Weight Training for Beginners: Lifting Basics

weight training for beginnersWeightlifting is not just for body-builders…regular people can also benefit from these muscle training exercises.  By adjusting the weight, repetition and techniques, weightlifting can be scaled to an appropriate level to suit anyone’s exercise goals.  Including the proper use of weight training in your exercise regime provides unparalleled ability to increase strength and target particular muscle groups, but it is important to know what you’re doing because it is also an easy way to injure yourself.

Excessive weight, poor technique, and inadequate warm-up are all serious risks, and far from improving fitness, they can contribute to the kinds of chronic injuries that prevent people from exercising at all.  But this is no reason not to take advantage of weightlifting, with a few basic guidelines and the appropriate equipment you can safely enjoy the benefits of lifting weights.

First things first, how does weight training fit into your life?  While belonging to a gym offers the most equipment options and resources, not having access to a gym membership does not mean that you can’t lift weights.  It is easy to find inexpensive used dumbbells on Craigslist, and there are a lot of exercises you can perform with just a set of dumbbells.  Even if you can’t get your hands on any equipment there are still plenty of exercise for home that take advantage of weight training principles.  If you are new to weightlifting and muscle training, it might be useful to have a trainer plan out a routine that meets your needs and helps you become familiar with the exercises involved.  Most gyms offer both classes and personal trainers to help you get going and stay motivated, but there are also exercise classes online and on DVDs.  All it takes is a bit of research to find the plan that fits your needs and experience. Whether you are working out at home or hitting the gym, you are going to use the same set of muscles, and the importance of the warm up cannot be overstated.

The keys to a good pre-workout are getting warm, and stretching out.  Aerobic exercises that get the blood pumping are the first step.  With increased blood flow your muscles perform better, recover faster and are less likely to be injured.  Along with aerobic exercises you should do some light pre-workout stretching to increase your range of motion and lengthen the muscle fibers so they are less likely to tear while lifting.  Dynamic stretching is preferable, that is stretches that involve movement, as opposed to static stretches where you hold a position.  Focus you stretching on the areas that are most likely to be injured, such as your rotator cuff, shoulder and back muscles, neck, and knees.  Warming up for ten to twenty minutes is perfect, with most of the time spent on aerobic work.

Once you are all warmed up and ready to lift there are a few considerations that will maximize your benefits and decrease your risk of injury.  Check them out:

  1. Start off with light weights.  No, even lighter.  Especially if you are just getting into lifting, it is important not to push yourself at first.  Pick a weight that allows you to do more than 10 repetitions, without too much strain or fatigue.  Even most serious weight lifters often begin their routine with a set of low weight reps and then progress to heavier weights in later sets.  Better to wish you’d lifted more than wish you’d lifted less.
  2. Concentrate on performing each exercise with correct technique.  This is important both for maximizing the benefit to the muscle you are working out and minimizing the risk of injury.  Avoid swinging weights around while using them.  You want to maintain good posture, take a firm stance and lift with only the essential muscles- don’t compensate with other muscles.  Be careful with shoulder and knee exercises.  If you are holding a weight at arm’s length don’t lift it above your shoulder, and if you are performing weighted squats don’t bend lower than where your thigh is parallel to the ground.
  3. Go for high reps, full range, and multiple sets.  It is most beneficial for strengthening muscles to perform exercises that engage them at every point along the range of motion.  Additionally there is more benefit in gradually fatiguing your muscle, by performing three sets of fifteen repetitions for each exercise, for example, than in trying to lift as much as you can all at once.
  4. Go slowly.  Take time between exercises to keep stretch and staying warm.  Your muscles will improve the most if you give them a chance to recover after each exercise and then do another set.  Also it is important to lift in a slow and controlled motion.  Jerking the weights around is a good way to injure yourself, but lifting them slowly will make every exercise more challenging.
  5. Stay hydrated so you can keep sweating but bring a towel to wipe down equipment.  Water is essential to muscle recovery and it is important to stay hydrated during and after working out, but it is also important not to drip sweat all over the place, especially if you are in a gym sharing equipment with everyone else.
  6. Be sure to cool down properly.  After lifting it is a good idea to get a bit more cardio work in and do some more stretching, making sure that as your muscles cool they are not contracting and cramping.  Find some time to get in a few more quick stretching or yoga sessions in the hours following your workout to keep loose.

As you become familiar with weight training and want to get even more out of your exercises, look into improving your diet, creating a schedule that includes sufficient rest and recovery periods between workouts, and if you are training for something specific, do some research or seek advice on how to tailor your workout to your needs.