09 Aug Weight Lifting for Beginners
The other day I was speaking with a friend about working out, a common talking point in the life of Erica. As a novice, she felt that stepping into the gym to train was like being thrown into the wolves. “Everyone’s looking at me! I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m self-conscious when I walk up to the big racks. I can’t lift that much!” were some of the doubts she revealed to me during our discussion.
Totally understand all of this. Back in the days when I felt I only belonged in the women’s gym doing side bends with a pink three pound dumbbell, I was in the same beginner boat for a while. Nowadays lifting for beginners is a realm of training that isn’t discussed nearly enough. How many sets and reps of each exercise? Do I do a leg day? A cardio day? How heavy should I lift? Should I do squats on a bosu ball? What’s the deal with muscle confusion? Certainly these are all important questions to safely begin your weight lifting journey.
I have several friends who are curious about strength training and don’t know where to start. I want to shift the idea of the weight room into something a bit less intimidating, especially for females. Feelings of inferiority may deter us from picking up the iron in front of the guys, but yo. It doesn’t have to be all that scary. I’m here to ease you into the gym with confidence and valuable knowledge.
1.) Start off training 2-3 days a week.
I understand your initial itch is to go all out. When I first started weight lifting, I dove face first in the dumbbells, squat racks, tire flipping and boxing 5 days a week. The result? I ran out of steam pretty quickly. Instead of burning ourselves out and hating life, it is best to dedicate 2-3 total body days a week. Why? We can be more efficient with our time, but also we are starting to learn new movement patterns. Total body days ensure our muscles adjust nicely to the basic moves: squats, pull ups, push ups, deadlifts, and presses, so it is best we stay consistent with them a couple days a week for the first few months.
2.) Stop giving a shit what people think.
Breaking news: no one is watching you. And chances are, no one even cares what you’re doing. Don’t take this the wrong way, but people are simply focusing on themselves. So it is best you do the same and stay in your own workout bubble. When we keep our eyes on our own paper, we are able to reclaim the power we need to kick ass at our training regimen by focusing on perfect form, embracing exercise for what it is, and getting shit done for ourselves. So just do you.
3.) Focus on 2-3 compound movements per workout.
Want to know the truth? Doing only bicep curls, tricep extensions, and some crunches here and there are exercises that we should avoid first. Why do I hate isolation work so much? Because when you focus on working one muscle group at a time, there is little room for major physique changes, metabolic responses, and major muscle adaptations. Isolation work is just added fluff to a workout that can be much more productive.
On the other hand, compound movements (think deadlift, squats, pull ups, etc.) that give you more bang for your training buck by working multiple muscle groups are what beginners (and advanced gym goers) should track the most. Sometimes compound exercises are the only things I’m tracking, and if I do have time for accessory lifts, then cool. If not, no biggie. I’m pretty sure my biceps and triceps won’t suffer.
I’m a believer in working out hard, but resting harder. When we rest, it not only gives us time to recover, but getting back into the gym excites and energizes us more. Going balls to the wall from the beginning is the all-or-nothing mindset that endangers us and can turn gym going into more of a burden. Relax and train sparingly.
5.) Do medium-high reps for the first couple months.
Rep and set schemes tend to get overcomplicated in the fitness world. If you’re a beginner the magic numbers will typically be around 2-3 sets and 8-12 reps for each strength exercise. Erring on the conservative side is best because training adaptations in the beginning are primarily based on neural responses. Wiping out the nervous system from the get-go with high volume will not allow for your body to adjust properly to new movement patterns.
6.) Track your progress.
I’m a progress nazi. As a strength coach, I love to track progress and see if shit is getting done for myself and for my clients. Lifting heavier. Conditioning for more reps. Getting stronger. Progressing to more challenging variations. Breaking deadlift PRs. Innately, I’m a competitive individual but keeping a training log fires me up to stick to my program and elevate my numbers each week. I also found I’m more likely to adhere if I’m on a set program in which I hone in on holding myself accountable.
7.) See exercise as a way of life.
Playing soccer, strength training, and simply exploring new ways to move every day saved my life. Not only are my joints, bones, and muscles more durable, my mind is at peace. There’s just something uplifting about being active, healthy, and able to lift heavy ass shit. Whatever it is you’re training for, try to see beyond the aesthetic mirror. As my friend Christa Doran says, “The most uninteresting thing about you is your weight.” DAMN! For real, how true is that? And the interesting things? Your radiance. Your health. How many real pull ups you can do. How you ran a killer marathon time. Those are the wins that make life worth living, instilling in you the confidence, self worth and self appreciation you need to be awesome.
If you’re training 2 days a week, your schedule may look like this:
Monday: Training Day A
Thursday: Training Day B
Tuesday: Training Day A
Friday: Training Day B
Core 1a) Front Plank 2 sets 20-35 seconds
Core 2b) Side Plank 2 sets 15-20 seconds (each side)
Strength 1a) Goblet Squat 3×8-10
Strength 1b) Dumbbell Row 3×8-10
Strength 2a) Kettlebell Deadlift 3×8-12
Strength 2b) Push Up 3×8-12
Strength 2c) Glute Bridge 3×8-12
Core 1a) Bosu/TRX/Ab Wheel Rollouts 2×8-12
Core 2a) Pallof Press 3×8
Strength 1a) Dumbbell Step Up 3×8 (each leg)
Strength 1b) TRX/Bar Inverted Row 3×8-12
Strength 1c) Dumbbell Chest Press 3×8-10
Strength 2a) Cable Pull Through 3×8-10
Strength 2b) Resistance Band Y’s 3×8-12