at least one day in between your strength training workouts to let your muscles properly recover.

The benefits of a well-balanced strength training routine go far beyond having a proportionate physique. Including a variety of exercises ranging in weight for both your upper and lower body allows all the muscle groups of your body to be better challenged and strengthened to prevent injury and improve daily movements. Achieving this muscular balance will not only allow you to move better but feel better, too.

For more information about Cooper Fitness Center or to schedule a session with a Professional Fitness Trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.