Beginner’s Guide to Weight Lifting

Featured Article, Fitness, News and Advice
on January 9, 2012

If you’re looking to expand your workout repertoire to include weight lifting, you may have the drive, but lack the know-how or confidence. Jump-start your strength training routine and erase weight-room intimidation with these expert tips.

1. Make an introduction. The weight room can be a naturally intimidating place. To help you navigate it and the equipment within, look for a weight lifting class, a tour of the weight room or a personal training session (many gyms offer your first one free). “I strongly recommend a session with a certified trainer to lessen the chance of making a mistake that will lead to injury,” says Liz Neporent, co-author of the recently released Fitness for Dummies 4thEdition.

2. Start with machines. “Machines are easier than dumbbells or other free weights for beginners, because they help support the body in the correct position,” says Joan Pagano, author of Strength Training for Women. Most weight lifting machines display easy-to-understand how-to instructions, and if you’re not sure how to operate them, ask a trainer for help. “You can progress to free weights when you’ve developed enough strength and muscle memory to keep your body in proper alignment,” Pagano adds.

3. Machine match maker. “Your weight lifting program should include a minimum of eight to 10 exercises that work the major muscle groups—the back, chest, shoulders, arms, core, buttocks, thighs and calves,” Pagano says.“ As a general guideline, work in the order of large to small muscle groups to avoid fatiguing the small muscles, she says. If you are short on time, opt for machines that work multiple groups at once, like the lat row, lat pull-down, chest press and leg press.

4. Weighty decision. To determine the right amount of weight, “pick an amount you can lift in good form for an entire set, with the last few reps feeling somewhat difficult,” Pagano says. “When you can complete one set easily, increase the weight by 10 percent or add another set.”

5. Lift and repeat. If you are looking to build strength, lift heavier weights and work in sets of eight to 12 repetitions. To shape and tone, use lighter weights and higher reps, with 12-15 per set, Pagano says.  And do a minimum of two days of weight lifting each week. “Muscles need a day of rest in between workouts so muscle fibers can repair and recover,” Pagano says.

6. Hit the mat. While weight lifting machines can provide a large portion of your workout, don’t leave out the old standards, Neporent says. Functional moves, like squats, planks, lunges and push-ups work several muscle groups at once and translate to everyday movements we make in life.

7. Focus on form. Proper alignment is essential to achieve an effective workout and prevent injury. “Make sure that you are always squared off to the machine, with ribs aligned over hips, shoulder blades anchored down and together, abdominals engaged and feet flat on the floor,” Pagano says.

8. Mind your manners. Etiquette is an important part of the weight lifting room. “It is rude to hog a machine,” Pagano says. “Do your reps and move on, and if someone is tying up a machine you’d like to use, ask if you can ‘work in,’ which means completing a set while they are resting.”

9. Results take time. “You have to decide you are in this for the long haul, and don’t expect changes overnight,” Neporent says. “The lasting ones come with hard work over a period of time. You will really start to see big changes at the six-week mark if you are dedicated and consistent.”