Exercise for Beginners: Weight Training
If you’ve never lifted weights before, all types of strength training — from bodyweight exercises to weight machines to free weights — can seem like an intimidating mystery. Just to make it even more confusing, almost everyone you speak to is going to have a different opinion about which exercises are best and why. Even seasoned professional trainers sometimes disagree about exactly how you should strength train.
My advice (as a highly opinionated trainer) is that in light of all the different opinions out there, when you’re first starting out you should stick to simple, proven techniques that work. Once you have a little experience under your belt you’ll get a feel for which types of exercise you prefer — and you’ll also have built a solid base of strength and endurance, so you’re less likely to get injured when you start increasing your workout intensity or trying creative new exercises. In the meantime, some good general recommendations are to…
Lift Each Weight About 12 Times
More isn’t always better when it comes to weightlifting. If you aim for about 12 repetitions of each exercise, you’ll avoid two common mistakes:
- Overloading yourself with so much weight that you risk serious injury. If you can’t lift the weight at least 12 times, it’s too heavy for now. Once you’ve strength trained for a month or two, you can lower your “minimum repetitions” number to 8 reps; but in the meantime, give your ligaments and tendons the time they need to adapt to new stimuli, along with your muscles.
- Lifting the weight too many times. In a few special cases, doing high-repetition exercises may be the best approach — but usually, if you can lift the weight more than 12 or 15 times, it’s not heavy enough to challenge your muscles. And if the weight doesn’t challenge your muscles, it won’t provide the necessary stimuli for building strength and endurance.
Work Every Muscle Group
Your body is built so that opposing pairs of muscles push and pull at each joint. In order to avoid injury (and get the most benefit out of your workouts), you should work those opposing muscle pairs together. So pair any pushing exercises you do (like pushups) with pulling exercises, like pullups. Another good example: Pairing the leg extension and hamstring curl machines together, so you work both the muscles that “push” on the knee joint and the muscles that “pull” on the knee joint.
Take a Break
Do focus 100% on what you’re doing when you lift; think intensity and total concentration, not chatting with friends, for the few minutes you’ve got a weight in your hand. But remember, always give each muscle group at least a full day off before you work it again. So if you’re doing full-body workouts, take a day off between workouts; or if you work your legs on Monday, don’t work them again until Wednesday. (You could work other muscle groups, like your upper body, on Tuesday.)
Oh, By the Way…
That disclaimer you see on fitness DVDs and websites — to always consult a physician before beginning a new exercise program — is there for good reason. Please follow it. Opinionated though I am, this is no substitute for a medical or fitness professional’s in-person advice.
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