How do I start lifting weights?
A couple weeks ago a friend of mine was puffing up my ego and telling me how much she loved my blog. She said she’s enjoyed reading it and has been wanting to get into weight lifting (YASSS!), but she’s not really sure where to start. I know she’s definitely not alone! There’s a plethora of workout plans out there, but not a lot of information on how to first get started or even how to pick a plan.
Honestly, the best advice I can give is to seek out a personal trainer for at least a few sessions. Having one-on-one attention and someone to help correct your form is really the best way to get started lifting. I know it isn’t cheap, but one session usually costs less than what the average American spends per month at Starbucks. Or think of it as the cost of two bottles of wine (or 4, if you’re like me and drink the really cheap stuff).
Still, I know personal training just isn’t practical for everyone. Or maybe you even sprung for a few sessions, but still feel a little lost on your own. Either way, here’s a few tips on how to first get started lifting:
Do your homework
One of the best ways to figure out what the hell to do is watching other people who actually know what they’re doing. Notice taht I said other people who actually know what they’re doing. Just because someone is jacked beyond belief or spends their life in the gym doesn’t necessarily mean they have great form or understand basic kinesiology.
I’d recommend reading Nerd Fitness’ strength training resources, watching Bodybuilding.com’s exercise guide videos, reading StrongLift’s in-depth guide on fundamental barbell movements, and watching Girls Gone Strong’s video database.
If you’re willing to purchase a book, I’d look into Starting Strength or one of the books in the New Rules of Lifting series.
Find a reputable program
Don’t start off trying to construct your own workout. It takes a little while to understand and learn the ins and outs of program design and how to develop a workout that’s going to be efficient and balanced. Luckily, there’s a ton of great beginner workouts out there that are totally free. Check out this blog post for my favorite beginner weight lifting programs. Also, I’m personally not crazy about Strong Curves, but a lot of women love it as a beginner’s weight lifting program for females.
Most trainers recommend that beginners should do full body workouts 3x per week. I agree, but I also realize the best program is one you actually enjoy. If you really want to, you can look into Upper / Lower body splits, a push/pull/legs routine, or other body part splits. This beginner’s guide on Reddit is pretty detailed!
Back away from the machines
People seem to think that using machines is safer than dumbbells or barbells, but in my opinion, your risk of injury is the same across the board. I’ve seen just as many people using machines inappropriately as lifting free weights with poor form. While there’s nothing wrong with using a machine, they tend to isolate muscles more and don’t incorporate stabilizing muscles during a lift. I think you’re much better off focusing on free weights from the get go, then incorporating some machine work later if you really want to.
It’s okay to start with light weights
Even if your ultimate goal is to lift heavy (which I’m big proponent of), it’s okay to start off with lighter weights. In fact, you might want to even consider starting with bodyweight exercises if you’re brand new to lifting. Once you’ve mastered some of the principal moves, you can start trying to push yourself weight-wise. However, when you first start, you should always…
Focus on form and basic movements
Gosh, I wish I had followed this advice when I first started exercising. I went full speed ahead trying to lift as much weight as possible and following overly complicated, elaborate routines. I wondered why I was struggling to make progress… it was because my form sucked and I had neglected to form a baseline of strength. You’ll be doing yourself a huge favor if you put your ego aside and focus on building a solid foundation.
Check yourself out
Believe it or not, there’s a reason gyms are covered in mirrors. Focusing on form means you need to start watching what your body is doing. It becomes challenging (or even dangerous) to crane your neck and watch yourself during certain movement though. So, I really recommend filming yourself on your phone from time to time. I know, it’s awkward and no one wants to look like the king douche at the gym. I still feel like a weirdo when I film myself. It’s worth it though… I’ve been able to correct so many things I didn’t notice until I saw a video of myself!
Don’t go it alone
I’m super anti-social at the gym in the morning and basically want murder anyone who gets chatty with me (America’s sweetheart right here). HOWEVER, I still love having a gym partner. A workout partner means you have a second eye on your form and someone to spot you on lifts like bench. Plus, they help keep you motivated and make it more fun (unless it’s 5am and you’re grumbling curmudgeon like me).
The internet is also a great resource for finding support and lifting communities. I absolutely love the women’s fitness subreddit! Instagram has been another great community of support for me as well. However, with the internet comes trolls, so don’t get discourage by random jerks that pop up from time to time. And keep in mind what I said earlier – just because someone has a ripped body, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to give you the best advice!
Go forth and lift!