With social media filled with images of perfectly sculpted athletes lifting 100-pound weights, weight training can seem downright intimidating. It is important to remember, however, that weightlifting champions aren’t born that way — they developed their strength through a lot of hard work. We all have to begin somewhere.
Here are six strategies to help novice lifters get started with weightlifting:
Skipping your warm-up sessions is a fast track to injury. Taking the time to warm up properly is a vital component of any good workout because it increases your range of motion and allows you to work harder. A good warm-up session can also prime your balance and coordination.
During your warm-up, you can target different areas of your body with push-ups, squats, jumping jacks, and lunges. A fast walk or jog on the treadmill, or some time on the stationary bike or elliptical machine, is also essential. Start slow and increase the speed and/or intensity of your cardio. You can also try loosening any tight, stiff muscles with a foam roller. The hip flexors, adductors, lateral hip group, and pectoralis group tend to be tight and short, so target them with the foam roller first.
2. Start with resistance training
When it comes to strength training, most people think of lifting weights, but essentially any kind of resistance can be used to build muscle. If you’re new to strength training, using your own bodyweight can be a good way to start. It’s also cheap — there’s no need to buy a lot of equipment. And with so many gyms still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, working out with minimal equipment and focusing on your own bodyweight may be easier for many people right now.
In the simplest terms, resistance training is any exercise where you push, pull, or work against a resisting force of some kind that makes the movement difficult to perform. Moving your body against gravity is a type of resistance.
A resistance training bodyweight workout might include push-ups of various kinds (incline, table top, etc.), pull-ups, squats, squat jumps, reverse lunges, skater hops, mountain climbers, glute bridges, planks, and more. YouTube is a great free resource for demonstration videos of all these exercises.
3. Push your limits
With every repeat session, the same movements and lifts will grow less and less taxing. It’s therefore important to keep pushing your limits by increasing the number of repetitions or using heavier weights to make exercises more challenging.
Always increase weight carefully to reduce the risk of injury. Generally, novice weightlifters should stick to one to two sets of 12–15 reps, increasing to three sets per exercise after a month of training. Any weights you lift should feel heavy enough to be challenging, but not so heavy that you sacrifice your form. You should push yourself to the point known as “near failure,” meaning you should still be physically able to perform the movement, but not one more rep.
4. Strike the right balance
You’ll need to work out regularly, but going overboard can be counterproductive. If you’re new to strength training, start with two sessions per week and add an extra weekly session from week three onwards. Space your sessions out so that you have a day of rest in between. Three to five strength training sessions per week is the optimum number for intermediate and expert lifters, but it’s important to build up gradually to that point, rather than trying to do too much too soon. If you start with five sessions a week, you run the risk of burning out and giving up altogether.
Also keep in mind that your workouts do not have to be hours long: 45 to 60 minutes is the limit. Going for longer than that can be counterproductive.
5. Choose the right exercises
In the world of weightlifting, the “Big 3” are the squat, the bench press, and the dead lift. All three exercises build strength. Many accomplished weightlifters recommend incorporating all three exercises into every single workout, at the minimum.
When you’re just getting started with weightlifting, it can be a good idea to follow total-body routines rather than concentrating on a single muscle group in a particular session, since doing a bit of everything helps maintain balance. A full-body training routine might cover the chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, back, abdominals, and lower body.
6. Keep things in perspective
What’s most important is that you are increasing your strength and stamina from your own baseline. In other words, focus on your own progress and enjoy the journey; don’t compare yourself to fitness influencers online. Over time, you’ll see results.