Weight lifting, or weight training, is intentionally exercising specific muscle groups to strengthen muscles with bodyweight, resistance bands, or weights. Including weight lifting in a workout routine can help increase muscle mass, build strength, lead to fat loss, and strengthen bones amongst the many other benefits.
Whether trying to get back in shape or wanting to benefit from the health gains of strength training, starting a workout plan may seem intimidating. Fortunately, starting a beginner weight lifting routine does not have to be complicated and can even be done from home.
Follow these 7 simple steps to start a weight lifting program for beginners for utmost safety and efficiency during training.
7 Steps to Start Weight Lifting for Beginners
Looking to start weight lifting? Follow these steps for beginners (or just as refresher) for the maximum safety and gains:
- Start with little or no weight.
- Increase weight gradually.
- Focus on form.
- Research what equipment might be needed.
- Start with a warm-up
- Follow a schedule.
- Listen to your body.
*Always check with a healthcare team for any individual concerns before starting an exercise program.
1. Start With Little or No Weight
Lifting heavy weights right at the beginning of training can increase risk for injury. (The last thing you want to do when doing a beginner gym workout is get an injury that sideline exercise plans and strength gains!)
Start with little to no weights for each exercise to get proper form down and to ease into gradual progression with weight lifting routine. WebMD suggests sticking with light or no weights the first few weeks of starting a weight lifting program.
After that, gradually increase weights if desired. Keep in mind body weight exercises are considered strength training, and do not necessarily need to add any weights for strength training benefit.
2. Increase Weight Gradually
One of the most important steps when starting weight lifting is to gradually increase weights. Doing so promotes long-term strength gains instead of short-term burnout.
How to know how much weight is too little or too much? Strength exercise guidelines suggests:
- Weight lifting should include 2 to 3 sets of an exercise with 8 to 12 repetitions (reps) for each major muscle group.
- Progress weight so it feels like an 8 out of 10, in which 0 is no effort at all and 10 is maximum effort. If struggling to reach 8 to 12 reps in a set, drop down a bit in weight.
If there are specific performance goals for weight lifting, consult with an exercise specialist. They can help create an individualized plan for building muscle and increasing strength appropriately.
3. Focus on Form
Along with starting with little to no weights, limit injury risk when starting a weight lifting program by focusing on form first. The goal for beginning weight lifting is not how many reps are done or how much weight is lifted but rather the exercise is completed properly.
If working out at home, there are many strength training videos and online instructions for proper form for lifting. If at a gym or fitness club, weight machines often have instructions on how to properly perform the exercise.
General tips for proper form during lifting:
- Do not hold breath when lifting. Harvard Health suggests exhaling when lifting and pulling or pushing and inhaling when releasing.
- Move smoothly through each exercise. Movement throughout an exercise, including release, should be kept under control and not with any jerk-like motions.
- Do not be afraid to ask for guidance from exercise specialists and trainers.
4. Research What Equipment Might Be Needed
A common barrier for starting a beginner weight lifting routine is lacking gym membership and having limited equipment at home. While a gym may have more obvious options for weight lifting, a weight lifting routine at home can still be challenging.
You may choose to invest in a set of hand held free weights, resistance bands, kettlebells or a variety of other workout equipment to use at home. However, things already around the house can be used for weight lifting without spending extra money. These include:
- Cans of food
- Gallons of water
- Laundry detergent
- Bag of potatoes
- A towel
- (Feel free to get creative with other household items!)
Over time, it may be beneficial to switch up HOW you are weight lifting by changing up what equipment you use. For example, if hand held weights are typically used, try using resistance bands or kettlebells to add variety.
5. Start with a Warm Up Before Lifting
A warm-up for 5-10 minutes before weight lifting is recommended to lower the risk of injury. This can be as simple as walking for 5 to 10 minutes or doing other body weight exercises to warm your muscles up and get heart rate elevated.
For the same reason for lowering risk of muscle injury, take 5 to 10 minutes after weight lifting to cool down with some stretching and/or walking.
6. Follow a Schedule
Any exercise should be treated as other appointments for the day: as scheduled events. Plan a strength training program throughout the week and make a commitment to stick with the plan.
Good news, too… It does not have to take hours per week to see strength gains over time from weight lifting! Mayo Clinic suggests full-body strength training can be done two to three times per week for 20 to 30 minutes a session.
Take rest days in between lifting days to optimize muscle recovery. According to Harvard Health, muscles require 48 hours to recover from the tiny tears weight lifting causes. During recovery time is actually when muscles are built back up stronger. If muscles are still sore after 48 hours, take a longer time if needed to rest muscles before lifting again.
7. Listen to Your Body
Weight lifting should be challenging for muscles, but it should not be painful. If a lift causes pain, stop. If a movement causes painful tension in a joint, do not do the movement.
Consult with a healthcare team or an exercise specialist for alternatives on how to train a muscle group without causing pain to joints.
Resistance Training for Health: Infographic. https://www.acsm.org/read-research/resource-library/resource_detail?id=d0b4cc7b-1d6f-4b1a-ad20-182373d021e7.