Congratulations on taking the first major step on a life-altering journey. As a beginner to the world of lifting weights and breaking a sweat, you probably have a lot of questions about strength training. Before stepping into the gym, you should have some idea about what is going to go down (or what is going to get lifted up), so you get the most out of your workouts from the beginning.
To help you navigate the beginning stages of strength training, I’ve come up with some tips that guide you. The purpose of this advice is to get you out of your comfort zone but also working at a safe pace.
Before getting into the tips, there are two things you need to know about strength training:
- You will need to feel resistance, otherwise, you are not working. So, you should select exercises that are going to challenge you, not hurt you.
- Remember this phrase: “Progressive overload.” It means that once something feels too easy for you, you need to change something about that movement or exercise, like the weight or the reps, to make it more challenging. Otherwise, you’ll plateau.
With that out of the way, let’s look at some strength training tips for beginners:
1. Start With Bodyweight Training
There are several ways you can do strength—or resistance—training. If you have never picked up a weight in your life, there’s no reason you need to start right away. The better plan of action is to learn how to pick yourself up first because once you have the power to do that, you will be able to tackle free weights with much more confidence and ease.
Bodyweight exercise, also known as calisthenics, can be done anywhere, by anyone, at any time. It’s perfect for a beginner such as yourself! The body, after all, is always with you, and you can do functional moves like squats and push-ups in a workout to move better and with more strength.
It’s a win-win.
So, start with bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, planks, lunges, and so on. You can even add in plyometrics and suspension training, like TRX, to give you more of a challenge.
2. Follow With Free Weights
After you have tinkered around with bodyweight exercises and start seeing results, you can then pick up the dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells. Dumbbells and kettlebells are ideal for beginners for a number of reasons:
- Most gyms have dumbbells and kettlebells in a variety of weights.
- Dumbbells and kettlebells don’t take up much room in the gym or in your home.
- You can use dumbbells and kettlebells to make bodyweight movements more challenging.
- You can scale the weight you are lifting easily, since dumbbells and kettlebells come in numerous increments.
Adjustable dumbbells and kettlebells exist to make life even easier, since you’ll only need a pair of dumbbells or one kettlebell for all your training needs.
That said, there are some moves that are better done with a barbell, such as the cornerstones of strength training: bench press and deadlift. You can lift heavier weight much more safely using a barbell, and you can apply that principle of progressive overload to your training.
Don’t be afraid to pick up the barbell at the gym. All it takes is a few seconds of courage. Once you get that first lift, you won’t look back.
3. Assess Your Goals
So, you might be wondering what the best beginner program is. Realistically speaking, it is the one that you can and will do.
While most people in the gym are going to tell you that you should be using kettlebells and barbells for lifting weight and breaking a sweat, that’s not always going to be the best route for you.
Refer to the first tip in the article for the best step: bodyweight training.
Bodyweight training allows you to gain strength while practicing ideal form for heavier lifts using equipment. Do your push-ups, sit-ups, squats, side planks, and so on. Get that solid foundation.
Next, you need to think about your goals. Do you want to build strength? Work on muscular endurance? Lose some weight? When you consider these things, the answer for your fitness programming, that is to say how many sets and repetitions of each exercise you will be doing, becomes clearer. Here’s the gist of deciding on your sets and reps:
- Want to build muscle and strength? Work within the 1-5 rep range with heavy weight.
- Want to build balanced strength, endurance, and size? Work between 6-12 repetitions with medium weight.
- Want to build endurance and cardiovascular health? Work within the 13-20 rep range with a medium weight.
This usually means you will be doing 2-3 sets of a selected exercise, but some programs will call for 4 sets of bodyweight exercises, especially if you are doing 10-12 reps per exercise or side.
4. Start Slow And Work Yourself Up
Sure, you might want to hit the gym hard from the get-go, but that is not always the smartest way to approach your new fit lifestyle. You need to build yourself up, not break yourself down. This means being realistic about where you are. If you’re a deconditioned athlete, you might be able to bounce back faster than someone who is just making their first step.
Either way, you start slow with exercise two days a week. If that feels like it’s not enough or not you’re not feeling challenged, tack on a third day. Keep that three days on, four days off pattern for a few more weeks or months, depending on your schedule. Then, as you start to see improvements, you can make it four days, 30-60 minutes each.
For optimal fitness, it is recommended that you do three to five days a week of strength training and two days of cardio.
If you don’t have time for an hour session, you can break down your workouts into 20-minute blocks twice a day. Add on 10-minute increments when you get stronger. As for cardio, aim to meet the national recommendation of 150 minutes per week of light-to-moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of high-intensity training or activities.
5. Don’t Forget To Warm Up
A lot of people just jump straight into a workout without properly prepping their bodies for the intensity. Anyone who has been working out for a long while will tell you about the importance of the warm-up. It wakes your body up, gets the blood flowing, loosens up the muscles, and promotes elasticity.
One of the best ways to wake yourself up is to start with some light foam rolling. Then, progress to a dynamic warm-up, such as yogic Sun Salutations or inchworm walkouts, light squats, jogging or jumping rump in place, and other movements that work on range of motion.
What you don’t want to do is hold static stretches, since that can negatively impact your muscles and may subtract from your overall strength. Do static stretches at the end of your workout instead, when the muscles are warmed up and ready to be held in a stretch for longer periods of time.
6. Quality Over Quantity
When you start to pick up weights, it’s not about how much you can throw around. Instead of trying for hundreds of different moves with different free weights, stick to what you know and do well. Yes, you might see more advanced lifters in the gym doing all kinds of exercises and incorporating all types of movements into the workout, but they can only do that because they have mastered the basics and understand that the quality of the movement trumps the quantity of the movement.
Your goal is to seek out 5-7 exercises that you enjoy doing and will take the time to practice so you do every single rep perfectly. Stick with those exercises for about a month or two, or until you find the workout is no longer challenging. Never sacrifice your form to lift heavier weight or try for more aggressive movements. Use the right rep range for your goals, work with a decent rhythm, and don’t forget to breathe while lifting.
How To Do Form Checks
When just starting out, you want to make sure your form is decent all the way through. Improper form leads to injuries and imbalances that can set you back over time.
If you are working on movement patterns for deadlifting and squats, pull-ups, chest press, and so on, you can use very light weights or even grab a broomstick or whatever will simulate the equipment you will be using.
Look at videos online or have a trainer work with you to give you movement tips. Record a video of yourself and compare it to the examples of ideal form. From there, you can start to develop great technique that will follow you through your fitness journey.
Never stop checking in with your form. Always ask yourself where the weight should be placed and where it currently is. The same applies to balance, grip on the bar, and so on.
7. Hit Every Major Muscle Group
As mentioned earlier, the general guidelines for maintaining health states that adults should be strength training at least two times a week at a moderate intensity. In short, something is better than nothing. But if you are honestly trying to change yourself for the better, you shouldn’t just settle for “something.”
As a beginner, your job is to target every single major muscle group at least once in your workout and commit to continuous progress. Naturally, the exercises you choose are going to be contingent on your goals, but there are some compound movements that are ideal for newcomers to the fitness journey that target much more than meets the eye.
Examples Of The Best Exercises To Learn
There are five major exercises that you can do bodyweight or with free weights to continuously challenge yourself:
- Squats – works the legs, core, and upper body, depending on placement of the feet and whether you are holding onto weight,
- Push-ups – hundreds of variations make push-ups ideal for fresh beginners and advanced practitioners,
- Plank – an isometric hold with several variations and modifications that can strengthen the upper body, back, core, and even the lower body
- Deadlifts – a full-body compound movement with modifications that can help with posture and core strength,
- Rows – ideal for people with sedentary lifestyles since it builds on upper body strength, core strength, and comes with several variations, including cable row, bent over rows, and so on.
Each of these movements can strengthen several points in the body, enabling you to get fitter faster.
8. Don’t Forget About Rest Days
As a beginner, you are going to feel sore after more grueling workouts, and that’s perfectly normal! Your muscles might feel a little stiff or even achy after a workout or the day after, thanks to something called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, for short. The reason for this soreness is the microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. As these tears heal, you build stronger muscles.
However, as with all injuries, big or microscopic, your body is going to need time to heal. That’s where rest days come in. You should always have at least one day a week where you rest, eat well and give your body a chance to heal and come back stronger. If you don’t you risk over-training and an increased risk of injury.
Wrapping It Up
There you have it—eight great strength training tips for beginners. It doesn’t matter when you start or what your goals may be. Strength training is for everybody, and there are so many possibilities that you will never get bored once you are hooked. Focus on your form and building up strength through bodyweight exercises first, and soon you will be lifting with the pros.
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