Congratulations! You’ve decided to start strength training.
The information below will be most useful for beginners, folks that have little or no strength training experience. That being said, these are pretty fundamental rules that anyone who is lifting should be aware of, and a refresher never hurts.
Here are 7 techniques you can use to start strength training.
#1 Pick A Program
The first thing you want to do when you decide to start strength training is choose a training plan. If you find yourself wandering around the gym without a blueprint for which muscles you should be targeting, you may not hit all the major muscle groups. Instead of getting a total body workout, you’ll get a random muscles workout.
When you choose a program – think about your goals. Do you want to gain strength? Get six-pack abs? Think about what type of results you want see and search for programs that speak to your specific goals.
Struggling to pick a program? Consider hiring a personal trainer. But now we’re skipping ahead! We’ll press pause on that thought for now and circle back to it in a bit.
#2 Use Proper Form
The fastest way to get injured is to lift with poor form. It doesn’t matter how much you can lift, if you don’t know how to lift safely.
Another benefit of lifting with proper form? You strengthen the right muscles.
There are many ways you can learn to lift properly. Books, magazines, articles online, websites that have exercise libraries, YouTube and by working one-on-one with a personal trainer. The best and safest way to lift is with someone who knows what using proper form for each lift looks like so they can instruct you and correct you when necessary as you perform each movement.
#3 Work With A Trainer
By now you’ve caught on to how I’m a big proponent of working with a personal trainer. If you don’t have the time to study up on proper form (as I mentioned, YouTube and the web are great resources!) or to put together a training program, seriously consider working with a certified personal trainer.
Working with a professional trainer also means you get a personalized workout. That means you’ll get maximum results in the shortest period of time.
Many trainers are happy to meet with you for a 30 minute or 60 minute session early in the morning, during your lunch break or in the evening. That’s right, pretty much anytime you want. Only free on Saturdays? Or Sundays? Plenty of trainers don’t work a traditional 9-5, Monday-Friday and can meet with you on the weekends. Just ask.
#4 Lift Light
During your first few strength training session err on the side of lighter weight load and fewer reps.
Load = pounds you are lifting, i.e,. two pound dumbbells
Reps = the number of times you lift said load i.e., 4-12 repetitions
Sets = the number of times you repeat the reps i.e., you repeat each repetition two times
And don’t forget to rest between sets. 90 seconds between sets is a good place to start. We’ll discuss more about the importance of resting in a bit.
#5 Lift Two Times A Week
Aim to strength train two times a week. Make sure those days are not consecutive.
You want to give your muscles time to recover, rebuild and get stronger. To accomplish that, they need rest. Rest means 24-72 hours between strength training sessions.
What does that look like? Maybe you want to start your workweek off strong and decide to lift on Monday. Then you take a few days off and hit the weights again on Thursday. Repeat that workout the following workweek. Mondays and Thursdays will start to become your lifting days and it will feel wrong to not be in the gym on those days.
We touched on this earlier, but recovery is so key to strength training that it bears repeating.
Rest between your sets.
Don’t rush through your sets. When you rush, your muscles don’t have a chance to rest. When they don’t get a chance to rest they start to fatigue. When your muscles fatigue you start lifting with improper form. Poor form when lifting is a fast track to 1) getting injured and 2) not strengthening the right muscles.
Again, start with a minimum of 90 seconds of rest between each set.
Rest between your strength training days.
If you are doing total body workouts, meaning you’re hitting every major muscles group each time you lift, you want to take a few days off between your strength training sessions.
Not sure if you’re plan is giving you a total body workout? Play it safe. Give your body a day or more in between lifting sessions. Unless you are working with a personal trainer who has advised you otherwise, you always, always, always want to give your body rest days.
#7 Warm Up & Cool Down
Don’t head into your strength training session cold. You don’t want to shock you muscles with a surprising amount of heavy weights after having sat at your desk for the past 8 hours.
Warm up for 5-10 minutes by walking on a treadmill, cycling or rowing. Don’t go full power. It’s just a warm up. Save your energy and maximum output for the strength training portion of your workout.
Equally important is your cool down. Stretch and hit the treadmill again for another 5 minutes. Bring your heart rate down slowly. One of the worst things you can do is finish your last set and then hop in your car and drive home.
Give your body the necessary preparation it needs to transition into and out of your strength training workout.
Pro Tip: If you’re meeting with a trainer you can spend more time lifting if you get your warm up out of the way before your session starts.