How to Start Lifting Weights: Our Beginner's Guide to Weightlifting
by Steve Theunissen on Jul 09, 2021
Lifting weights is a fantastic way to strengthen your body, increase your stamina, improve your heart health markers and offset the natural effects of aging. However, if not approached properly it can lead to bad habits that impair and potentially hurt the body. Unless you learn the fundamentals the right way, you will have problems. In this article, I’ll set out, step by step, the basics of how to get started with the right weight lifting training the right way.
Step One: Know Your Goal
Before you even pick up a weight, you need to be clear on what your training goal is. The type of program you follow will be very different depending on which goal you are aiming for. The majority of people who lift weights are doing so to build muscle. If your goal is to lift a certain amount of weight, make sure you take the proper measures to avoid injuring yourself.
Step Two: Basic Safety Rules
Lifting heavy weights can be dangerous. To minimize your risk, be sure to follow the common-sense guidelines:
- Always wear covered shoes when you are weight training.
- Make sure that barbells and adjustable dumbbells have secure collars on the end of them.
- Always perform a warm-up set with light weight before doing your working sets.
- Never hold your breath when you are exercising.
- If possible, train along with a partner so that he or she can ‘spot’ you on your heavy exercises.
- If you do not have a training partner, train within a power rack that provides you with safety spotter bars.
Step Three: What Body Parts to Train
If you are going to use weight training to improve your body, you need to work your entire body. A mistake some people make is to concentrate on certain ‘showy’ body parts like arms and shoulders to the detriment of other parts like your legs and back. That is a huge mistake. Only working certain parts of the body will result in muscular imbalance that will open you up for injury. As a result, you should plan to do weight training exercises for each of the following skeletal muscles:
Step Four: What Exercises to Choose
Now you know what body parts you need to exercise, what movements, from the thousands that are out there, should you choose? The answer, naturally, is the exercises that most effectively work your target muscles. So how do you know?
Every muscle has a natural biomechanical line of movement. That line of movement is in harmony with the direction of the muscle fibers that make up the muscle. Those fibers have an origin point and an insertion point that dictates the direction of the muscle fiber. The exercise you choose needs to follow the direction of the muscle fiber.
Here is an example of choosing an exercise that follows the directions of the muscle fiber:
The upper back muscle (latissimus dorsi) has fibers that originate on the mid spine and insert on the humerus (upper arm), running at an angle of around 30 degrees. The best exercise to do this is a one-arm lat pull-in with a high pulley cable machine when you pull down and into your hip at a 30-degree angle. That is the exercise that best follows the direction of the muscle fibers.
Once you identify the best exercise for each muscle group, stick with that exercise. You do not need to do three of four other less effective exercises to add ‘variety’. Your muscle knows nothing about variety, only how effectively it is being worked.
The best exercises for each muscle group:
- Chest - decline dumbbell bench press
- Back - lat pull in
- Biceps - alternate standing cable curls
- Triceps - lying dumbbell press (skull crusher)
- Shoulders - cable side lateral raises / seated front press/reverse cable crossover
- Quadriceps - leg extension
- Hamstrings - seated leg curl
- Glutes - multi hip machine hip flexion
- Calves - standing calf raise
Step Five: Sets and Reps
Once you have identified the exercises that you will be doing for each muscle group, you then can define the set and rep protocol that you will follow. A muscle is made up of both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. To work all of those fibers, and therefore fully stimulate the muscle, you need to stress both the slow and the fast-twitch fibers. To do that you should exercise through a full range of repetitions.
Your first set should be with a very light weight and high repetitions. This will act as a warm-up set while also stimulating your slow-twitch muscle fibers. On your next set, you should drop to 30 reps and increase the weight. The correct weight will have you struggling for the last 5 reps of your set. That means that you can complete the reps with proper form but it will be an effort.
On each successive set, continue the pattern of dropping reps and increasing the weight.
Here is how your rep and set scheme should unfold:
- Set One: 50 reps
- Set Two: 30 reps
- Set Three: 20 reps
- Set Four: 15 reps
- Set Five: 10 reps
- Set Six: 10 reps
- Set Seven: 8 reps
- Set Eight: 8 reps
- Set Nine: 6 reps
- Set Ten: 6 reps
This set and rep scheme allows you to progressively increase the intensity of your working sets down to a maximum of 6 reps, which is the ideal rep range for strength and muscle growth. Your rest between sets should be 60-90 seconds.
You should work each body part once per week. Divide your body into three workouts as follows:
- Hamstrings Calves
Give yourself a day’s rest between each workout. As an example, you could train on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Step Six: Cool Down
Your weight training warm-up should consist of your warm-up set of 50 reps on each exercise. Finish your workout with a few static stretches for the body parts that you have been working.
Follow our step-by-step guide to get yourself going on an effective, progressive weight training program. Be sure to continue increasing the weight on your sets as you get stronger to keep challenging your muscle to respond as your strength increases.