If you've never lifted weights, there's no doubt that the activity can be intimidating. Simply showing up at the gym and being unsure about etiquette, what exercises to do and how to do them can make you feel like a fish out of water. But, there are so many health benefits to strength training that make it worthwhile to face your uneasiness. Strength training improves your physical capabilities by building muscular strength, developing balance and reducing your risk of injury. The lean tissue developed with regular strength training boosts your metabolic rate, which is essential for reducing or maintaining a healthy body fat percentage.
You may feel self-conscious, but keep in mind that people won't be staring at you -- everybody there is busy doing their own thing. So if you've been wanting to venture over to the weight room, but intimidation or fear have kept you from making the jump, here's the bare bones weight-training 101 information to get you started.
Weight Room Etiquette: What to Know Before You Go
The weight training section of the gym is a separate world in itself and there are certain etiquette standards and expectations you should know before you go.
Bring a Towel - Your gym may provide towels, but bring your own just in case. It's likely you'll get sweaty and you should wipe down benches after you're finished.
Put Away Weights and Equipment When Finished - As you start to lift weights regularly, you'll discover how favorable a workout can be when the equipment and weights are where you expect them to be. Extend the same courtesy to other gym members. Put away the dumbbells, barbells and other equipment in their proper places when you're finished.
Don't Waste Time on Equipment - It's okay to rest on a bench in between sets, but you don't want to use equipment to leisure. Don't read or talk on the phone while on equipment, as it's disrespectful to other lifters who are likely waiting for you to finish.
Store Your Gym Bag In a Locker - Most gyms offer access to lockers, where you can put your gym bag when you're working out. Some will give you a key, while others expect you to bring your own padlock. Call the gym ahead of time to figure out how the locker room works.
Wear Proper Athletic Gear - You want to wear only athletic gear when you're on the gym floor. T-shirts, workout shorts and closed-toe athletic shoes are ideal. Don't wear jeans.
Eat and Drink for Success - Make sure to stay hydrated during your workouts. Drinking water will improve your blood volume, which in turn will help deliver nutrients and fuel to your working tissues. To help facilitate the muscle-healing process, eat a meal consisting of both protein and carbohydrates (such as peanut butter on toast) within 30 minutes of finishing your workout.
Scheduling and Organizing Strength Training Workouts
Weight training is effective at building muscle strength and size because it provides a stimulus that overloads the muscle tissue. Lifting the weights breaks down and creates small tears throughout the tissue. This damage stimulates the body to build up the tissue so that it's bigger and can handle larger loads. Your muscles need at least 48 hours for this healing process, so you should lift weights no more than two to three days per week. A workout schedule or Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or Monday and Thursday, is ideal.
Begin each workout with a 5 to 10 minute warm-up, consisting of walking, jogging, jumping rope or cycling on a stationary bike. This increases your body temperature and wakes up your neuromuscular system so that your muscles are ready to go when it's time to lift weights.
Beginning Program: Exercises, Weight and Volume
The battery of exercises below will target all the major muscle groups, including your glutes, thighs, calves, back, chest, shoulders and arms. It's a good idea to read through each of the exercise descriptions and then watch videos online and practice the form before you head to the gym.
Start by doing one set of 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise. Rather than weight, focus on getting comfortable with each exercise's technique. After two to three weeks of consistent training, bump up the training volume to two sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. Rest 60 to 90 seconds in between each set and exercise.
Once you're comfortable with doing the exercises, select a weight that makes completing each set challenging. The weight should allow you to do at least eight reps, but make it very difficult to complete any more than 12. Selecting an appropriate weight will help you keep your movements controlled and at a steady cadence, rather than having to use momentum and "jerky" movements.
1. Bodyweight or Dumbbell Squats
Stand with your feet set to hip-width apart with toes pointed forward or slightly outward. If you're not using any weight, place your hands on the back of your head with elbows flared out to the sides. If you opt for dumbbells, hold them up at your shoulders with palms facing your cheeks. Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower toward the floor. Continue until your knees are bent to 90 degrees and then extend your hips and legs to return to a standing position.
2. Dumbbell Chest Press
Lie on a flat bench with your feet firmly placed on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Position the dumbbells outside your torso and level with your chest. Your elbows should be directly in line below your wrists and your palms should face your knees. Press the weights up toward the ceiling until your elbows are fully straight. Bend your arms to control the dumbbells back to starting position.
3. Lat Pulldown
Sit at a lat pulldown pulley station. Reach up and grip the bar with your hands positioned wider than your shoulders and palms facing forward. While sitting tall, drive your elbows down toward the sides of your torso as you pull down the bar to your collarbone. Extend your arms to control the bar back to starting position.
4. Dumbbell Deadlift
Stand with your feet set to hip-width, with toes pointed straight ahead. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let the weights rest against the front of your thighs with your palms facing your legs. Bend forward at the hips and bend your knees slightly to lower your torso and the weights toward the floor. Continue until the dumbbells reach your lower shins and then extend your hips and knees to return to a standing position.
5. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Stand with a dumbbell in each hand. Begin with the dumbbells held up at your shoulders, with palms facing forward. Your elbows should be in line directly below your wrists. Press the weights overhead until your elbows are fully extended. Bend your arms to control the weights back to starting position.
Lie on your back on an exercise mat with your knees bent and feet lifted up off the floor. Interlock your fingers and place your hands on the back of your head. Curl your torso to lift your head and shoulder blades off the floor, using your abdominal muscles rather than pulling with your hands. Slowly return your head and shoulders to the mat.