Let’s just start with the disclaimer: I am not an expert and I am definitely not your coach or trainer. The advice I’m giving here is meant to be general. If you’re unsure of anything having to do with weight training -- or any fitness regimen -- talk to a pro and make sure you’re doing things correctly.
OK, with that out of the way, I want to talk you into lifting weights.
Regardless of where you are on your fitness journey, what your interests are and what your goals are, strength training is an essential component. Lean muscle will make you a better runner, biker, basketball player or whatever. It will help with the yardwork and lifting the kids and so many other things. And come on -- lean muscle just looks good.
But starting out weightlifting can be confusing and intimidating. Believe me, I've been there -- not that long ago. As I said, I'm no expert, but I've gotten to the point where I'm comfortable anywhere in the gym. So here are 3 basic tips to help you take the first step.
Start Out With Light Weight
If you’re trying a lift for the very first time, err well to the side of safety. Don’t worry about getting the maximum benefit right away, and whatever you do, don’t worry about what other people are thinking -- they couldn’t care less. It’s much more important to learn the proper form for a lift and how that actually feels when you’re doing it, so that you can replicate that when you stack on more weight.
But even more elementary: You want to be sure you can get your full set done. If you fail the first time you try a lift, what are the odds you’ll try it again next time? If that means putting two 25-pound plates on the bar, so be it. You’ll move up pretty quickly.
If it’s really too easy, you can add weight. But if it’s too hard, you can get hurt.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Big 3
First of all, every one of those guys had to try it for the first time, too. And if you’re listening to my advice, you’re starting out with a low weight. You’ll be fine.
The Big 3 lifts recruit the most major muscle groups of any strength training you can do. If you’re doing these three on a regular basis, you will work pretty much every muscle in your body. And that includes your core. If you do these three lifts, you will get stronger, no matter what else you’re working on.
Click on the links above for specifics about your form. Doing these movements correctly will give you the most benefit and put you at the lowest risk for getting hurt.
One big caveat here: You may be limited by an injury or simply from a lack of joint mobility. Even though I already said it in my disclaimer, I do want to emphasize this: If you're unsure of anything, enlist the help of a pro, and talk to your doctor if you need to.
Dumbbells Are OK
A good way to work up to the Big 3 is by using dumbbells to start. Though you can go heavy with dumbbells, you don’t have to. They offer some more flexibility with certain lifts. And you don’t have to worry about getting pinned under a barbell.
In some cases, dumbbells can even be better. With a barbell, your dominant hand or leg can do more of the work, and you might not even realize it. With dumbbells, each side is working independently, forcing you to do equal work.
- For chest press and deadlift, you don’t really have to do anything besides replace the barbell with dumbbells. Form remains the same.
- Obviously, you can’t rest two dumbbells on your shoulders to do squats. Grab one and do a goblet squat, where you hold the dumbbell to your chest as if it were a goblet or chalice. Proceed with the squat.
- And of course, you can use dumbbells for pretty much all the accessory lifts, such as curls, rows and vertical shoulder press.
Some Little Tips:
- Use collars, even on deadlifts. You never want the plates to slide off the bar.
- Wipe down the bench when you’re done. Don’t be gross.
- A standard barbell weighs 45 pounds before you add any plates.
- Watch other guys in the gym, particularly ones who look like they’ve been doing this for a while.
- Machines are good for pulls, such as rows, tricep pulldowns and lat pulldowns.. It’s OK to use them, too.