Women Who Lift: A Beginner’s Guide
Before you put on your stylish workout clothing, before you pack up your gym shoes, and before you ever lift a free weight, you should pat yourself on the back. Seriously. The fact that you’re here, on this website, reading this introductory exercise article is an accomplishment in and of itself. Every journey begins with a single step and we’re humbled that yours begins here. Good for you.
Today on Healthversed, we’re going to lay a foundation for you before you start weightlifting. By the end of this article, you’ll know the difference between free weights and barbells, you’ll know how to set goals for yourself, you’ll know what not to do at the gym and a lot more. So, fix yourself a pre-workout drink, strap on your gym shoes, and let’s get lifting!
Don’t Hurt Yourself!
Please don’t hurt yourself. Don’t be afraid to consult your family doctor or seek professional guidance before you hit the weight room. Why? Because injuries can be physically and mentally debilitating.
Obviously pushing too hard can cause physical discomfort, but it can also do severe damage to your well-intentioned optimism. So, consult your doctor, talk to a fit friend, and channel your inner tortoise: slow and steady.
Strength Training: An Introduction
Now we’re ready to get started! Whether you’re looking to lose weight, gain mass, or put on muscle, a strength training program (paired with a clean eating regimen) will get the job done. Not to be confused with cardiovascular exercise, strength training is all about adding resistance to the natural push/pull movements of the body to build muscle.
Why is that important? Because, among other things, adding muscle mass increases the rate at which your body burns calories. The focus isn’t necessarily on losing weight, though, it’s on building muscle and feeling strong.
Free weights (aka dumbbells) are the small, handheld weights. They come in a wide variety of weights (5lb, 10lb, 15lb) and they can be found lining a wall opposite the weight benches at your local gym or gathering dust beneath any teenage boy’s bed.
They’re a great addition to any budding home gym because they’re small, cost effective, and incredibly versatile. Serious lifters rely on them to work specific muscles (biceps, triceps, shoulders) and beginners like you, well you can use them for just about anything.
Think of barbells like the dumbbell’s larger, more customizable sister. The larger bar necessitates the use of both hands, making barbells ideal for full body exercises like squats and dead lifts.
Remember when we asked you to pace yourself? Be sure to heed that warning. Especially when tackling barbell exercises. Adding too much weight to the bar can causes serious, irreversible damage to your back and joints. So start low and remember that, in some cases, the bar itself can weigh up to 30 pounds.
If you’re looking to ease your way in to the world of lifting and you have access to some guided weight machines, we recommend that you start there. Why? Machine workouts are easier to adjust and can be easier on your joints. Also, and most importantly, they forgive poor form.
When it comes to lifting weights, form is everything. It’s not just about looking good while completing an exercise. It’s about completing the exercise correctly, reaping the rewards of said exercise, and not getting injured. We can’t tell you how many blown knees, pulled backs, and torn shoulders we’ve seen over the years. All a direct result of improper form and too much weight. Pay attention to your form and you should be fine!
We’ll be going through a nice rundown of exercises and the proper way to do them, but first we want to go over some things you need to be mindful of before lifting any weights. Working out in a mirror or asking a friend/personal trainer for guidance will also help you on your fitness journey. The goal is to get healthy, not injured.
Set Realistic Goals
Our brains require direction, structure, and a methodical approach in order to complete tasks consistently and efficiently. It’s just the way that we’re wired. That’s why goal setting is critical to the success of any workout plan. But don’t forget, your workout goals have to be reasonably achievable as well.
Start small. Set a goal to make it to the gym and exercise three times per week. Once that becomes routine, zero in on performance related goals. Focus on things like your bench press record, lasting longer on the treadmill, or being able to do more reps. Inch by inch, day by day, you’ll find you can easily meet and exceed these small goals.
Pull out a pen and a piece of paper right now, and write down a few reasonable, achievable goals. You’d be surprised how impactful a few words on a piece of paper can actually be.
Tone vs. Bulk
The dangerous misconception around weight training is the belief that time in the weight room equals large shoulders and bulky legs. Why is this dangerous? Because it prevents a lot of women from kicking butt in the weight room.
Let us quell your fears right here and now. It takes a lot more than a few hours in the weight room to add the kind of “bulk” that a lot of women fear. For starters, the bodybuilder physique that you fear is a direct result of eating more food and lifting more weight. Don’t want to bulk up? Then stay away from the weight gain supplements and you have nothing to worry about.
Exercise is great. Lifting weights is great. But you really can’t get anywhere until you take on that elephant in your lunch box. Granted, it’s best to methodically tackle one problem at a time, but it’s important to recognize that your midnight kitchen adventure is holding your exercise results back.
And that doesn’t mean that you have to eat kale and only kale for the rest of your kale eating life. Just be conscious of what you’re putting into your body. Downloading a calorie counting app (and actually using it) should help make things easier for you.
Consider this a little public service announcement for you newbies out there. Everybody was a beginner at some point and most minor mistakes are easily forgivable, but here are a few gym member faux pas to avoid.
- Always put your weights back where you found them.
- Always wipe down the machine/bench when you’re done with it.
- Don’t hover too close to another gym member when waiting for a machine.
- Don’t smell really bad.
- Don’t overdo the perfume.
- Don’t be a distraction to other gym members.
Seriously, you don’t want to make the other gymgoers mad. They’re usually much bigger than you are.
Just as important as good form is developing a proper post-workout stretching routine. First, to ensure a full stretch, make sure your body is still “warm” from the workout. If you’ve already cooled off some, try a few minutes on the treadmill or some jumping jacks to get that body heat back up.
Stretching is a great way to ease stiffness following a tense workout and to protect yourself from injury. Remember, stretching isn’t a competition. It’s all about easy movements and a little tension. You can hurt yourself by stretching too hard as well. So be mindful of that and always be careful.
Exercise Routine: Day One – Upper Body
Time to get down to business! Remember, workout plans can be customized to accommodate specific goals or disabilities. Feel free to mix, match and change up any of these exercises if they don’t work for you. Let’s start with a simple upper body at home workout routine. You can complete most of these with dumbbells.
- Barbell Squat – 4 sets/6 reps
- Barbell Deadlift – 4 sets/6 reps
- Split Squats – 4 sets/6 reps
- Plank – 3 sets/30 seconds
Exercise Routine: Day Two – Lower Body
Day two of this butt kicking routine continues with a focus on the lower half of the body.
- Push ups – 3 sets/10 reps
- Seated Cable Rows – 3 sets/12 reps
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 3 sets/8 reps
- Chin-Up – 3 sets/10 reps
And that’s it! Make sure you rest on day three, repeat the plan for days four and five, then rest or do some light cardiovascular exercise on days six and seven. Happy lifting!