Weight lifters. We all know the stereotype. Usually male, often found injecting chicken and rice into their veins, and lifting twice their bodyweight in the gym morning through evening.
However, weight lifting is steadily on the rise, surging in popularity over the last few years. But the stereotype, which once permeated the fitness space and intimidated thousands from walking into the dreaded weights room, is now morphing into bodies of all shapes, sizes, genders and ages. Why? Because health and fitness has now entered the mainstream, and people who would never have dreamed of coming into contact with a barbell are now reaping the wealth of benefits of – and excuse the cliché – pumping iron.
Weight lifting is naturally beneficial if you’re looking to bulk up and build muscle mass, but there are also a stream of other health benefits, including improving posture, improving bone density, increasing metabolic rate, reducing inflammation, and preventing chronic illness. Not only that, but the rush of endorphins felt after an intense resistance training session can deliver an all-round confidence boost. And, there’s even an element of mindfulness to weightlifting, as you’re forced to focus on your mind-body connection and be present in the moment.
Whether you’ve caught the weight lifting bug for the first time or you’re easing your way back into things after the lockdown period, we’re here to give you our ultimate weight lifting tips so you can make the most out of your training regime.
1. Establish your goal.
Establishing a goal will be your key motivating factor, and it will also determine the sorts of exercises you’ll be doing. For example, if you’re looking to build strength and muscle, you’ll be largely targeting a range of 4-12 reps, versus 12+ if your overall goal is to tone up.
Your goal could also determine your workout split – for example, which areas of your body are you looking to work on the most? You should be splitting your workout sessions into upper body days and lower body days to maximise and improve overall strength. Ever heard of 'Push, Pull, Legs'? We’d recommend looking more into this and then deciding which split best aligns with your objectives. A great place to start is educating yourself on the science behind training for different goals (YouTube is an excellent resource for this) and then applying these learnings in the gym.
Whether it’s boosting strength, building up to a new personal best, or changing your body shape, your goal will be the driving force that keeps you heading back into the gym time and time again. So choose wisely!
2. Don’t be intimidated.
The gym can be overwhelming, filled with strange contraptions and bodies contorted in odd positions. But don’t let this put you off. Everyone starts somewhere. Once you get past the noises (and sometimes smells), tune into your favourite playlist, zone out of the outside world, and focus on you. If you’re worried about people judging you, take our word for it: they’re paying more attention to themselves and their workout than you.
You should also aim to go in with a workout written down or at least planned out, so you don’t find yourself aimlessly roaming the weights section. Remember that you deserve to be there just as much as anyone else, so grab some dumbbells and take up space. Own it!
3. Start low and slow.
A common mistake with weight lifting beginners is trying to do too much, too soon. It’s easy to feel pressured into lifting as much as you can (or in some cases, can’t) in order to compete with other gym goers. However, this can be hugely detrimental to your progress and, in some instances, cause serious injury.
Firstly, you need to find your feet and start with solely bodyweight exercises. This will allow your body to get used to new movements and find the perfect form, especially when it comes to compound lifts, which you should be incorporating into every strength training session. Compound lifts are exercises where you’re using more than one muscle group at the same time and include things like squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups.
You’ll even find that an intense bodyweight workout can leave you just as sore as a session with heavy weights. Once you’ve got your squat or deadlift nailed with bodyweight, start adding small weights and build from there. How will you know when to start adding more? As a general rule, do 8-12 reps of the same exercise for 4 sets, with a 1-minute rest between each set, until it starts to feel easy. Then, all you need to do is add a few more kilos of resistance to feel that burn again. ‘Newbie gains’ is a real thing – so you’ll notice your strength skyrocket within a short space of time when you first get going.
And we’re sure you’ve read this enough but be sure to warm up and cool down to prevent injury and speed up the muscle repair process. Warming up can increase your range of motion and prepare your muscles for the intense workout to come, while cooling down drains the lactic acid build up that can cause agony for days to come. Many a time have we been the victims of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and she is a cruel mistress. So, take our word for it and thank us later.
Consider hiring a PT or purchasing a training plan for when you first get into weight training. Investing slightly more into your fitness at the start can pay huge dividends later on. Getting great tips and pointers from experts in the field who can guide you through a workout can have long-lasting effects. If a PT or training plan is slightly out of budget, you can pick up equally valuable tips from YouTubers and Instagram fitness influencers.
4. Eat, Sleep, Rest, Repeat.
What you do outside of the gym is just as important (if not more so) than what you inside. Some rules we like to abide by are: hydrate, eat well, sleep, and the Innermost favourite, rest. The essence of weight training is adding enough resistance to your body during a movement to tear your muscle fibres. You then have to rest so your muscles can repair themselves, and adapt and grow back stronger and bigger each time.
Although often overlooked, this recovery stage is just as vital as the workout itself. What do you need for a full recovery? Enough sleep each night, enough protein in your diet to repair your muscles (proteins are the building blocks of all your cells), enough water to stay hydrated, and plenty of rest until the soreness and inflammation have simmered down.
5. Consistency is key.
Last but not least, the golden rule to weight lifting: consistency. This will be the key to progress in your workout regime. As a rule of thumb, you should be resistance training three to five times a week to get the most out of it. And this doesn’t mean one maximum effort workout followed by two lacklustre sessions. You should be giving it your all each time, pushing your body to the limit and building on from previous sessions.
Combining these five steps will ensure you’re on the right path to being an expert weight lifter in no time. Let us know in the comments below how you get on. We’d love to hear from you.