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Weight Training for Beginners: Tips to Get Started

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Weight Training for Beginners: Tips to Get Started

There's no doubt that strength is one of the most important aspects of physical fitness. And there are few better ways to build muscle and improve your physique than through weight lifting. Still, it's easy to see how, between the many varied techniques and sometimes intimidating culture, some may be a bit hesitant to give it a try. But the reality is that lifting weights can be fun, rewarding, and great for your health, all at the same time. 

Let's break down everything you need to know about how to start lifting weights and the many benefits this exercise can bring.

What is Weight Training?

At its core, weight training is any exercise designed to increase strength and muscle through specific lifting or resistance techniques. Weight training is traditionally done with barbells (adjustable weights stacked on a long bar lifted with both arms) or dumbbells (smaller weights typically that can be lifted by one or two arms.) However, it can also be practiced with specialized exercise machines that target areas like the legs, back, chest, arms, and more.

Weight lifting (and strength training generally) has a variety of valuable health benefits. In addition to added physical strength, it toughens bones, improves mobility, and helps with heart health. Plus, it burns calories like all other exercises, helping those looking to shed a few pounds. There are also notable mental health benefits that come with weight lifting, like improved mood and self-esteem.

Beginner Weight Lifting: What You Need to Know

Equipment

It may go without saying, but you'll also need a selection of weights to use. While some get by at home with items like water jugs, cinder blocks, or sandbags, most opt for actual barbells or dumbbells. Those with the space, the budget, and the dedication can invest in their own personal weight set to use at home. Pre-assembled sets are available, though you can always put together your own weight set a la carte. Many other weight trainers will instead get a gym membership, providing them access to a wide selection of weights, along with other equipment and amenities.

Warming Up

Many who've exercised in other ways may be tempted to do some stretching before lifting weights. But contrary to popular belief, research has shown static stretching has little impact (and may even harm performance) when it comes to weight training. A better choice would be spending a few minutes on a dynamic warmup, like lunges, high-knees, or jumping rope. However, it's worth taking the time to stretch after you've finished lifting when it can improve flexibility and aid recovery by stimulating blood flow.

4 Common Weight Lifting Exercises to Start With

Naturally, a key to learning how to start lifting weights is to learn the right exercises and techniques. Here are a few to get started. Begin with 8-12 reps per set, followed by a break. It's OK to start with just one set, though you should work up to two or three sets of each exercise per workout.

1. Squats (Legs, Glutes)

Take the weighted barbell and rest it on your upper back and shoulders. Stand with your feet shoulder-length apart and point your toes slightly outward. Lower your body by bending your knees and pushing your hips back while your back remains straight, similar to the motion you'd make sitting down in a chair. Drop your hips slightly below your knees before pushing upward through your heels to stand back up and repeat. Make sure to keep your heels flat and not drop your chin.

This popular exercise targets the legs and glutes along with your core and back, providing diverse benefits like functional strength, the kind that can be best applied to a range of daily motions.

2. Bench Press (Chest, Shoulders, Arms)

Lie flat on a bench with either a barbell or a dumbbell in each hand. Breathe in and lower the weight to chest level, keeping your elbows at 90-degree angles. Push upward as you breathe out, moving the weight back to its original position. It's vital to lower the weight slowly and safely and not flare your elbows or risk potentially serious injury. Those bench pressing significant weight will likely also want a spotter nearby to help if needed. Those with dumbbells can also do a similar chest press exercise with one weight in each hand.

This is another functional compound exercise that benefits a diverse group of muscles in the chest, shoulders, arms, and more. It's also one of the more familiar exercises and relatively simple to master.

3. Bicep Curls (Arms)

Another simple and easily recognizable weightlifting exercise, bicep curls, can be done with either dumbbells or barbells. Sit or stand with the weight in your hands, palms up, elbows at your side. Curl the weight up toward you, keeping your elbows at your sides throughout. Lower the weight back to the original position and repeat.

As their name suggests, bicep curls primarily target the bicep muscles on the front of the upper arm. They're also known for improving grip strength and joint use in the arms.

4. Shoulder Press (Shoulders)

Use dumbbells for this exercise, which helps strengthen not just the shoulders but also the upper chest and upper arm muscles. Grip one weight in each hand and raise them to shoulder level, palms facing out and elbows at 90-degree angles. Press the dumbbells upward until your arms are straight, and then gradually lower them to the original position.

Next Steps

Of course, these are just a few of the dozens of different weight training exercises out there. Books, online guides, personal trainers, and even others at the gym can all be good resources to learn new ones as you progress. As your strength grows, you'll feel the initial weight become easier to lift. Gradually increasing the weight in 5-10% increments is an easy rule of thumb to help build your muscles without overtaxing yourself and risking injury.

How Often Should You Lift Weights?

You may feel great after your first weightlifting session - and quite sore the next day. Still, beginners need to stick to a schedule to get their bodies used to the work of weight training. To start, many less experienced folks lift two to three times weekly on non-consecutive days. This allows plenty of time for your muscles to build and heal without losing the benefits of your gains. Eventually, you may want to work up to four or even five days per week, depending on your goals. However, it's critical to always leave a few rest days to help your body recover and muscles grow optimally. For this same reason, lifting sessions should be limited to around 45 minutes to start, which can increase to an hour to 90 minutes once you've adapted to the exercise.

Knowing When to Stop

Pushing through to meet your lifting goals can be critical, but so is listening to your body. If you experience any sudden, sharp pains, swelling, or other unexpected sensations, particularly in the area of the muscle being exercised, it's worth stopping, at least temporarily. The same goes if you're feeling very fatigued or lightheaded. Consult a doctor for any extreme pain or discomfort or instances that linger beyond normal muscle soreness.

Don't Forget Other Fitness

While weight training is crucial for all the reasons we've already discussed, it shouldn't be the only way you work out. In addition to gaining strength, those looking for ideal fitness should also build their cardiovascular endurance. There are tons of ways to do this that fit nearly any exercise preferences, including popular ones like walking, running, swimming, or bicycling. 

Jumping rope (with classic jump ropes or ropeless jump ropes) is also an excellent and underrated way to improve cardio performance. Some of the main benefits of jumping rope include the need for little equipment and the fact that it can be done almost anywhere at any time. Finally, don't forget about flexibility and balance, which can be improved through yoga, pilates, martial arts, or even dancing, among many other activities.

Get Started on the Path to Strength with Weight Training

There's no need to be intimidated by weight training. This approachable, incredibly healthy exercise is a vital part of building well-rounded physical fitness. With these helpful tips, you've got everything you need to get started in a fun, safe, sustainable way. Remember the principles of this simple plan for weight training for beginners, and with some hard work, before long, your muscles will show you’re no longer a beginner!

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