I’m pretty passionate about weightlifting, and try to make it a part of my daily lifestyle. Over the years there’s a lot I’ve learned, and I hope this blog post might help others starting out.
Rep - A repetition, or a single motion of the exercise. For example, for a squat, a single rep is the motion from standing to squatting and back up.
Set - Multiple repetitions done one after the other without rest. So, 3 sets of 10 reps means you do the exercise 10 times in a row without rest, take a small break, then repeat 3 times.
Hypertrophy - Muscle growth.
Progressive overload - Consistent week-to-week increase in difficulty of exercise. This is done by increasing weights, number of reps, or using a more difficult variation of the exercise. For example, with pushups you can get progressive overload by keeping your feet at a higher incline than your hands, and increasing this incline every week.
Free weights - Dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells.
Machines - Exercise equipment that has you do a fixed motion. These typically have a weight stack where you put in a rod to select the weight which you wish to lift.
Cables - A special category of machines, where the weight stack is attached to a pulley mechanism, which you can then attach different handles to. Lat pulldowns are an example of a cable machine.
This is the routine I started with: https://www.muscleandfitness.com/workout-plan/workouts/workout-routines/complete-mf-beginners-training-guide-plan/ Another very popular workout scheme is called “The Big 3”, which focuses on squats, deadlifts, and chest presses: https://rippedbody.com/the-big-3-routine
Here are a few blog posts on how to manage weight loss (http://matt.might.net/articles/least-resistance-weight-loss/) and muscle gain (https://matt.might.net/articles/hacking-strength/)
ALWAYS warm up (https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/body/exercise/how-to-warm-up) before you start exercising. When I first got into lifting, I got a pretty bad shoulder injury because I neglected warm ups and dove straight into the exercises. My preference is to start with dynamic stretches (https://www.insider.com/dynamic-stretching) targeting the specific muscles I intend to work out that day. I start every exercise with a “warm up set”, where I use 40% of the weight I know I’m capable of lifting comfortably. For example, if I know I can squat 100 lbs, I’ll start off with 40 lbs. For stuff like squats and bench press, this means I’ll do a set of the exercise with the empty bar before putting any weight on it. If you’re just starting off, it’s better to do these exercises with dumbbells, as the empty bar might be too heavy. Some people also do light cardio as a warm up.
If you’re just beginning weightlifting, focus on getting the motions correct and not on lifting high weight. For the first 2 - 3 weeks, use the lightest weights and make sure you’re doing the exercise with perfect form. At this stage the weights honestly don’t matter, and the fact that you’re doing some form of exercise is enough to trigger hypertrophy. It’s VERY easy to injure yourself if you’re not performing the exercises correctly. When I started off, every day I made a list of exercises I intended to do in the gym that day, and made sure to watch YouTube videos on how it’s done before starting my workout. If I felt I was doing an exercise wrong, I’d ask someone to record me doing the exercise, then compare it to Youtube videos.
Nutrition is very important. Whether your goal is muscle gain or fat loss, the main contributing factor to whether you achieve your goals is your diet (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/bodybuilding-meal-plan). If you’re trying to gain muscle, you should focus on getting enough protein in your diet, and being in a calorie surplus (eat more calories than your body needs). If you’re trying to lose fat, keep the high protein diet, but make sure you eat less calories than your body burns in a day.
In terms of supplements (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/supplements-for-muscle-gain), I use whey protein, because I’m a vegetarian and I find my natural diet isn’t enough for my protein needs. If your diet is protein rich, you probably won’t need this. The general guideline is 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. I also use creatine, which is considered a very safe supplement (unless you have kidney problems, in which case you may want to check with a doctor). Creatine helps muscles absorb water, improving muscle recovery. Be very careful when researching supplements online, many websites/fitness gurus are sponsored by supplement companies and tend to oversell the importance of supplements.
There’s often confusion between whether to use dumbbells, barbells or machines to do exercises. I’ll briefly explain the differences here. In general, the more freedom of motion you have, the more muscles you’ll be utilizing to perform the exercise, meaning a more effective workout. Dumbbells are generally considered the best way to do weightlifting, as they give the largest amount of freedom of motion, requiring you to balance the weight properly for all exercises. At higher weight, dumbbells become difficult to hold and use (for example squats), at which point switching to barbells makes it easier to continue progressing with increase in weight. I generally avoid machines (cables are an exception) since they provide the least freedom of motion. However, the advantage of machines is that they force you to use proper form. It’s harder to injure yourself with them. If you find that you’re not using proper form with free weights for certain exercises, you may want to consider finding and using a machine for that exercise. The IMA has a wide range of machines for most exercises.
Some helpful Youtube channels: https://www.youtube.com/c/scottherman https://www.youtube.com/c/NerdFitness https://www.youtube.com/c/athleanx