back to top
Health

Here's How To Actually Start Lifting Weights

FYI you can totally do this.

Posted on

1. Guess what: You can start lifting right now even if you have zero experience.

Thinkstock

If, when you think of weightlifting, you imagine a gigantic dude with a barbell on his back, you might not be convinced that you're ready to start lifting. But try not to picture that guy. You're going to start simply, with beginner exercises and weight you can manage even if you have no experience with strength training at all.

It's a common misconception that you need to already be fit to start lifting, Boston-based strength coach and certified strength and conditioning specialist Tony Gentilcore tells BuzzFeed Life. But actually, weightlifting can help get you into shape.

2. Start by learning some exercises that work major muscle groups.

Instagram: @mona_gamil_blingbling / Via instagram.com

Think about building your workouts around big muscle groups, certified strength and conditioning specialist Holly Perkins, author of Lift to Get Lean and the founder of Women's Strength Nation, tells BuzzFeed Life. That means your lower body (squats, deadlifts, lunges), shoulders (overhead presses, raises), chest (bench presses, flyes), back (rows), and core (though many of these will be bodyweight-only exercises).

If you don't actually know how to do those moves, you can get a trainer to show you proper form, or Perkins suggests the short videos and tutorials at Bodybuilding.com. Their exercise library has basically everything.

3. Next, learn how to do those moves with dumbbells or machines.

Instagram: @toofittofunction / Via instagram.com

Dumbbells are a new lifter's best friend. They're usually a little less intimidating than barbells (associated with extremely heavy lifts) and kettlebells (associated with a high level of technique), say Gentilcore and Perkins.

But if the free-weight area of your gym is too terrifying for words or if you just want to mix it up, consider learning some moves on machines, too. Machines have a bit of a mixed reputation because they move you along a fixed plane, allowing you to move weight without needing to worry about balance or stability (so it's less of a full-body workout). But that simplicity also takes the confusion out of how the fuck to move your body with weight, which is actually great for beginners who really just want to get started without hurting themselves.

4. Plan to lift three times per week as part of a full-body workout.

i.imgur.com

For most people with a general goal of getting fitter and stronger, this is a good place to start. Gentilcore says that this "more or less every other day" approach is usually the sweet spot — manageable but not overwhelming, and enough time in the gym to see progress.

5. The basic recipe for a good beginner full-body workout is one or two exercises per muscle group.

Perkins suggests this formula if you're trying to DIY your own routine. Again, those muscle groups are lower body, back, chest, shoulders, and core. And you can do these moves with dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, machines, or some combination.

For instance, an intro workout might include squats and lunges for the lower body, bent-over row and seated cable row for the back, bench press and dumbbell flys for the chest, seated dumbbell press and front dumbbell raise for the shoulders, and a couple of bodyweight moves for the core (like a plank and bicycle kicks). Perkins recommends doing 10 reps of each exercise for three to four sets. Check out the exercise library at Bodybuilding.com to choose the exercises.

6. Of you can just follow pre-fab workouts from a trustworthy source.

You don't want to just go download any old program but there are some reputable places to find good workouts. Perkins recommends the workouts at Bodybuilding.com. You can do BuzzFeed Life's own full-body bodyweight-and-dumbbell workouts.

If you want more than just workouts — like an actual program you can follow for a few months, plus lots of comprehensive information on strength training, Gentilcore recommends the books The New Rules of Lifting, The New Rules of Lifting for Women, and Strong: Nine Workout Programs for Women to Burn Fat, Boost Metabolism, and Build Strength for Life. Gentilcore also recommends Nia Shanks's training packages.

7. You don't even have to join a gym; just invest in a couple key pieces of equipment.

Instagram: @babystepswithamanda / Via instagram.com

A beginning strength training routine doesn't require more than a couple of pairs of dumbbells to start. Perkins recommends women start with a pair of 5-pound and 10-pound dumbbells and men with a pair of 10-pound and 15-pound dumbbells. But you might be better off just going to a sporting goods store or a gym and lifting a few to get it right.

8. Do not try to lift all the weight right away.

Thinkstock

Anyone who's new to lifting weights should start slow — do not try to work with weights that are so heavy that you cannot complete all your reps and sets with perfect form. "Your body will adapt and respond better and faster if you start conservatively," says Perkins. The quality of each rep is always more important than number of reps or the weight of the dumbbells.

9. Use the "two rep rule" to know how heavy you should be lifting.

Instagram: @josieroxursox / Via instagram.com

It takes some trial and error to determine the appropriate weight for a given exercise. Gentilcore suggests the "two rep rule" to figure out how heavy you should go. Here's how it works: If you can get within two reps of what your set calls for, you're at the right weight. If you can do two or more reps beyond what your set calls for, you should use a heavier weight.

So, if you're following the recommendation above and starting with sets of 10, getting eight good reps means you're at the right weight. But if you're making your way through the set and find that you can easily do 12 or more reps, move on to a heavier weight for that exercise.

10. If you have the cash, hire a coach for a single session.

youtube.com / Via giphy.com

Working with a trainer once is a great way to learn some basic movements, says Perkins. You can use the free session the gym gives you when you join, but be aware that those are usually meant to upsell training packages — so let them know you're just looking to learn a few exercises and proper form.

Another tactic is to hire the most qualified trainer you can afford for one session, preferably a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (which you can search for here) or a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified trainer. Then ask them to teach you several moves for each major muscle group and how to check yourself for proper form.

11. Actually lift in front of mirrors to make sure your form is perfect.

Instagram: @drevelka / Via instagram.com

Mirrors in gyms aren't just great for staging post-workout selfies; they also let you watch yourself lift and make sure you're executing each move correctly. Perkins says that having a "conscious commitment to technique" by watching yourself lift will improve your lifting, which means better results. She also recommends watching videos and tutorials regularly (again, Bodybuilding.com is a great resource) to check in on your form and make sure you're still getting it right. And you can also check out some of BuzzFeed Life's own dumbbell workouts (here, here, and here) to see what proper form looks like for bodyweight workouts.

12. Do not crush yourself with intense workouts all the time.

Instagram: @crossfit_nyc / Via instagram.com

Not being sore doesn't actually mean it wasn't a worthwhile workout. Being tired all the time actually makes it tough to make real progress for more than a few weeks at a time, says Gentilcore. That's because you're not giving your body enough time to recover and you're making it harder to stick with your routine. Gentilcore recommends leaving the gym wanting just a little more — like you could do a little more work but instead you're saving it for your next workout. Working out consistently with this mindset is how gains are made.

13. And be sure to prioritize rest and sleep.

Instagram: @yourspecialdog / Via instagram.com

Even though you swear you can feel your biceps growing after a major lifting sesh, the reality is that you're actually breaking down muscle tissue in the gym. It's between workouts — when you're resting, sleeping, and eating — that your body repairs and builds those muscles. This is why rest days are crucial, says Gentilcore. If you feel up for light cardio, yoga, cycling or some other activity done at an easy effort, go for it. But listen to your body and chill when necessary.

14. If you're lifting to lose weight, be sure your diet matches that goal, too.

Instagram: @dindanatameliaa / Via instagram.com

As we've previously reported, exercise (including strength training) is an integral part of a weight loss plan, as is tweaking your diet for fat loss. That means creating a caloric deficit — usually by cutting some calories and also burning some with exercise — as well as making sure you're getting the right ratio of protein, carbs, and fat. You can learn exactly how to do all that here.

15. As always, make sure your expectations are realistic for the amount of work you're putting in.

Instagram: @amysam / Via instagram.com

You can actually notice yourself getting stronger within about a month of lifting consistently, say Gentilcore and Perkins. Those weights that were heavy in week one should feel way lighter during week four.

But seeing body changes may take longer — maybe up to a few months for some people — and they'll depend on other factors like how you're eating, your metabolism, genetics, etc. To get a sense of what you'll need to do to see big changes from your workouts, check out our previous reporting on losing body fat, getting six-pack abs, a bigger butt, and putting on serious muscle.

Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!

Dismiss