So You Want to Start Lifting
A beginner’s guide to incorporating weights into your workout routine.
1. Start Small
When you're just starting out you need to learn the movements and how to lift before you start picking up heavy weights. To start I’d suggest picking a movement from each of the 6 foundational movement patterns (discussed here) and learn how to perform each one correctly. For example, you might choose a Squat, Romanian Deadlift, Reverse Lunge, Bent Over Row, Seated Shoulder Press and a Farmers Walk.
Watch YouTube videos on how to perform, then practice without weight. Watching yourself in the mirror or recording and watching back are great ways for identifying whether you’re doing it right or wrong. Once you’re confident with the movement add weights but don’t go too heavy. Say your aiming for a set of 8, you want the last two reps to feel difficult but not impossible. If you can hardly complete the last rep and need to bounce or shake to do so reduce the weight, if you can complete all 8 with ease increase the weight. When you’re happy with these exercises try some new ones, but don’t try learning too many all at once. It’s better to be able to perform a few good quality exercises then lots of different ones with bad form.
2. Keep Track
Take note of the weights your using and the number of reps and sets you do each workout. Not only does this make it easier to remember what you did last time, it also helps you visually see the progress you’re making.
A key component of any exercise programme is progressive overload (gradually increasing the amount of stress placed upon the body) and you can do this in many ways such as increasing the weight used, sets and reps performed and the frequency of workouts. By keeping track of what you’re doing, you can ensure you are achieving this progressive overload. I could write a whole post on progressive overload so if that’s something you’re interested in let me know in the comments.
3. Workout Split
A workout split is breaking up your workouts into muscle groups or movement patterns, i.e. upper body and lower body; or push, pull and legs. When working out your split you want to ensure you’re giving each muscle group time to recover. It’s recommended 48hours rest before working the same muscles group again. So, say you do an upper body workout Monday morning, you might do a lower body workout Tuesday, rest Wednesday and then back to upper body Thursday. If you’re going to the gym 3 times a week or less I recommend having a full body focus with an entire day off between each session.
4. Follow a Plan
If putting together your own workouts and making sure you’re hitting all the necessary components seems overwhelming you can follow a plan. There is an abundance of 4, 6, 8 and 12 week programmes online that you can use to get started. When I first started lifting I used a guide by Stef Williams and whilst I never finished it, it taught me what a weight session should look like and the types of movements I can incorporate. Since then I have had Annie Openshaw as an online coach and currently I’m using Annie’s Accomplish 12-week
plan to build up my strength before going back to the gym. Before purchasing a plan, I really recommend you look into who it has been programmed by. Whilst your favourite influencer may look in great shape, it doesn’t mean they have the correct qualifications to sell you a workout programme. Only buy one from someone who is a qualified personal trainer who’s work looks trustworthy or from someone who has specifically worked with a personal trainer to create the plan.
5. Gym Anxiety
When you’re starting out it can be really nerve racking to walk into the weight section of a gym. I’ve felt that way and I’m sure I’ll feel it again when I head back into the gym after so much time away. In most gyms, there tends to be a quieter area with mats, dumbbells and kettlebells. I’ve found these areas less intimidating and still have enough equipment to get started, so begin there. The more you go to the gym, the more confident you’ll get and you’ll soon realise that people aren’t watching or judging you and find yourself confident enough to head into the free weights section.
Another alternative is to look for a gym with a women’s only section. There are more and more female gym spaces popping up now so spend some time researching gyms before you join one and find a place your comfortable in. If you don’t want to try either of these options yet you can pick up a pair of dumbbells and resistance bands pretty cheap and start from home. I’m currently training from home with a pair of 2kg and 5kg dumbbells and an assortment of long and short resistance bands, all from either Amazon or Decathlon.
The biggest piece of advice I can give you if you want to start lifting is just turn up. Yes, it can all seem daunting at first but start small, and take the time to learn a few core movements and you’ll be making progress before you know it. In fact, thanks to beginner’s gains, you’ll make progress pretty quickly whatever you do, which is fantastic motivation to keep going.
As always any questions drop them in the comments below.