I’m not a personal trainer, seek one for professional advice. This is from own experience and research.
If you want to know why I think weightlifting is a great workout for losing weight, check out my previous post about this subject. Check also this post about changing your lifestyle and this post about changing your mindset to lose weight. Exercise is great, but nutrition is more important when you want to lose weight! This post is for the people who are like me when I first started: yeah you want to lift weight, but how do you start??
If you are not totally broke and spend every last dime in your wallet on food and rent, I highly recommend you to take a (or more) weightlifting lesson from a personal trainer. I personally did not do that, because I was stubborn and thought it was a waste of money. Looking back, I could’ve really learned stuff that I only got to know later in my journey. Most gyms also offer some kind of personal plan, which you can use to get to know lifting. Make sure you tell them you want to lift weights, because the perception that people who want to lose weight or get fit should do cardio and light weights is still widely spread. Some gyms have weightlifting classes or classes like bodypump. They’re great, but the problem is that you won’t get that personal attention to your form which is VERY important.
Even before you’re going to start, it’s very wise to do some reading about weightlifting. This post can be a nice start, but more reading is recommended! I got a lot of info from www.bodybuilding.com. Don’t get scared from their pictures though! Lol! They have a great database of weightlifting exercises including video’s of how to perform them. Be aware, almost every fitness or weightlifting website/magazine is sponsored by supplement producers, so don’t fall for all those ads, I’ll talk about those supplements later!
When you lift weight, your goal is to gain muscles, right? So how does your muscle grow? I’ll have a more in-depth post about muscles later, but here’s a summary: muscles need strength training to get a growth impulse and they need protein as a building block to make it bigger and stronger. My advice would be to eat/drink a good protein source within 30-60 minutes after lifting. Make sure you also have protein with every meal during the day, I aim for at least 100-120 grams of protein a day. (When you have kidney disease or any other health problem, ask your doctor for advise!) You can calculate your protein needs on www.iifym.com. Make sure you don’t have a too big of a caloric deficiency! You need to fuel your body in order to build muscles, you cannot gain muscle when you eat 800 kcal a day! Don’t worry, you’ll still lose weight! Look at me, I eat 1600-2300 kcal a day! (There are also people who say you can’t build muscle without eating more than your body needs, this is not true, though it can go slower than when you’re ‘bulking’.) (Most hardcore body builders go through a ‘bulking’ fase, where they’ll eat more, gain weight which is muscle and fat, and then go through a ‘shredding’ fase where they’ll lose fat and maintain their muscles) You can check out my instagram pictures to see that I do have muscle gains without going through a bulking fase!
Form form form!
Yes, form is so important when you lift weight! Many people just want to compete with each other, try to lift heavier every week, but sacrifice their forms to be able to do it. Well ladies and gentlemen, that’s how you get injuries! It’s better to do some great form total range squats with 10 lbs than to do squats with 100 lbs with bad form. You aim for muscle fatigue, or the feeling that you almost can’t do another repetition. If you reach that with 10 lbs, fantastic! If you reach it with 100 lbs, fantastic too!
Reps and sets, what?
For the total gym newbie: reps are repetitions, they are divided into sets. So for example, when something says 4 sets of 10 reps, you do the exercise 10 times, then rest small and repeat this 3 times. There are a lot of thoughts about how many sets and reps are good for muscle strength/muscle growth/muscle endurance. The common mindset is that if you do 1-5 reps, you’re training for strength, if you do 6-15 reps you train for muscle growth and if you do more than 15 reps, you train for muscle endurance. Of course, the weight you’ll use is higher when you do low reps. Personally, I don’t think those ranges are that fixed, you do 1 more rep and boom you’re not training for strength anymore? It’s more of a percentage, so you’ll also train for strength when you do 12 reps, just less then when you do 4 reps, you get me? So how do I do it? Well, I do 4 sets of 10 reps for compound movements (I’ll tell you about that later) and 4 sets of 12-15 reps for isolations. I didn’t start like that though, I started with 4 sets of 10 reps for everything, later did 15 reps for everything and then progressed to my current schedule. I’m not saying this is how you should do it, try and see what works for you.
Total body workouts vs split schedules
When you read about weightlifting, you will definitely read a lot about split schedules. A split schedule is where you divide your body into parts, and you’ll only train that part on 1 particular day. Though training with a split schedule has its benefits for very experienced amateur lifters and professionals, I don’t see any benefits for beginners. I’ve been lifting for a little over 10 months and still only doing total body workouts and they work fine for me! The benefits are that you will train your total body a couple of times a week, you won’t get that with a split schedule. As a beginner, you won’t have a big load so your muscles will not need a whole week to recover (ok, maybe in your first week lol!).
Free weights vs machines
So when you look at the gym, there are machines, cable machines and there are free weights. All have their strengths, I prefer free weights and cables, but sometimes use a machine too. I recommend to do the same. The benefit of using free weights (dumbbells, barbells) and cables is that you’ll use your own body to stabilize yourself instead of a machine stabilizing you. This way, you’ll train those small muscles to keep you balanced, which can be very good for injury prevention! And of course you burn more! Another benefit is that you’ll train your core muscles throughout your training, so you don’t need endless ab exercises (I hate those…). There are a couple of things that can help you to use free weights. A squat rack for example. When you progress to higher weights, it’s nearly impossible to get the weight you need for squats from the floor and onto your shoulders/back, because the upper body is usually less strong than the lower body. You can put your barbell on the rack a little lower than shoulder height, put your weights on it and than go stand under it to get it on your shoulders. There’s also the smith’s machine (look it up if you don’t know what it is). It guides the barbell up and down (some of them can also move back and forward). Though it can be very useful, I prefer to do my squats, bench presses and overhead presses without it, the same reason why I don’t use the other machines. The only reason I’ll use it, is when I want to try what my max is in a specific exercise. I add weight until I fail, so in that case, the smith’s machine can create some safety, as you can turn the bar and it won’t fall. I don’t recommend maxing out for beginners.
Lately, the kettlebells have become really popular. I use them too, I actually do a kettlebell circuit once a week. I also love them for my step ups, because they fit nicely in my hands. Some gyms have kettlebell classes, so go and try them! Form is very important for kettlebell workouts too!
How many times a week?
I started with 2 total body lifting workouts a week. Take it easy in the first couple of weeks, try your exercises first with bodyweight or low weight only. You won’t be happy when you fly into your new routine and then won’t be able to walk for 3 weeks…. I would say, try to strive for 3 total body weightlifting workouts a week. Make sure you rest enough too! Everybody needs a restday, I personally have 2 full rest days a week, I only do light walking on those days. Your muscles need rest after lifting!
There’s nothing against cardio, so if you like it, go do it! But know it’s not necessary to lose weight! Doing it more than an hour actually can cause muscle decline. Personally, I end my workout with 10-15 minutes on the elliptical. I do 1 fasted HIIT workout a week on the elliptical too (can’t do other HIIT workouts due to hip injury caused by running/jumping). I will write something about HIIT too in the next couple of weeks.
So now you know something about weightlifting, but you still don’t know where to start. I highly recommend to start with compound movements and total body workouts only! Compound movements are those exercises where multiple joints will move and you train multiple muscles at the same time. The opposite of compound movements are isolations, where you will isolate 1 or 2 muscles. Why am I saying this?
- With compound movements, you will train multiple muscles so it saves time
- Training multiple muscles –> burning more during 1 exercise
- With compound movements, you will also train those muscles that keep your joints stable, which will benefit you in your fitness journey
- As a beginner, you have to learn your basics and get stronger in that before you go further
Lower body compound movements:
- Squat (different types, like goblet squats, plié squats, single leg squats)
- Lunges (different types, like walking lunges, curtsy lunges)
- Step ups
- Leg press
Upper body compound movements:
- Pull up (assisted on the machine when you can’t do bodyweight)
- Dips (assisted)
- Push up
- Bench press
- Military press
- Lat pull down
There are numerous ab exercises out there. As I said before, I don’t do them too much, they’re just a muscle group that you need to train a couple of times. A great one is planking, another great one is the V-up. Try to find 2-3 that work for you and stick to them!
If you don’t know these exercises, go and look them up on www.bodybuilding.com! Click on the squat picture above to go to an article of them about squatting.
What about that booty?
A lot of women want to lift weights to get a nice and round booty. I’ll write something about that soon. The compound lower body exercises I wrote here, also target the booty. There are a couple of isolations for the booty (and other muscle groups), which you can add later into your routine.
So now start:
Choose 3 lower body exercises, choose 3 upper body (try to combine push and pulling ones) and go do them! Choose 6 different ones for your second workout day of the week and you got yourself a beginner’s schedule! Good luck! And let me know how it goes!
- Monday: Squat, pull up, step up, military press, lunges, push ups + 2 ab exercises
- Friday: Deadlift, bench press, leg press, dips, plié squats, lat pull down + 1 ab exercise
Oh, and if you feel like you’re too big to go lifting or you’re afraid people will look. Well… yes, people will look, but 90% of them are just really nice people! Everybody was a beginner once and had to start somewhere, remember that!