In my last post, I explained why women should lift weights. Now that I’ve convinced you to give the iron a try, I’ll show you how to get started.
Note: the following information assumes that you are a newcomer to weight training, but that you are healthy and in reasonably good shape, meaning that you can exercise at a moderate pace for 15-20 minutes. Please use your own good judgment and your doctor’s advice if you believe this is not the case.
A simple Google search on “weight training beginner routines” gave me 33,200,000 results this morning. That’s a pretty overwhelming amount of information, but I have good news for you. If you’re a beginner, it doesn’t really matter if you’re using an “optimal” routine. Just starting is good enough.
For our purposes I’m going to outline two types of routines: Traditional Sets and Circuit Training. All of the exercises that I am including can be done with dumbbells, or just your bodyweight in some cases. I’ll include versions that can be done with no equipment for people who work out at home. Also, if you don’t have dumbbells, any two relatively uniform, heavy objects will do for now. Some substitutes can include milk cartons filled with water or sand, cans of soup, bricks, and heavy purses (really!). As you progress, you may want to purchase an inexpensive set of adjustable dumbbells and a simple weight bench
You’ve probably all heard the magic combination of 8-10 reps and 3 sets for each lift. That is the heart of a traditional weightlifting routine. What exactly do those numbers mean? For each exercise that you do, you will choose a weight that you can lift 8-10 times, take a rest of about 30 seconds to 1 minute, do 8-10 more repetitions, rest again, and finish with 8-10 more repetitions. Then you will move on to another exercise.
This type of lifting is good for building strength in a gradual way without making you prone to injury. The key is to pick a weight that challenges you, but doesn’t make you so exhausted that you don’t use good form.
In our beginner’s workout, we’re going to assume that you will want to lift weights 2 or 3 times per week. Because we’re not trying to be in the gym everyday, we’ll make up for it by doing exercises that work the entire body. We’ll also use compound exercises that work more than one muscle at the same time.
Try to perform each exercise 8-10 times, rest for 30 seconds, then repeat for a total of 3 sets. The routine will look like this:
1. Warm up (5 minutes of walking, jogging, skipping, dancing, etc.)
2. Squats with or without dumbells
3. Dumbell Bench Press OR Pushups
4. Weighted Crunch OR Crunch
5. Lunges with or without dumbells
6. Dumbell Bent-Over Row OR Dip (you don’t have to put your feet up, just keep them on the floor)
7. Dumbbell Shoulder Press (Optional if you have equipment)
8. Side Bends or Side Crunches
Feel free to use the alternative exercises to keep a little variety in the routine. You can also change the order around, but you’ll probably want to keep a basic pattern of working Lower Body, Upper Body, and Midsection so that each body part has a chance to rest!
Circuit training combines weightlifting and cardiovascular exercise by doing each exercise back-to-back with little or no rest in between. For the circuit training routine, use the same exercises in the same order, but go through them all one time with only 15-30 seconds rest in between each exercise. When you’ve completed exercises 1-6 rest for 60 seconds or even 90 seconds if you’re out of breath. Then repeat the entire list for a second time. If you’re still feeling strong, complete a third progression. The total routine should take about 10 minutes per round.
How to Keep Moving Forward
After a couple of weeks of doing one of these routines it will start to get easier (trust me on this!). When you are feeling like you want more of a challenge, you can 1) add more weight, 2) add more repetitions, or 3) try different exercises and routines. Adding more than 12 reps per set is probably not the best choice because you will loose the benefits of lifting heavy weights. I’ll give you some resources for finding more exercises in my next post. If you decide to add more weight, do so very gradually and cut down on the repetitions you do. For example, try adding weight in increments of 1-2 kilos (2-4 pounds) and start at 8 repetitions. Then continue with that weight until you can do 12 repetitions.
Above all else take it slow, have fun, and get ready to show off those muscles!