Strength Training vs. Weight Training: What’s the Difference?

Strength training vs. Weight training what's the difference

You are excited to hit the gym to do some training. You’ve heard the terms “weight training” and “strength training,” but you’re not sure what the difference is between the two, and which program to follow.

What’s the difference between weight training and strength training? “Weight training” is training with weights to improve general health and fitness outcomes, but not necessarily with a long-term plan or clear-cut structure in mind.Strength training” is a specific type of training that helps you build muscle mass and become stronger. It is usually coached by an expert in the strength training field and follows a specific long-term plan toward a goal.

Strenth Training vs. Weight Training

Strenth Training vs. Weight Training

The reality is that there are more similarities than differences between weight training and strength training. However, in this article, I’ll cover each type of training in more detail, their pros and cons, and other information that can help you better understand each so you can select the one that’s best for you.

What is Weight Training?

Weight training is a general term for working out where you are using weights.

Weights include any free weight movement, including dumbbells and barbells. You can also use weight machines like those found at every gym.

If you don’t have a stash of weights or machines at your disposal and want to work out at home or on the road, you can perform exercises that use your own body-weight, such as pushups or planks, or use resistance bands or stretch tubes.

Weight trianing uses free weights, machines, or body-weight exercises

Weight trianing uses free weights, machines, or body-weight exercises

The person who helps you with your weight training plan at the gym may be a gym employee or independent trainer who can teach you proper technique and safety when handling the weights.

This type of coaching may not require specific education or certification, although most advisors have at least a Personal Training Certification, such as from NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) or ACE (American Council on Exercise) and are knowledgeable about general fitness, exercise instruction, and proper lifting technique.

Who is Weight Training For?

Weight training is for those with broad goals to improve their health, lose weight, and develop their general fitness. You may not have a long-term goal in mind other than feeling and looking better, and may merely want to get a good workout on a short-term basis.

The American Cancer Society agrees that weight training helps you reverse age-related declines in muscle mass, increase bone density, improve joint flexibility, enhance balance, and control your body weight more easily. As your body condition improves with weight training, your attitude probably will as well, and you may find yourself happier and more confident, a big plus.

Related Article: Low Impact Strength Training: 15 Exercises For Beginners

Weight Training Principles

Weight training programs, of course, involve lifting weights or performing other weight resistance exercises. You don’t need to do these every day; general recommendations indicate that you spend 20-30 minutes of weight training at least 2 or 3 times a week. As well, you should plan to exercise every muscle group at least twice a week.

Weight training programs, of course, involve lifting weights or performing other weight resistance exercises

Weight training programs, of course, involve lifting weights or performing other weight resistance exercises

There are also 6 basic weight training principles:

1. Learn Proper Technique

Be sure you get instruction in the correct form and technique for lifting. When you first start, you’ll want to consult a trainer or specialist and later when you are more experienced, perhaps consult again to brush up on your technique.

2. Warm-Up

Definitely take time to get your body working before you begin your training. Warmups decrease the likelihood of injury. You can do any aerobic exercise that increases your heart rate by doing cardio, like brisk walking or doing jumping jacks. Plan on about 5 to 10 minutes of warm-up.

3. Take Advantage of ‘Fatigue Sets’

Lift a weight that fatigues your muscles by doing as many reps as possible. Research shows that a single set of repetitions that pushes your fatigue limit can be highly effective for building muscle and strength.

4. Use The Appropriate Weight

The weight you use should be heavy enough for the prescribed number of reps, where you feel that you can’t lift another rep without breaking form.

5. Start Slowly

Don’t start out lifting too much weight. Your body needs to become accustomed to the stress so that you can progress to heavier weights. Increase the weight gradually over several weeks of training.

6. Take Time to Rest

Space out your exercises so that you don’t overwork any particular muscles. For example, if you work your upper body on Monday, work your lower body on Tuesday, so you can go back to working your upper body on Wednesday.

Try a Weight Training Workout

Pros / Cons of Weight Training

LocationCan work out at a gym, at home, or on the roadMay not have access to a gym, need to find a suitable place at home or elsewhere
EquipmentMany types of weights and machines available at gymMay not have weights handy outside a gym, and might need to purchase own equipment
Exercise ProgramCan be short-term, don't necessarily need specific goalsDon't need to commit to a long-term program, and without a distinct goal, may not maintain motivation or reach potential
CoachingGyms usually offer guidance, coaching does not need to be high-level, might be able to save on expense of a professional coachMay not have access to a gym that provides coaching, need to devise own program

What is Strength Training?

Strength training  is a type of physical exercise to build size and strength for performance reasons

Strength training is a type of physical exercise to build size and strength for performance reasons

Strength training is a type of physical exercise specializing in the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction, which builds strength, anaerobic endurance, size of skeletal muscles and bone density.

Strength training, then, is a step up from weight training in several ways.

First, strength training encompasses many types of exercise, including weight training, for strength and conditioning.

Body weight exercises like lunges and pushups, resistance movements on a row machine, and specialties like climbing, jumping, and throwing can all be part of a good strength training program. A variety of equipment may be employed, usually including the typical weights and machines used with weight training, as well as other things like ropes, balance balls, sleds, and plyo boxes, to name a few.

Second, the goal of strength training is to push the body to respond and adapt to physical stimuli following a structured workout plan.

Careful protocols are put in place to apply the right amount of stimulus at the right time for the desired physical improvements. If you are an athlete and are looking to boost your performance in a sport, your strength training plan will most likely be geared to improving your physical abilities needed in that sport.

Third, a proper strength training program should be supervised by a professional Strength and Conditioning Coach who has a certification or degree in an exercise science-related field.

This may take the form of specialty certification, such as NSCA Certification (National Strength and Conditioning Association), or a higher degree, such as an M.Sc or even Ph.D in Sports Science or Sports Medicine.

The coach’s education and knowledge about the strength training process and its variables help guide you with a suitable workout plan so that you are performing the correct exercises, using the right amount of weights, making the appropriate adaptations over time, and avoiding plateaus in your training.

Related Article: Strength vs. Power: 5 Main Differences You Should Know

Who is Strength Training For?

Strength training is for those with specific goals to build muscle, improve joint function, increase overall endurance and physical conditioning.

When you think of “strength training” think of someone engaged with a serious gym program, and who may be training for a particular sport or activity.

Think of “strength training” as someone engaged with a serious gym program or training for sport

Think of “strength training” as someone engaged with a serious gym program or training for sport

Athletes, in addition to honing their particular sports skills, follow a strength training schedule to help them perform better in their sport and reduce the chances of injury. Sports like track and field, basketball, football, mixed martial arts, and hockey, among others, commonly include strength training in their overall training program.

Strength Training Principles

Strength training involves periodization of workouts where you have a specific plan of what exercises to do and when. Your plan may reach over many months, not just days, so that you have a long-term structure to your workouts.

Generally, a strength training program involves lower rep ranges, heavier weights, and a meaningful amount of sets. This is so the ever-increasing stress and stimuli on your body, pushing you outside your comfort zone, causes it to adapt by building dense muscles and thus strength.

Exercises should consist of compound movements, not just single muscle work, so that your joints are fully worked. Ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues strengthen when you use multiple muscle groups collectively. After all, strength training is about making your body as strong as possible, with all its parts working together effectively.

Try a Strength Training Workout

Pros / Cons of Strength Training

LocationCan work out at a gym, at home, or on the roadMay not have access to a gym, need to find a suitable place at home or elsewhere
EquipmentMany types of equipment and weight machines available at a gym, can use unconventional equipment like tires or battle ropesMay not have weights or other equipment available outside a gym, need to substitute body weight exercises, might need to purchase own equipment
Exercise ProgramFulfills specific goals, planned out over a long period, encompasses a variety of exercies and keeps you interestedCovers a longer period than simple exercising, need to commit to the program long-term, may lose motivation
CoachingWill get good guidance from a professional Strength and Conditoning coachGyms may not have the appropriate coach available, need to hire one, professional coaching may be expensive, may not have access to any coaching

Should You Be Doing Strength Training or Weight Training?

Now that you have more knowledge about both strength training and weight training, you can determine which type of exercise plan you want to follow.

Are you more comfortable with weight training, just going to the gym and lifting weights every day, or do you want strength training, a more planned workout program that plots your exercises as you advance toward a strength goal?

If you do choose strength training, be sure you have the commitment needed to follow through on a long-term specific plan, and access to a specialized Strength and Conditioning Coach.

Final Thoughts

Strength training and weight training have more similarities than differences. Strength training includes, but is not limited to, weight training, and involves other endeavors that build muscle and improve body conditioning. Both, though, give you great results and better health if you stick with your program.

Related Article: What Is a Typical Crossfit Workout? (Let’s Break It Down)

About The Author

Mary Brandeau.jpg

Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Kenyon College. She has written for many different formats on topics as diverse as fitness, wearable devices, sports nutrition, personal computers, 3D cameras, pet rescue, and real estate. Mary’s work has appeared in both print and online resources.


McLester, John., Guilliams, B.  2000. Comparison of 1 Day and 3 Days Per Week of Equal Volume Resistance TrainingJournal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 14(3): 273-281.