Weight Lifting: The Basics
For a lot of us, crossing into the weights section of the gym can be pretty intimidating. I always wanted to start strength training, but I had no clue how/where to start. I was worried about being “that person” who ends up on some gym memes page because I was making a huge fool of myself. Luckily now, after almost two years of hitting the gym I have come to learn a couple of things:
- No one really cares what you are doing. Unless you are grunting loud enough for the whole gym to hear you, then no one is paying attention to you. Everyone is there to workout. Those big gym dudes aren’t judging you for not being able to lift heavy like them, they’re too focused on making gains.
- You basically have to be trying to make a fool of yourself. People get creative with the equipment in the gym. 9.5/10 times if people are looking at you it’s because they think you’ve found a clever way of doing something (I love watching people to get workout tips). Unless you’re using the shoulder press machine to do leg press, no one’s really going to be judging you.
Now, since the weight section of the gym isn’t that scary, how do you go about working out?
- Start your workout with exercises that target muscle groups and work your way to focusing on specific muscles. For example, start your leg workout with squats and then progress to lunges and then leg lifts.
- Train muscle groups that use the same kind of motion on the same day. Train back with biceps, chest with triceps (and shoulders, if you have the time). I break my workouts down into: shoulders & abs, back & biceps, glutes & hamstrings, chest & triceps, and calves & quads. It’s totally okay if there is some overlap between which muscles get targeted, just try and make sure that there is adequate rest between those days.
- Form is more important than weight. If you can’t complete 4-8 reps of an exercise with good form, then you are going too heavy and starting to use too much momentum from your body.
- Switch things up! Try not to do the same exercise more than once a week. Having a dynamic range of exercises will help improve strength and lead to quicker progress.
- Reps, Sets, and Time. On average, it is good to aim for 3-5 sets with 4-10 reps. Once and a while it is good to do days with high reps or high weight. If you are doing high reps aim for 10+ per set. If you are doing high weight aim for 1-3 reps for ~3 sets. Also keep an eye on the clock; on average, rest time should be 30-60s to really maximize your workout. If you aren’t able to complete enough reps with that short of rest, then consider using a lower weight.
- Track your progress. If you aren’t doing certain exercises regularly, then it can be difficult to remember how much you usually lift and you don’t end up pushing yourself. Consider using a notebook or an app to log your exercises, weights, sets/reps, and rest times to keep track of your workouts. This can also be a great way of building your workouts.
- Don’t forget to warm up. Always try to do an extra warmup set before loading up the bar with weights. Try doing body weight exercises or grab the lightest dumbbell or barbell to get your body used to the motion. Use this as an opportunity to check your form as well.
- Push yourself. Maybe you’re doing 4 sets of 8 reps, to really feel that burn go to fail on your last rep. If you can do more than the intended number of reps, it might be time to consider moving the weight up.
What you do outside of the gym is just as important as what you do in the gym:
- Always remember to stretch after a workout. While not being able to make it up the stairs after leg day is oddly satisfying, stretching helps to reduce post workout pains and injuries.
- Stay hydrated. Your muscles are mostly water. Keep hydrated to help recovery.
- Eat properly. Just because you burned x calories in the gym, it does not mean that you can have a burger and milkshake for dinner each night. Your muscles need protein and other nutrients to repair themselves and grow stronger.
- Sleep. Almost as important as eating properly is getting enough sleep. Aim for at least 8hrs a night so your body has time to recover. Working out literally tears your muscles. It takes energy to rebuild that.
- Rest days are a necessity. Yeah, I know, the gym memes pages love to make fun of rest day. In reality, those days are crucial for recovery and so you can still give 100% during your workouts. That being said: it’s rest day, you’re not on bed rest. Go for a walk or clean the house. Make sure your body is still moving.
Okay, that’s great and all, but what order do I lift which weights in? – There are tons of great weight lifting plans for beginners. Stick to those for a couple of months! I am also working on adding some of my own workouts to my page! So stay tuned! Until then, here are some great routines (and a few extra tips):