The idea of wandering into the weight room is intimidating for many newbies, which is too bad. Because even though the thought of picking up different heavy things and putting your body under mega stress is totally daunting, the results are totally worth it. Weight lifting can obviously improve muscle tone and gain strength, but it can also improve posture, boost metabolism, among other benefits.
“Aside from feeling strong, incorporating strength training ensures a balanced body that is fully functional, pain free, and injury free,” AKT’s Master Trainer, Alissa Tucker, tells SheKnows. “By applying stress on the body using some form of resistance like weights, strength training improves the ability of muscles, bones, and connective tissues to react to outside influences and develop proper muscular function.”
So whether you’re looking to improve your push-up count, sculpt your butt, or improve your everyday life (like lifting heavy groceries or your toddler with ease), lifting weights is an integral part of a functional fitness routine.
The good news is, lifting isn’t just for those obnoxiously ripped men in the gym. Anyone can start lifting weights and the advice of our experts below will help you get started.
Know proper form with a professional
It might cost you a bit of cash to work with a professional but it might cost you in the long run (like an injury) if you don’t. Proper form is everything when it comes to lifting weights, which is why Tucker recommends working with a personal trainer or knowledgeable group fitness instructor to help ensure you’re doing the moves correctly. If in-person training isn’t an option for you, there are a number of virtual personal trainers that offer virtual sessions that are a great way to get you started.
Prepare your workout
There’s more to your lifting workout than sweating and squatting and showing off the gun show. If you want to get the most out of your workout, “Warm up is key,” Luke Zocchi, Centr ‘s head trainer and Chris Hemsworth’s personal trainer. “Spend at least 5 minutes getting the body nice and warmed up for the lifts you are about to perform before you add weight. This is going to help you avoid injury.”
Tucker recommends that a good warm up should include moves on all planes of motion; forward and back, side to side and rotational. “It can also be a good idea to incorporate similar moves that you’ll be doing in your workout. For example if you are doing a weight squat, you can do some squats with no weights as part of your warm up.”
Fueling your workout is also an important part of your pre-workout. While Zocchi says nutrition depends on the individual, “the rule of thumb I stick to, the closer you are to training, the smaller the meal and the more digestible the carbohydrates should be. Two to three hours out from a session, I would have a normal meal. One to two hours out, I would have a protein shake with a banana. Anything under an hour, I would just have some fruit.”
Start off slowly
While wanting to go hard at the gym is normal (who doesn’t want J. Lo’s body?), it’s smarter to start your lifting journey slowly. Which is why Tucker recommends starting with a weight that feels doable. “You want the last few reps to feel pretty challenging,” she says. “If you’re taking a class, it can be helpful to grab a few different size weights so you can switch them out as needed. It’s always better to drop to a lighter weight and keep proper form than to let your form slip in order to lift a heavier weight.”
Another common mistake she sees is moving too quickly through the movements. “When you’re first starting out, it’s best to move slowly to ensure that you’re engaging the proper muscles and you’re not using momentum to move the weights.”
Don’t stick to the weight machine
Sure, the weight machines look like the easier option rather than struggling to lift huge dumbbells but Tucker says they’re not always the right option for those newbies because, while they help to set you up in the proper position and they can make it easier to maintain proper form, “it is also a huge disadvantage. The postural aids (seats, headrests etc.) allow you to disengage your core stabilizing muscles that are so important to everyday activities and total body strength. For a more functional and efficient strength workout, use free weights instead of machines.”
Choose the right weights
If you are new to weight training, it can be difficult to pick the right size weight, which is why Tucker commends working with a fitness professional at least initially.
“I see a lot of people choosing to use weights that are too light out of fear that they will ‘bulk up,” she says. “Or conversely, I see people try to power through with the heaviest size weight while having to significantly reduce their range of motion and/or compromise form. If you’re not sure which size weight is best, grab a few different sizes and switch them out as necessary. The last few reps of an exercise should be very challenging but not impossible and form should always come first.”
Stick to the basic movements
If you’re planning your own weight lifting routine, Zocchi recommends learning the big movements first like squats, presses, and deadlifts first – “These are key to building strength and muscle. I would say take out the load and master them first before adding the load. Get the movement pattern dialed in with good form before you progress.”
Above all, Zocchi says “Keep your goals realistic. Everyone’s body type is different (for example training like Chris won’t replicate his results exactly). Find consistency in a workout you love for the best results for your body and mind. Remember to have fun and enjoy the process and enjoy the ride!”
Before you go, check out our favorite leggings for working out and laying around:
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