Weight training can seem intimidating for beginners. The gym is full of folks who appear to know what they’re doing, so being the odd one out is unnerving. Rest assured, if you plan your weight training well, you’ll be focused and progressing in no time.
Lifting Ideas for Beginners
Here are some basic tips to get you started. Then we’ll go over a sample of beginner’s weight training exercises.
10 Tips for Beginner Weight Trainers
- Lift and lower weights slowly to prevent injury. It may seem easier to use a burst of movement to lift the weight and then relax to let the weight fall, but this is dangerous and ineffective. Slowly lift the weight and slowly lower it to work the muscles safely and symmetrically.
- Focus on form over speed and rep number. The proper form isn’t made up for an arbitrary reason. Good form helps you work the muscle safely and will give you faster results than trying to bypass through lazy form.
- Rest at least 2 days between muscle groups. You muscles need time to heal in order to grow stronger.
- Drink plenty of water. A lot of athletes assume that if you don’t sweat during weight training you don’t need water. However, if you weight train without being properly hydrated, your body produces more stress hormones. Even worse, dehydration reduces testosterone, which is the key hormone for muscle building.
- Have a plan going in. Write down exactly how many reps and sets you need to do and which exercises you plan to complete. A lot of people start weight training by saying they’ll have a “Leg Day” and “Chest Day,” but if you don’t know exactly what that entails for you, you could be overdoing (or under-doing) it.
- Start with low reps at a manageable weight. Doing a lower weight for more reps is going to give better benefits than doing a higher weight with which you can complete only a few reps.
- Once you can comfortably complete a set of 10 reps, you can start adding weight incrementally, usually at about 5 pounds at a time. Master that weight at 10 reps, and increase by 5 pounds again.
- Eat a well-rounded diet. Your body needs the fuel not only for energy during the workout but to help repair the muscles during rest.
- On that note, make sure you’re getting enough protein. A male athlete needs between 84 to 120 grams of protein per day, while a female athlete needs around 66 to 95 grams per day. You can calculate exactly how much protein you need with a requirements calculator, like this one featured at Global PRH.
- Get a workout buddy. You don’t have to stand next to each other at the gym if you don’t want to, but it will help motivate you when you know someone else is depending on you to be there.
8 Weight Training Exercises
This is a collection of exercises that target the legs, arms, chest, back and abs. (Standard disclaimer: Before you begin any weight training, consult with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to start.)
Begin each workout with 5 to 10 minutes of light cardio. This can be a quick jog or a few minutes on a spinner or elliptical. The goal is to get your heart pumping so your muscles can warm up.
We’ve chosen at least one exercise for every major muscle group. There are, of course, hundreds of isolated exercises that can target different muscles in a different way. For beginners, though, it’s important to plan training sessions to be simple yet effective. You can always add in more variety later on.
If you want to schedule this workout, we recommend the Full Body Split schedule, which is incredibly effective for both new and experienced weight trainers. Each week will have 3 days of workouts but only two workout plans that alternate ABA in week 1, BAB in week 2, ABA in week 3 and so on. You can use this guideline for the first 6 weeks and then add in your own variations.
Leg Press (Quadriceps, Calves, Glutes and Hamstrings)
Position yourself on the machine with your legs against the platform. Your feet should be at shoulder width, although you can later mix this up with narrower and wider stances to target different areas. Release the safety on the side of the machine and press the platform up until your legs are fully extended. (If you cannot lift it all the way, lower the platform, engage the safety and get up to lower the weight.) Lower the weight until your knees are bent to a 90 degree angle. While exhaling, push the platform back up driving through your heels. Repeat this motion for 8 to 12 reps.
Bench Press with Dumbbells (Chest, Shoulders and Triceps)
For beginners, we recommend using dumbbells instead of a bar bell to begin bench pressing. This is for safety reasons. If you have a trustworthy spotter and are willing to start at a low weight, you can use a barbell instead.
Lie on a flat bench with a dumbbell in both hands resting on your thighs. Use your thighs to help you lift one dumbbell at a time toward your chest. Place your elbows to the side with your knuckles facing the ceiling so each dumbbell is to the side of your shoulder. This is the starting position. Exhale and use your chest to lift the dumbbells until your arms are fully extended. Lock your elbows and contract your chest to hold the weights up for a few seconds, and then slowly come down to the starting position with your elbows pointing out. Aim for 8 to 10 reps.
Rows (Back, Shoulders, Biceps)
A bent-over row can be performed with a barbell, a pair of dumbbells, or a Smith machine.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at the knees and grasp the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing down and back). Your hands should also be shoulder-width apart. Lift the bar until it is hanging down with your arms straight. Bend slightly at the knees and keep your head up. Lower the bar by bending at the waist (keeping your back straight) until the bar is just below your knees. This is the starting position.
Using your middle back muscles and lower shoulders, pull the bar up, bending your elbows outward. Stop when you reach your abdomen and hold for a second or two. Then slowly lower the bar until your arms are straight again. Throughout this exercise, you should be bent at the waist and knees.
Make sure to use your back to lift, not your arms. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.
Use a bench to support your left knee and hand while you work your right triceps. Place your right foot on the floor with a slight bend in the right knee. Lean over at the waist until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your forearm pointing down and your elbow bent at a right angle.
Use your triceps on the back of your upper arm to lift the weight to point backwards until your arm is fully extended. Hold for a few seconds, and then inhale as you lower the dumbbell back to the starting position. Only your forearm should move in this exercise. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps on each side.
Concentration Curl (Biceps)
Sit on a low bench with one dumbbell. Lean your torso slightly forward and contract your abs. Prop your right elbow against the inside of your right knee. Use your bicep to pull the weight up in a curling motion without moving your elbow from your knee. Stop just before the weight touches your shoulder, hold for a few seconds, and then inhale as you lower the weight until your almost is almost fully extended but still slightly bent at the elbow. Repeat 8 to 12 times on each side.
Deadlift (Chest, Full Body)
The deadlift is an intimidating move, but with proper form you’ll get a full body workout. If you start with a weight you can handle, this move should be challenging but doable. Increase the weights very slowly only after you have perfect form to prevent injury.
Start with the bar above the center of your feet, and stand with your feet just less than shoulder-width apart. Grip the bar overhand with your arms perpendicular to the ground. Bend your knees until your shins hit the top of the bar while keeping your shoulder blades over your feet.
Lift with your chest, not your arms! Think of your arms as ropes; their only purpose is to physically attach the weight to your body. Pull your shoulder blades down and back to help support your chest, and then pull the bar close to your body, rolling it up your legs and straightening your lower body until your knees are locked. Do not lean back. Keep your spine and head straight.
To lower the bar, press your hips backwards to get your knees out of the way. Slowly lower the bar using your chest muscles until the bar is past your knees. Then you can bend your knees to lower the bar fully to the floor.
A complete rep ends with the bar touching the floor. Repeat 5 times for a set.
For some additional “What not to do” tips, check out Strong Lifts. Again, form is your best friend on the dead lift to help prevent injury, but the payoff from a proper deadlift is almost unbeatable.
Overhead Shoulder Press (Deltoids, Front Shoulder)
You can complete a shoulder press with a pair of dumbbells, a barbell, or a Smith machine.
For dumbbells, sit on a bench with one weight in each hand. Rest the end of the dumbbell on your knee. Raise your knee up to give you momentum to place the dumbbells in the proper starting position. The starting position has your elbows directly below your wrists with the weights at shoulder height. Use the front of your shoulder (or very upper chest) to push the weights up until your arms are fully vertically extended. Hold for two seconds and then slowly return to the starting position to complete the rep.
Repeat 8 to 12 times for a set.
Hamstring Curl (Hamstrings)
Hamstring curls require a machine. You can use a small dumbbell by grasping it between your feet, but once you progress past a few pounds, you’ll need a leg machine.
Lie on your stomach on the machine and hold onto the handles to stabilize your upper body. The pads on your calves should be just above your ankles on the lower third of your calves. Raise the pad by bending your knee and then slowly lower it. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.
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