Beginner’s guide to weight training

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WE GET IT: Showing up to the gym for the first time can be a little bit discouraging. There’s a bunch of dudes looking like vintage Lou Ferrigno, hauling around more weight than you’ve ever imagined, and all you can think about is how far you have to go before you’ll get anywhere close to that jacked.

But here’s the truth, dude: Even if you’re a beginner, the simple fact that you’re in the gym in the first place probably means you had to shift a few things around in your life to make time for the commitment. You’re now on the road to stronger bones, bigger muscles and increased strength.

That said, if you’re lifting weights improperly or too often, you can end up getting hurt. To avoid injury, you’ve got to make sure proper form and the correct volume are essential. Don’t worry though, we’re here to guide through perfect technique, efficient programming, and a clean diet in the quest to reaching all of your fitness goals.

Before you even start thinking programming, be sure to do these seven things at every one of your workouts from here on out.

7 TIPS FOR WEIGHT TRAINING BEGINNERS

1. STAY HYDRATED: Muscle is 75% water. So weigh yourself on a digital scale before and after your workout. Then drink the difference in ounces of water.

2. BRING TWO TOWELS TO THE GYM: One for your post- workout shower, one for sweat-soaked equipment. (Always wipe your filthy slime off the bench between sets.)

3. BE PREPARED TO SPOT: As a beginner, ask the person exactly what you should do.

4. EMBRACE THE DUMBBELL: You won’t need a spotter, you’ll rarely have to wait for a pair, and they’ll work your muscles harder than machines.

5. CONTROL THE WEIGHT: As a beginner, never use a weight that’s so heavy that you need momentum to lift it. A simple gauge: You should be able to pause for at least one second before lifting a weight. It can be tempting to pick up the biggest dumbbell imagineable so you, y’know, look tough—but in reality, you could be doing much better.

6. START SLOW: Making minor amendments to your daily routine will help you cultivate positive habits. If you start so gradually that you barely notice the change, you’ll be more apt to continue it and make more changes without them ever seeming daunting.

7. STAND UP STRAIGHT: Want an easy way to tell if you’re performing your exercises correctly? Check your posture. The correct starting position for most exercises is shoulders back, chest out, standing (or sitting) tall, with your abs tight. Good posture, good form.

Now that you’re ready to exude proper gym etiquette, it’s time to consider what training program you’ll use. If you can only commit two days a week to the gym, that’s OK. Try these workouts.

 

THE GYM BEGINNER’S WORKOUT PROGRAM

Perform the two workouts (Day 1 and 2) once each per week, resting at least a day between each. Perform the exercises marked with letters as a group. Do one set of A, rest, then one set of B, rest (note that some groups have an exercise “C”), and repeat until all sets are complete. Then go on to the next group. Perform three sets of 8–10 reps for each exercise. After a month, you’ll see how rewarding just a months in the gym can be.

DAY I

1A) Dumbbell Squat
Rest: 30 sec.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Squat down as low as you can while keeping an arch in your lower back.

1B) Pushup
Rest: 60 sec.
Place your hands on the floor outside shoulder width and tighten your abs. Keeping your body straight, lower yourself until your chest is about an inch off the floor.

2A) Dumbbell Reverse Lunge
Rest: 30 sec.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and step back with one leg. Lower your body until your rear knee nearly touches, and your front thigh is parallel to, the floor.

2B) Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Rest: 60 sec.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. Brace your abs and press the weights straight overhead.

3A) Bulgarian Split Squat
Rest: 30 sec.
Rest the top of one foot behind you on a bench or chair. Lower yourself using your support leg until your rear knee nearly touches the floor.

3B) Dip
Rest: 30 sec.
Grab onto the parallel bars of a dip station and lower your body until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. If you can’t do dips, do a lying triceps extension with an EZ-curl bar

3C) Russian Twist
Rest: 60 sec.
Sit on the floor with a dumbbell or weight plate in both hands and recline your torso to a 45-degree angle. Hold your arms out straight and twist as far as you can in one direction and then to the other side.

4) Stationary Bike
Pedal at a moderately hard pace for 12–20 minutes.

DAY II

1A) Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
Rest: 60 sec.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand with the weights against your thighs. Bend your hips back and lower your torso, allowing your knees to bend as needed, until you feel your lower back is beginning to lose its arch. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to come back up.

1B) One-Arm Dumbbell Row
Rest: 60 sec.
Grab a dumbbell in one hand, and rest the other hand and knee on a bench. Let your arm hang straight down. Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, row the weight until it touches your side. Perform all your reps with one arm first, and then switch arms and repeat.

2A) Straight-Leg Glute Bridge
Rest: 60 sec.
Lie on your back on the floor and rest your heels on a bench or chair. Brace your abs and push onto your heels to raise your hips off the floor until your body forms a straight line.

2B) Lat Pulldown
Rest: 60 sec.
Sit at a lat pulldown station and hold the bar with an outside shoulder-width grip. Pull the bar down to your collarbone.

3A) Dumbbell Single-Leg Deadlift
Rest: 60 sec.
Hold a dumbbell with one hand and stand on the opposite leg. Keeping your lower back arched, bend forward at the hips as far as you can and then extend your hips to come back up. Complete all your reps on one side and then switch sides.

3B) Dumbbell Biceps Curl
Rest: 60 sec.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and, keeping your upper arms against your sides, curl the weights up to shoulder level.

3C) Plank
Rest: 60 sec.
Get on the floor in pushup position, then lower your weight onto your forearms. Brace your abs and hold the position—body completely straight—for 60 seconds, or as long as you can.

4) Stationary Bike
Pedal at a moderately hard pace for 12–20 minutes.

Ready for something tougher? Here’s your next test:

THE 4-WEEK FULL-BODY WORKOUT

Perform the workout three days a week for four weeks, resting at least one day between each session. On the weight exercises, choose a load that allows you to complete a few more reps than the prescribed number (you may need to adjust this load between sets as you discover your strength levels). For instance, if an exercise calls for 12 reps, choose a load that you estimate you can perform 15 reps with before having to stop (but complete only 12).

Perform the exercise pairs (marked A and B) as alternating sets, resting 60 seconds between sets. You’ll complete one set of exercise A and rest; then one set of B and rest again; and repeat until you’ve completed all sets for that pair. On your very first training day, perform only one set for each exercise. Progress to two or more sets (as the set prescriptions below dictate) from your second workout on.

1. Front Squat
Sets: 2-3
Reps: 8
Rest: 60 sec.
Start with the barbell on the supports of a power rack at about shoulder height. Grab the bar overhand and raise your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Now lift the bar off the rack, letting it roll toward your fingers-this is where it should rest throughout the exercise (as long as you keep your elbows raised, you won’t have trouble balancing the bar) [1]. Squat as low as you can [2], and then drive with your legs to return to the starting position. That’s one rep.

2A. Three-Point Dumbbell Row
Sets: 2
Reps: 12 (each arm)
Rest: 30 sec
Grab a dumbbell in your left hand and rest the other hand on a flat bench for support. Keeping your back straight and your shoulderslevel with the floor, row the weight up to your chest. Lower the dumbbell to return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Complete 8-10 reps with the left arm, and then switch sides.

2B. Pushup
Sets: 2
Reps: 12 – 15
Rest: 30 sec.
Place your hands on the floor about shoulder-width apart and extend your legs straight behind you—your body should form a straight line from your heels to your head. Lower your body until your torso is about one inch off the floor, and then push yourself back up. That’s one rep.

3A. Single-Leg Bridge
Sets: 2
Reps: 12
Rest: 30 sec.
Lie on your back on the floor and bend one knee so that your foot is flat on the floor. Keeping your opposite leg straight, push your foot into the floor, raising your hips until both thighs are in line with each other. Reverse the motion to return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Complete all your reps on one leg, and then switch legs and repeat.

3B. Dumbbell Pullover
Sets: 2
Reps: 12
Rest: 30 sec.
Hold one dumbbell with both hands and lie back on a bench. Press the dumbbell straight over your face, and then lower your arms behind your head as far as you can. Pull the dumbbell back to the starting position. That’s one rep.

4. Plank
Sets: 1–2
Reps: Hold for 60 sec.
Rest: 60 sec.
Get into pushup position and then bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms. Keeping your entire body in a straight line, hold the position for 60 seconds. That’s one set.

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