A Beginner’s Guide to Lifting Weights

After my blog post ‘Why You Need to Start Weight Training’, I’ve had a few questions about where to begin. So I’m writing this to give some very basic tips on how to get involved in strength-based training in the correct way.

Break it down into muscle groups: Rather than completing a full-body workout every time you’re at the gym, aim to break your sessions down into muscle groupings. These can be general, such as ‘upper body’ and ‘lower body’, or more specific such as ‘back and biceps’, and ‘shoulders and abs’. This way, you work the selected muscles to their full capacity. It also means that whilst one muscle group is recovering, you are still able to train another. Aim to work each muscle group once or twice per week, and always remember to arrive at the gym with a plan of the session ahead.

Selecting the appropriate weight: It’s a common mistake to lift heavy weights too soon, and this often leads to injury. Start at a lower weight, at which you are able to fatigue the muscle in 10-14 repetitions (reps). Begin by completing 4 or 5 sets of 10-15 reps at this weight. Once you have built up base strength and feel strong enough to progress, increase the weight slightly. As you advance further to use heavy weights, reduce the number of reps performed, to around 5-8 (at a heavy weight this should be enough to fatigue the working muscles).

Control every movement: This leads on from my previous point. Every motion performed should be carefully controlled; if you need to use momentum to complete the movement, the weight is probably too heavy. Rather than swinging the weights, train yourself to fully engage the working muscles, as this will make the exercise much more effective. Think of it as a mind-muscle connection. Don’t just flow through the movement thoughtlessly, ensure you activate the necessary muscle groups.

Form: Completing an exercise incorrectly is likely to cause muscular/joint problems, not to mention it will make the movement much less beneficial. I recommend visiting a reputable website (such as www.bodybuilding.com) where they break down each exercise, with a video and description detailing perfect form. It’s much easier to learn the correct form before you begin training, rather than having to correct bad habits later.

Rest: Maintaining optimum rest time between sets is crucial. Not resting for long enough means that muscles will quickly become fatigued, but rest for too long, and the muscles start to cool down. I also find that extensive rest periods lead me to lose focus. Ideal rest time is 30-90 seconds between sets, and 1-2 minutes when changing exercises. The key is to really listen to your body during your rest period. If possible, try and remain within these guidelines, starting a new set when you feel that your muscles are ready.

Use a personal trainer: I highly recommend using a trainer in the gym. They can put you on a programme and help you achieve your personal goals in the most efficient way possible. If, however, you don’t want to spend money on this, you can always find tailored programmes online (you know by now that it’s my favourite – www.bodybuilding.com). Remember that most gyms offer a free first personal training session, where you can ask your trainer to show you how to use the weights equipment properly.

Be consistent: Giving up will get you nowhere. If you want to progress, I suggest a minimum of three weights sessions per week. Motivation is the key to consistency, so find ways to keep yourself inspired, whether this may be through finding a great workout playlist or recruiting a gym buddy. You can also set yourself small, attainable weekly targets such as ‘complete 15 press ups’. Commitment means results.

I hope you’ve found this useful; now, let’s put it into practice!

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