Lifting Weights: What You Need to Know as a Beginner

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So, you want to start lifting weights, huh? Well, let me be the first to tell you that it is an excellent idea!

Lifting weights or resistance training is beneficial in so many ways; losing fat, building bone density, and preventing many diseases are only a few perks of pumping some iron.  But, there are some things that you should know before you pick up a pair of dumbbells and get started.

1. How Much Weight Should I Lift?

This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of beginning a weight training program: how much weight should you actually lift?!  Obviously, this number is going to be different for everyone, as there is no “one size fits all” plan to exercising.  I can tell you this, however: the weight that you choose should be difficult once you get to your last couple of reps.  (Not sure what a rep is? That’s okay, check out this post.)

This is what I have always told my clients.  If you are planning on doing 15 reps, and you get to number 14 and feel like you could go on and on…you need to pick up a heavier weight.  On the other end, if you’re at rep 8 or 9 and it feels extremely challenging…you need to drop some weight.  There’s a certain “sweet spot” with weight: you want to be where the weight you chose is challenging at about rep 13 or 14 when doing 15 reps.  Make those muscles work!

Here’s my other tip: Start heavier than you think you can handle.  No, I don’t mean jump straight to the 50-pounders! But, if you think you should start at 5’s, try 10’s first.  I say this because it is MUCH easier to know when to drop the weight, than to know when to pick up more weight.  Simple human nature; if something feels easy, we tend to stick with it rather than continuously challenge ourselves.

I especially know this because I was famous at doing this! During my college years, any time I would resume working out after a break, I would always default to dropping weight.  I automatically assumed that since I hadn’t worked out in a while, that my body wouldn’t be as strong as it was when I left off.  So I would pick up lighter weights.  Man, what a HUGE mistake! Your body is capable of way more than you think, so find that “sweet spot” and push it!

2. Form is Everything!

If you thought the amount of weight you were lifting was the most important, than guess again.  Your form on your exercises is E V E R Y T H I N G. Form is the difference between making a muscle work properly and creating an injury.

As a beginner to resistance training, you will be likely to “rush” through your reps.  Remember that famous saying, “slow and steady wins the race?”  The same principle applies to weight lifting–you want your movements to be slow and controlled.  Injuries are more likely to happen when you rush or when you are lifting too heavy (that’s when you start using other muscles to overcompensate for weak spots.)

So, how do you ensure that you have proper form?

-Use those mirrors! Most gyms have floor to ceiling sized mirrors everywhere–use them, because they are there to be your friend, not your enemy.  So start lookin’ at yourself, hot stuff.

-Ask or hire a personal trainer: Despite what some people may think, we’re not at the gym to judge people.  If you have decent personal trainers at your gym, they will help check your form on their off time, even if you’re not paying them (we don’t want to see you get hurt!) Or, you can always hire a personal trainer and you won’t have to worry about a lot of this stuff!

-Find some resources.  Youtube, Google, Instagram…the list goes on and on, especially with all of the technology we have nowadays.  Just be aware that not every “fitness” Instagrammer has proper form.  Some of my favorite resources for lifting videos are bodybuilding.com and exrx.net.

3. Breathe

Surprisingly, one of the most commonly used cues that I have to use with my clients is reminding them to breathe.  Fitness newbies tend to hold their breath while working out.  Your muscles need that oxygen so keep breathing!!

Exhale during the difficult part of a movement, like the upward part of a crunch.

As a general rule of thumb, you want to inhale during the “easy” part of the movement, and exhale on the “difficult” part.  For example, say you are doing abdominal crunches.  I would exhale on my way up (or crunching), because that’s when my muscles are contracting, and I would inhale on my way down towards the floor.  This applies to almost all exercises–which is why you will tend to hear grunting during a difficult movement (a grunt is just a loud way of exhaling, right?)

4. Which Exercises Should I Do?

Sort of a complicated question, since there are SO many exercises.  I would recommend starting out basic until you get used to using weights: bicep curls, dumbbell chest press, weighted squats, etc.  You can eventually work up to being able to do barbell squats while standing on an upside-down BOSU ball, but I would hold off on that for now.

For beginners, I like to start off resistance training with dumbbells or weighted bars. Mostly just from experience that a lot of people tend to find barbells to be a bit intimidating when they are starting off (myself, included!)

Some of my favorite beginner weight lifting exercises are below:

I would still switch things up and have some exercises in your plan that do not require weights, such as body-weight, resistance band, or machine exercises.  It’s always a good idea to keep your body guessing!

5. Soreness

As with beginning any type of exercise program–you are going to be sore.  Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (or DOMS) is definitely a real thing, meaning that you might not become sore until about 2 days or so after your workout.

Make sure that you properly warm-up, drink lots of fluids, and cool-down or stretch after your weight lifting session.  These will help to prevent major soreness.  If you do happen to become overly sore, I always enjoy and recommend an Epsom salt bath (I use about 4 cups of salt and really warm water.)  You can also foam roll which is sometimes a necessary evil.

Those are the basics of beginning weight lifting.  If you need help with starting a fitness program, you can read this post.

Now that you’re equipped with the basics of weight training, you’re ready to get started.  Go on out there and crush those goals!  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about lifting weights.

Share your thoughts!