Getting the benefits of weightlifting won’t happen overnight.
Maybe an understanding the basics will help.
If you go one step at a time, you can succeed at your strength training goals!
Below are just the basics! Sometimes too many details can be overwhelming when you’re just getting started. Hopefully, once you start, you’ll love how you feel. Then, you can dig into the details of each topic as you need. In the meantime, let’s get you started!
Q: Should I have some concerns about weight training?
A: No but it’s always a good idea to start any fitness program with a checkup at the doctors. Here is a checklist you can use to prepare for that doctor’s visit. Also, as I will mention several times, take the time to learn proper form since this will reduce the risk of injury.
Q: Does weight lifting help at all with weight loss?
A: Yes! Because muscle is an active tissue that uses calories and fat is an inactive tissue that stores calories, increasing muscle mass is a smart weight loss goal. Approximately 75 calories per day are used to maintain one pound of muscle while only 3 calories per day are required to maintain a pound of fat. You do the math!
Q: Should you stop weight training when you reach a certain age?
A: Definitely not! Science has now proven that much of the decline witnessed in aging adults can often relate to a person’s assumptions about what it means to get older. While some changes are inevitable, when they make the appropriate life choices, they can live full and active lives through all the decades of later life. Here is a summary of the book Younger Next Year which provides more detail on that! Here’s some info on a 74 year old woman who leads the way! Here are some photos of my attempts at maintaining my strength.
Q: Will this newly developed muscle turn to fat if I later decide to stop weight training?
A: No! That’s a myth! Muscle tissue and fat tissue are two distinctly different types of tissue. It’s impossible for muscle to turn into fat. Muscles can however get smaller and weaker when not exercised.
Q: Will weight training damage my joints?
A: No. Exercises should be done in a smooth and continuous way. Good form will prevent injury. Since weight training strengthens the muscles that support the joints, your joint strength will be increased.
Q: Can I just do weights without doing any other type of training?
A: Weight lifting will provide you the strength training. But, a good overall fitness program should also include training for flexibility, balance, and endurance. Even if you choose to only do strength training, be sure to always warm up before starting.
Q: Should I use free weights or machines?
A: Eventually, you should use both. Machines are the easiest way to get started. Machines are designed to work on specific muscles. They are generally safer because you can’t get trapped under the weight. So, you don’t need a spotter with the machines. And, learning the exercise is easier on the machines because the direction of the movement is controlled by the machine. Pay special attention to assure that you lift through the full range of motion even on the machines. While form matters no matter which approach you take, learning proper form is especially important when using free weights. Free weights require more full body coordination which gives you a better workout. Free weights are cheaper, easier to move around, and can be used for a greater variety of exercises.
Q: What should I do to get started?
A: Safety and correct technique are the most important things for the first few weeks of training. Practice your form before you even attempt adding weight. Then, gradually add weight. Go slow to keep muscle soreness at a minimum. Learn to focus your attention during each lift. It’s a good idea to have someone take pictures of you doing each exercise so you can objectively compare yourself to photos or videos of people doing the moves with correct form. Another good tracking method is to write down information about your workouts so you can track your progress.
Q: How often should I do weight training?
A: If you are just starting out, go slow but steady. Eventually, your fitness plan should ideally include 3 days of weight training with 2 days between each training session. These other days could be used for flexibility, balance and endurance training.
Q: Is it possible to over-train?
A: Absolutely! Muscles need time to recuperate between sessions. You do yourself and your body a disservice to do weight training without the rest periods.
Q: What is some terminology I need to know to get started?
A: You need to know the terms sets and reps. A set is a series of movements of an exercise. A rep is the start to finish performance of an individual exercise or one repetition of the exercise. For example, if you lift a dumbbell 10 times, rest and then lift it again 10 times, you have done two sets of 10 reps of that exercise.
Q: How do I know how much weight to lift?
A: First you need to determine your goals. If you want to get strong, you must lift progressively heavier weights at lower repetitions to develop muscle strength. If you want to get an enduring muscle, you will do a lot of repetitions of lighter loads. Your starting weight will be determined by your starting strength. Later, as you gain strength, you will increase the weight lifted. Eventually, once you are more experienced, you will learn to work a muscle to temporary failure. This is the point beyond which you can do no more and this provides the self-evaluation for directing the progressive weight increases.
Q: How many sets and how many repetitions should I do?
A: For your first two weeks, do one set of 20 reps for each exercise. If that feels too easy, you can increase the weight used. If that is moderately difficult, you can increase the weight a little at your next workout. By the end of the two weeks, you should be training with a weight that challenges you when you lift the 20 reps. If you can lift 15 reps but less than 20, use the same weight for your next training session. If you can only complete 15 reps, reduce the weight used for your next training session.
During the next two weeks, do one set of 20 reps followed by 1 set of 10 reps using the heaviest weight that you can lift 20 times. After resting 1 or 2 minutes do 1 set of 10 reps.
During your third two weeks, do 1 set of 20 reps, then 1 set of 10 reps, then 1 set of 5 reps using the heaviest weight you can lift to complete all the sets.
Again, continue to adjust the weight as needed with the aim of increasing the weight over time.
Eventually, on an ongoing basis, you will be doing two to three sets. Sticking with 8 – 20 reps for each set will provide you with the best outcome.
When you do each repetition, don’t go fast. Instead continue to be sure to move with good form. If you aren’t able to do at least two sets of 8 reps, reduce the amount of weight you are attempting to lift. If you can do the three sets with ease, increase the weight next time.
Remember, you must build your program so that you have a progressive overload. That means that you are constantly going a little beyond your past performance. Without the ongoing challenge, you won’t build strength; you will maintain existing strength.
Q: Do I need to learn some specific breathing techniques?
A: Generally you should attempt to exhale during the lifting and inhale when lowering the weights. But, to get started, just breathe naturally. But, it is very important to be sure that you never hold your breath! Holding your breath will cause decreased blood flow which can trigger dizziness and other problems. Remember to breathe! Once you are ready to learn the recommended breathing patterns, practice with lower weights so that you can more easily concentrate.
Q: Are there any recommendations for what to focus on while lifting?
A: Yes. It is best to focus on the muscles that are moving the weight. This concentration should be maintained with every repetition. For those who practice mindfulness, weight lifting is a perfect opportunity to practice that too!
Q: Should I start focusing on certain body parts over others?
A: You should start exercising with the body parts nearer to the center of your body, your core, and then work outward. Core strength is needed to provide stability for all the other exercises. Obviously it is better to build strength in your abdominal muscles before thinking about strengthening your forearms. Next, focus on the larger muscles before the smaller muscles. You’ll benefit more from strengthening your legs by doing squats rather than exercising your ankles. Your weight lifting workout plan should be designed to intentionally rotate your focus onto specific muscle groups. You will be organized to rotate your exercise focus progressively.
Q: What exercises should I do?
A: There are lots of different ways to design your plan. You can train all the major muscle groups (abdominals, back, shoulders, arms, legs) every time you train. Or you can design a split training plan where you train different parts of your body on different days. Here is one example of a split plan; Monday = chest, shoulders, back and arms, Tuesday = rest, Wednesday = quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and abdominals, Thursday = chest, shoulders, back and arms, Friday = rest, Saturday = quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and abdominals, Sunday = rest. As you can see, even though you are working out four times per week with this plan, every body part still has a 2 day rest period between workouts.
For your first year or so, you really don’t need to do more than one exercise per body part but sometimes it is needed to build in variety. Just be careful to not overwhelm yourself with a complicated and confusing plan!
For beginners who want to use free weights, here are some recommended exercises: barbell bench press, one dumbbell rowing, military press, barbell curl, standing tricep extension, squat, one dumbbell calf raise, crunches, back extension. For beginners who want to use machines, here are some recommendations: prone or seated bench press, seated or low pulley row, seated shoulder press, arm curl, tricep extension or pressdown, leg press or machine squat, calf raises or calf press, abdominal machine crunches, back extension.
A: You are just starting and there is a lot to learn. But for now, here are just a few more pointers. Commit to train consistently. That is what brings success. Maintain a positive attitude. If you love what you are doing and love the outcome, you are more likely to continue. Getting enough rest and eating healthy food will help to maintain that good attitude. Eating protein after a workout, supports the needed muscle growth. Most of all, enjoy the process of becoming your best self!