Recently decide to get fit? Want to take up a strength or weightlifting program, but don't know where to start? Everyone has been in this position at least once before; you're new at the gym, and you don't know where to go or what to lift or how to use the machines. Well, help is here!
I am going to tell you the basic guidelines and rules for starting out in a weightlifting program; whether it is for strength, weight loss, lean muscle gain, or just overall fitness, this article and workout can help you figure things out and get started off on the right foot toward your health and fitness goals.
Strength training provides remarkable results in those who have tried and failed at overhauling their fitness with just diet or cardio. Consistent training (more than twice per week, for 12 weeks) can provide such benefits as:
- Increased muscle-fiber size
- Increased muscle contractile strength
- Increased tendon strength
- Increased ligament strength
All of these add up to a much healthier, fitter body that is less likely to be injured. You end up looking pretty good, too!
A Few Rules Of Lifting Etiquette
- To start, always bring a towel and be kind enough to wipe off the machines, benches and equipment you use.
- Be sure to rerack all the weight and replace all the dumbbells or barbells that are used.
- Don't rest for extended periods of time on a machine that someone is waiting for; if possible, work in with them between sets. Most people are more than willing to share when asked nicely.
- Finally, please leave your cell phone in your locker or car; nothing is more distracting than listening to another person's conversation unwillingly.
Common Mistakes To Avoid
- Using too much weight, too soon; always start lower than your expected ability and work your way up that first workout. If your form suffers, you are swinging the weight, or using momentum, this indicates you may be using too much weight. Greater momentum increases the potential for injury and reduces the effectiveness to the muscle group being targeted.
- Not using enough weight; always play it safe, but if you can perform 30 reps with a certain weight, it's likely time to increase it a bit. Tip: Increase the weight no more than about 5% at a time.
- Moving through repetitions too quickly, going too fast; there is nothing gained by lifting weights fast. Some of the perks of lifting weight in a slow and controlled manner, include more total muscle tension and force produced, more muscle fiber activation both slow and fast twitch fibers, and less tissue trauma. Remember, a joint is only as strong as the muscles that cross it; if you haven't lifted in a long time, or ever, be careful what you ask of your joints.
- Not resting long enough, or resting far too long; both can be a workout killer. Tip: The recommended rest period is between 30-90 seconds, for overall fitness.
Beginner Weight/Strength Training Workout
Guidelines For This Workout
This workout is designed for overall health and fitness gains of a healthy, adult individual who has never lifted weights before, or who is very inexperienced at it.
You may note that the majority of exercises are machine based; this is intentional as an unconditioned beginner, has less integrity in the joints, less stability in the core which supports the entire body during training; and this makes one more apt to be injured when attempting to lift free weight (dumbbells, barbells) when just starting out.
Using machines provides support for these weaker areas and allows the intended muscle to be isolated and strengthened before progressing to free weight.
- Perform this workout at least two times per week, significant strength and fitness gains are obtained with only two workouts per week.
- Take one day off from weight training between each workout.
- For health gains, at least one set of 8-12 repetitions should be performed to fatigue; this means a weight heavy enough to tire the muscle significantly in 8-12 reps.
- For fitness gains, two sets of 8-12 repetitions should be performed to fatigue; again with a weight heavy enough that the muscle is tired and unable to continue without a 30-90 second rest period.
- It should take four to five seconds to complete one repetition through a complete range of motion; in a slow and very controlled manner.
- Rest at least 30 seconds and no more than 90 seconds between sets of each exercise; and 1 to 2 minutes between each exercise.
Cardio Respiratory Warm-Up
Warm up by performing 5-10 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio work, on any machine (treadmill or elliptical), or using any modality (walking, jumping rope) that works the large muscles of the body, increasing blood flow and warming the muscles themselves.
Sitting on a leg press machine, position your feet together against the crosspiece about should-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward. Grasp the handle grips or sides of the seat. Bend your knees and lower the weight as far as possible without changing the position of your hips.
Do not lower the weight so far that your hips start to curl up off the seat! Then slowly push the weight back up using your heels, not your toes. Do not lock your knees at the top, but rather take the weight to just before lock. Then begin to lower the weight again SLOWLY. You can change your foot positions to vary the angle on the muscle.
Using a leg extension machine, sit in the seat and hook your feet under the padded bar. Adjust the pad and/or the seat so that your knees hang off the end of the seat and the footpad rest on the lowest part of the shins. Grasp the handles on the machine or the edges of the seat to keep your hips from lifting up as you perform the exercise. Extend your legs until knees are straight, making sure you remain seated flat on the machine.
Raise the weight all the way, lock and hold briefly, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Get the full range of motion and feel the muscle being worked during the entire movement. Do not SWING the weight up!
Lie face down on a leg-curl machine and hook your heels under the roller pad. Your legs should be stretched out straight so that the pads rest on the back of your ankles. Grasp the handles under the bench for support.
Remaining flat on the bench, curl your legs up until your hamstrings are fully contracted. Release and lower the weight slowly back to the starting position. Concentrate on using a full range of motion and do not SWING the weight up. You can point your toes to intensify the burn in your hamstrings.
Or if your gym or fitness center is equipped with a seated leg; but select one or the other, don't do both!
Follow the directions on the seated leg curl machine.
Start with your legs positioned snugly under the kneepads of a pulldown machine. Your feet should be flat on the floor. Grasp the wide bar firmly with an overhand grip. Your hands should be almost twice your shoulder width apart. Pull the bar down on top of your chest, arching your back slightly.
Focus on keeping your elbows directly below the bar. Pause briefly with the bar in position right on top of your collarbone. Slowly raise the bar back to the starting position. Do NOT lean back too far and pull the weight down using your body weight!
This is like a normal bench press but using a machine. Follow the directions on the machine that you choose. Be sure to go slow during each rep.
Also known as the Pec Deck Fly. Sit at the machine with your back flat on the pad. Place your forearms on padded lever. Position your upper arms approximately parallel to the ground. Push levers together slowly and squeeze your chest in the middle. Return until chest muscles are stretched fully. Repeat.
Same as the Triceps Pushdown except with the rope attachment. At the bottom of the movement you should pull the rope "apart" to get the best contraction in your triceps.
Follow the exact directions that are on the machine that you choose; as machines at gyms vary.
Follow the directions on the shoulder press machine.
This is like a sit-up or crunch, but the machine helps you to add resistance for greater strength increases. Follow the directions on the particular machine that you choose. Be sure to go slow and concentrate on using your abs to push the weight while relaxing your legs and feet.
Lie on your back and put your hands behind your head. Raise your legs so your thighs are perpendicular and your lower legs are just above parallel to the floor. Curl up and bring your left elbow toward your right side while drawing your right knee in to meet it.
It is like you are riding a bike. Alternate sides, continuing the motion, back and forth. Remember, don't just flap your elbow across your body, actually rotate your shoulder across and squeeze your abs.
The eleven exercises shown in this workout program will thoroughly work the entire body. Do these exercises in the order shown; it's important to work the muscle groups largest to smallest, as the smaller muscles support the larger, and if the smaller ones are already fatigued they cannot adequately do their job of supporting your large muscles when its time to work them.
A few tips to make your new training program work for you more effectively:
- Stay hydrated! Be sure to drink at least the minimum USDA recommended 8-10 glasses of water each and every day; dehydration can make you weak, and sick and less effective in the weight room. Drink a lot of water during your workout as well.
- Eat a small, balanced meal with equal portions of lean protein (lean chicken, turkey, beef or fish) and complex carbohydrate (oats, rice) 30-60 minutes prior to each workout; and again within 60 minutes after you train with weights. A huge meal is not necessary, just enough protein and carbohydrate to refuel and encourage healing in the body.
- If also performing cardio work for weight loss, do so after you train with weights, not before; or at separate times of the day all together.
- Keep a record of what you do, and when you do it... an awesome tool I love within the Bodybuilding.com community is the BodyBuilding.com BodySpace work-out tracker - it's really interactive and lets you set things like sets, reps, weight used, and even lets you input exercises that aren't listed and keeps a running tally of your progress! All you have to do is register for your very own FREE BodySpace profile... You can check that out and register here.
- Also, once you are on your way to being super fit, you can also take progress pictures, keep track of weight loss or gain progress, and measurements of all your body parts. This tool is also part of your free BodySpace profile, there is so much you can track and record... even a BodyBlog!
- Be sure to check out all the aspects of BodySpace while you record and update your daily workouts, and don't forget to stay fit!
- ACE; 2005, 06
- ACSM; 2005