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by Katie Hoehn September 05, 2022 8 min read

As someone who is new to fitness ... it can be hard to know where to begin when starting a weight lifting routine. Trust me, I get it. After all, I've been there myself.

I was doing exercises I saw online with no direction, no warm up or routine, and after months, no real progress. Whether you’re just getting started, or returning to training after taking some time off, I’m here to help!

In this blog, I'll discuss everything you need to know when it comes to starting a weight lifting routine. That way, you'll be prepared to get in the gym and start earning the results you're after!

Why Should You Lift Weights?

Obviously, since you're reading this, the chances are you already know why weight lifting is so great for you. For one, we all know how great weight training is for building muscle and strength. But, did you know that weight lifting is great for losing body fat, too?

That's right - the more muscle you have, the more calories your body requires and burns. That's because muscle tissue is much more metabolically active than fat tissue. Basically, it helps your body burn even more calories at rest!

Why Can't I Lose Weight?

Weight training is also one of the best ways to prevent injury. You see, when you weight train, you help strengthen your joints, connective tissue, and bones. As I've gotten older, this has become a top priority for me. I developed osteopenia in my early 20's (a condition that weakens the bones) and knew I needed to make some major changes to my nutrition and fitness.

My goal is to stay in shape and be able to keep up with my kids. I plan on being the mom that’s right there in the gym, lifting alongside my son and daughter. What's your goal with weight training?

Anyways, I'm sure you're wondering: "Where do I start?" Well, let's dive into it...

Where Do I Begin?

Before you even pick up a dumbbell, consider what your personal fitness goals are. Do you want to train for weight loss, hypertrophy (muscle growth), muscular strength, general health, or something else? Write it down.

Identifying your goals will give you good direction when it comes to your workouts. I mean think about it ... if your goal is to build strength, you'd make sure to lift heavy weight.

How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle?

If your goal is to maintain and improve your overall health ... you don't necessarily have to lift heavy weights. Your weight training will look differently depending on the results you're looking to earn.

Warm Up

Before you get into your workout, I recommend starting with some type of warm up. You can do this by simply adding some light aerobic activity and pair it with dynamic movements.

This is to increase blood flow to the muscles and prep joints for the movements in your workout. Some of my favorite movements to use during a warm up are jumping jacks, lateral lunges, and inch worms.

Make sure you don’t skip this part of your workout! Especially if you’re just getting into the swing of things. Warming up can be a great way to prevent injury and improve your performance during the workout!

Consider Your Equipment

Here's the good news is ... there are so many different pieces of equipment that you can use to weight train! Here's the bad news ... because there are so many pieces of equipment you can use, there are also an endless amount of exercises you can do. And, if you're new to fitness, that can be pretty intimidating.

For the most part though, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, and weight machines are what you'll be using 99% of the time. Or, maybe you're someone who doesn't train at a gym, and you instead like training at home. That's okay too!

At-Home Workout Guide: Doing More With Less

You can always get your own equipment for home. To this day, the best investment I ever made was a folding squat rack to mount in my garage. If you don't want to buy equipment, you can also do bodyweight exercises. Push-ups, squats, lunges, pull-ups and dips are all effective body weight exercises to challenge your muscles.

Once you know all of the equipment you'll have access to, you can start experimenting. I'm always looking for new exercises to try out, and if you're not sure what to start with, I'll even include an example workout you can try out.

Reps and Sets

As a beginner to weight lifting, you'll want to make sure you're not under-doing or overdoing your workout. That's where reps and sets come into play. While you'll find a lot of different recommendations here ... understand that these are just recommendations.

Everybody has different levels of fitness. While some people may be able to do 15 exercises in one training session, other people may only be able to do 5 starting out. I'd make it your goal to push yourself, but also focus on building a good foundation of endurance and strength for your future lifts.

Now, when I talk about "reps" ... I'm talking about repetitions. This is how many times you should perform an exercise at one time. For example, let's say the exercise is push-ups. 10 reps of push-ups is 10 push-ups ... pretty self-explanatory, right?

Workouts For Beginners

"Sets" refers to how many times you're going to perform the reps. If the workout is 3 sets of 10 push-ups ... You would do 10 push-ups, take a short rest period, then do 10 more until you've completed 3 rounds (sets).

For beginners, I personally recommend picking 8-10 exercises to do for your workouts, and 2-3 sets of each exercise.

How Do I Know When to Increase My Weight?

As you continue to lift weights, overtime, you should build some good strength and endurance. So, when do you know when is the right time to increase the weight you use? Well, think of it like this...

Let's say you're used to doing 3 sets of 10 reps of squats at 100 pounds. As you get stronger, and the exercise becomes easier, you'll start to notice that you can do more than 10 reps at a time. If you get to the point where you are able to do an extra 3-5 reps at the same weight ... you may consider upping your weight.

This is, at least, the general rule of thumb that I like to use. I personally increase my weight anywhere between 5-10% when I'm ready to progress.

How Many Days a Week Should a Beginner Lift Weights?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends lifting 2-3 day per week using body weight, free weights, machines or bands. They also recommend that you rest at least 1 day between sessions.

As you progress, you can increase your frequency to 3-4 days per week. Also, as you're getting started, try to incorporate diverse exercises in order to target every major muscle group in your body. Basically, make sure to do a full-body workout.

The reason why I recommend this for beginners is because of how quickly it can take them to fatigue. That way, instead of doing 8-10 exercises of one muscle group, you're doing 1-2 exercises for each muscle group, allowing you to train for longer.

8 Ways to Increase Consistency

When you start building some momentum and consistency, that's when you can consider doing even more workouts a week. Plus, you can start splitting up your training sessions by specific muscle groups. For example, you could do an upper body day, and a lower body day.

How Long Should You Lift as a Beginner?

You can get an effective workout in as little as 20 minutes, but most sessions last between 30 to 60 minutes. For the most part, as intensity increases, the session length will decrease.

Think about it like walking, running and sprinting. You can walk for a very long time at a low intensity. As you pick it up to a jog, you might not be able to last as long. Take it all the way to a sprint and your exercise time decreases even more.

It’s the exact same with weight lifting!

If you are doing tons of burpees, compound exercises, and are taking short breaks between sets ... your workout time may be shorter.

On the other hand ... longer rest periods and less demanding exercises may result in a longer session.

Sample Beginner Lifting Workout

Like I mentioned earlier, I wanted to give you an example workout that you can do from the gym or home! Just remember to warm up, choose a good weight, and make sure you're using proper form. Complete the first set of the exercise, and rest 1 minute between each set, before moving to the next exercise.

 Exercise Reps Sets
Squats 8-10 3
Deadlifts 8-10 3
Push-Ups 10-12 3
Bent Over Rows 8-10 3
Shoulder Press 8-10 3
Walking Lunges

20 Total

3
Bicep Curls 10-12 3
Tricep Dips 8-12 3

Cool Down

After you've put in all the hard work breaking down your muscles, now it's time to cool down and recover. Allow them to relax and come back to a full range of motion by finishing your workout with static stretches.

Top 3 Ways to Improve Flexibility and Mobility

Static stretching is where you hold a stretch for 30-90 seconds. It's what you typically think of when you hear the word "stretch."

Make sure to focus on the muscles you worked during your lift. For example, if you do a chest-focused lift ... you should stretch your chest afterwards! Some of my favorites stretches are toe touches, standing quads stretch, chest opener and child's pose.

Prioritize Your Recovery

Most people think that you are building muscle while you're in the gym. But, like I said earlier, you're actually breaking down your muscles during your weight lifting routine. That's why, if you're really looking to reap the benefits of weight lifting, you need to prioritize your recovery.

You see, the process of rebuilding your muscle tissue and building new muscle tissue actually happens outside of the gym. And, the quicker you can get your body recovered after the workout, the better when it comes to your results.

Two things happen during your weight training workouts:

1. Your body uses energy in the form of muscle glycogen (carbohydrates stored in muscle tissue) to fuel the workout

2. You break down muscle tissue

When you're done training, your body needs to fix both these issues to start building muscle and begin recovering properly. That's why the best thing you can do after your workout is a rapid assimilation protein and carbohydrate source.

This is the one time where supplements can actually be more beneficial than eating whole food! If you want to recover faster, reduce muscle soreness, and start earning great results off the bat ... I highly recommend investing in a high-quality post-workout recovery supplement.

Workouts

If you're still looking for more resources to get you started with your beginner weight lifting routine, download the 1st Phorm App! Inside the app, you'll get access to a wide variety of weight lifting programs to choose from. Each plan is designed to help you progress week to week and even has instructional videos for each and every exercise!

I personally didn’t start making progress until I started following a plan with set lift days and rest days. If you want to progress quickly, I recommend following a weight lifting program, and committing to it.

1st Phorm App

If you have questions about starting your beginner weight lifting routine, nutrition or supplementation, reach out to us! We have a full customer service staff of NASM Certified Personal Trainers who are happy to help you start earning the results you’re after. Give us a call or just email CustomerService@1stphorm.com any time!

Katie Hoehn
Katie Hoehn

Katie Hoehn is a Registered Dietitian, and MyTransPHORMation Advisor at 1st Phorm.