The importance of warming up and stretching
If you’re a beginner weightlifter or even a pro, the best thing you can do for your body’s longevity prior to working out is warming up and/or stretching. A quick 5-10 minute metabolic warm up essentially tells your body, “Ok, it’s time to exercise.” This includes but is not limited to walking, jogging, stair climbing, biking and rowing.
Once your body is warm, you can begin dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching is a movement-based stretch, simply meaning that the stretch is not held. Examples of this are walking lunges, butt-kicks, high knees, leg swings and inchworms. Dynamic stretching stimulates and prepares the muscles for use. Warming up and stretching improves all aspects of your workout. Not only will it prevent injuries but also increase blood flow and improve your balance, flexibility and coordination. As the muscles are stretched and filled with blood you will see greater strength and load capacity during exercise. For more on stretching, watch this video on What stretching can do for you.
Nutrition is essential
Nutrition is just as, if not more, important for weightlifting. Changing your body composition means you are building muscle and losing fat. This might mean that the number on the scale doesn’t change or can increase. But don’t be fooled. The most accurate measurements for progress are best from a body scanning machine that can calculate fat and lean mass. If that is not available to you, other good options can be progress pictures, how your clothes fit and even energy levels. Muscle weighs more than fat, and the more muscle you build, the more calories you burn daily. Lifting weights creates tiny tears in your muscles, and for them to repair and grow, you must be eating enough to support change. (Note: 1,200 calories is not adequate for any adult regardless of exercise). Keep in mind that personal trainers are not authorized to provide meals plans but can give advice regarding diet and lifestyle. For more detailed nutrition advice, make sure that you see a certified nutritionist or a registered dietician. Your calorie intake will vary based on several factors including how much you plan on lifting, cardio, height, etc.
Consistency is everything in weightlifting
Don’t quit early! Often real change can occur in as little as 3 months of weightlifting and continue up to a year or more. If your goal is fat loss, did you gain that weight overnight? Probably not. So why would losing it be any different? The best thing you can do is stay consistent and be patient. Educate yourself and do your own research when questions arise. When it comes to lifting weights, stick to the basics.
The big compound movements include squats, deadlifts, bench press and overhead press.
- Squats are relatively lower body, working your quads and glutes but also your core for stabilization.
- Deadlifts engage your whole body to be effective using your hamstrings, glutes, core, lower and upper back.
- Bench press is ultimately chest but to get the most strength out of your lift, you’ll be pushing through your entire posterior chain.
- Overhead press will recruit your delts, chest, upper back and core. The common theme in any movement you execute is your core. Always engage and brace to remain stable and prevent back injuries.
With so much misinformation and complicated routines on the internet and social media, it’s no wonder you probably feel confused and intimidated. Using a progressive routine means you repeat the same exercises each week adding either more weight, intensity, repetitions or sets. You won’t see good trainers posting their workout routines week after week because guess what? It’s boring!
Quality over quantity
As a beginner weightlifter, focus on form before increasing to heavier weight. It’s easy to feel uncomfortable or off balance when performing a specific movement. This often comes from a lack of mobility that you may be unaware of. If you feel you may be experiencing this, trainers often use forms of progression and regression, depending on the exercise. Let’s take a barbell squat for example. If the mobility in your lower body is causing your heels to lift off the ground, it is best to regress to a box squat or some variation of a goblet squat with heels elevated. Until the issue is corrected, you can then progress into a full barbell squat. As to not compensate for the intensity of your workout, a trainer will change different aspects of a program using volume, load, duration and frequency.
It is always best to get professional help when it comes to perfecting form. If personal training is something in your budget, I highly recommend getting started on the right foot. Proper form will drastically reduce your risk of injury. Incorrect form can cause strains and sprains if you are targeting an unintended muscle or groups of muscles. A great place to start may be on the machines as they only allow you to move in one specific plane of motion. You should also use a mirror to check your body positioning and to make adjustments.
Don’t be afraid to ask for advice on your weightlifting form
We know the gym can seem intimidating, but a trainer’s job is to help people. If something doesn’t feel right or you aren’t sure how to use a piece of equipment, don’t be afraid to ask. In my own personal journey, I started off sticking strictly to cardio machines because I had no idea how or where to start. Once I grew tired of the monotony, I started off on the machines to learn what movements worked which muscles. From there I had more confidence to do these movements using free weights.
Everyone was new to the gym at some point and got where they are because they had help or because they did their own research. Most people in the gym are only concerned with themselves. No one is watching you. I know at times it can feel like everyone is watching and judging you, but I can tell you that everyone else feels that way! The truth is, people are either on their phones, staring at themselves in the mirror or working out. Focus on yourself and your own goals. You will have good and bad days in the gym but keep in mind that your body is always talking to you – listen to it. I promise you it is much easier to commit to a fitness plan than it is to live your life out of shape.
Tori is Director of Fitness at Hixon Fitness and Athletics in New Braunfels, Texas. She is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist, creating programs and meal plans using in app workouts, nutrition goals, habit tracking and wearable activity integrations.