Any type of physical exercise has its benefits, but strength training is one everyone should consider picking up! The best benefit of hitting the weights is that it helps build and preserve lean muscle mass, which is beneficial for your overall health and metabolism. But strength training has other benefits you'll be sure to love... it can improve your bone density, posture, reduce your stress levels, help you get better sleep, and it'll even help you build confidence. On top of that, it'll help your body stay functional and healthy for the long run.
Unfortunately, weight lifting can seem intimidating, especially for women. We get it, it can be pretty intimidating when all the advanced lifters in the weight section are deadlifting their own bodyweight (or more) and doing other crazy-looking exercises. But don't let that scare you! Everyone starts somewhere, meaning those really buff guys you see at the gym pumping out pull-ups and push-ups all started small – just like you will!
Getting started strength training doesn't have to be complicated or scary, in fact, it's not at all. You just need some tips to help guide you along your new weight training journey! Lucky for you, we've compiled a list of the best strength training tips for beginners that will guide you in the right direction to developing an effective strength training program!
How to start strength training as a beginner
Building strength and muscle requires time, patience, and a good workout program – but it's not difficult. Follow our tips below and you'll be building effective strength training workouts in no time!
Don't go overboard on scheduling workouts
Whether you're completely new to strength training, working out in general, or getting back into it after a long break - take it slow. Starting a new workout program is exciting at first, in fact, motivation is usually at an all-time high during this time! But don't let that initial excitement lead you to schedule 5-6 workouts your first week. Doing too much, too soon is a common mistake beginner make that can have dire consequences.
Ideally, you want to train 3-5 times a week, but if you're just starting out you should work your way up to it. Start by scheduling three full-body workouts a week, and after you've adjusted to your new workout schedule, you can start increasing the days you train. So, for the first two weeks or so focus on full-body movements, include upper and lower body movements, and some core exercises as well. Once you're adjusted to your new routine, you can start splitting your workouts by muscle groups to target them extensively for better growth. As an example, you can work your lower body one day, chest and triceps the next day, and then back and biceps. Basically, you want to split your workouts by major muscle groups in a way that allows the muscle worked to rest for 24-48 hours between training sessions.
Again, start with three workouts a week, and don't forget to throw in some cardio on your non lifting days! Aim to do 150 minutes of moderate cardio a week, or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio a week. As far as what type of cardio to do, pick something you enjoy and that aligns with your fitness goals!
Focus on nailing your form first
Resistance training involves a lot of everyday functional movements, and although they may seem simple, adding weight makes performing them riskier. So, before you start focusing on lifting heavier weights, focus on your form and technique. Performing strength training exercises with proper form will ensure that you're targeting the intended muscle groups and reducing your risk of injury.
So, lift an appropriate weight and pay close attention to your movements. Always keep your shoulders down and back, core engaged, ribs not flared, spine neutral (no arching of the back), soft knees, and feet firmly planted on the floor. And try your best to go through the full range of motion! This means work through the entire movement and do a full rep, not a partial rep, to reap the best results possible. These are just a few techniques to keep in mind, if you want more information to help you avoid bad form, check out >>> 7 common form mistakes!
Choose the right weight for you
Choose the right weight doesn't only refer to actual free weights, it refers to any type of resistance, including your own body weight. When starting out, start at your fitness level! Not everyone is going to start at the same fitness level. Some beginners may have never worked out before, while others may have played sports in the past, or have a physically demanding job. So, if you're completely new to strength training and physical activity in general, we suggest you start with the basics – three bodyweight workouts a week. Include bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, planks, Bulgarian split squats, step-ups, tricep dips, and more. You can even use long and short resistance bands to add a light to medium resistance for your muscles to work against, this will even help prep them for heavier free weights like dumbbells! Once you get the hang of the movements and can perform them with good form you can move on to the next level - training with dumbbells! Dumbbells are a good starting point for beginners because they're less intimidating and confusing than other pieces of equipment and you can easily increase the weight as you make progress.
For those who are already physically active or are familiar with strength training movements, feel free to start training with a set of dumbbells, or get familiar with other effective gym equipment like the cable machine! As far as the amount of weight you should be lifting, pick a weight that you're able to perform with good form. So, if you can't perform an exercise for 10-12 reps with good form then consider lowering the weight.
Stick to the same set of exercises for a little while
Variety is important when it comes to training. You want to give your body new changes to adapt to, but when you're just starting out, your body already has a new challenge to overcome! So, don't switch up your exercises too fast! Have 10-15 exercises you practice for the first few weeks and work on nailing the movement and your form and to help you build a good level of strength before moving onto more complicated exercises.
Keep things simple! Doing every single exercise you've seen on social media will just confuse your body and it won't give it the time it needs to adapt to the movements and make progress. We suggest sticking to key compound exercises like squats, deadlifts (with a long resistance band or free weight, depending on your fitness level), lunges, shoulder press, rows, and chest press. Pick a few isolation exercises too, like biceps curls, hamstring curls, tricep pushdowns, and more! Once you feel like your body is adjusted to the movements, you can either increase the resistance (weight) or increase the volume (reps or sets).
Learn how to warm up and cool down
Whether you're starting with bodyweight exercises or lighter weights – always warm-up and cool down. You don't need to spend an insane amount of time stretching, but dedicate around 5, max 10, minutes to warm up and cool down after your workout routine.
What's the best way to warm up and cool down?
Despite popular belief, static stretching isn't the best for lifting weights. The best stretching exercises are dynamic, meaning they involve movements. Dynamic stretches are better for warm-ups because they're prep your muscles for the movements they're about to do and help increase your flexibility and range of motion. A few good dynamic stretches are bodyweight squats, hip stretch with a twist, arm circles, leg swings, and lat stretches. You can also include a few static stretches beforehand like the figure four pose, quad stretch, chest stretch, and more. Pick a few stretches that align with your workout, but also get your entire body ready for movement. After your workout, finish off with a few dynamic stretches or a 5-10 minute walk on the treadmill. Do something that will steadily bring your heart rate down.
Warming up and cooling down will ensure your muscles aren't tight, reduce your risk of injury, allow you to lift with better form, and recover more effectively!
Keep a workout log
Probably the biggest mistake beginners make is not tracking their workouts. In order to make progress when weight training, you need to practice progressive overload. This is a fitness principle that involves increasing the demand on your musculoskeletal system to give your body a consistent challenge to work against thus helping you build muscle, get stronger, and increase muscular endurance. Fortunately, beginners can make progress without needing to practice progressive overload techniques because lifting weights is already new so your body's adapting the first few months and making good progress along the way. Either way keep a workout log and track your workouts!
Write down every single workout you do, what you worked out, list the exercises, and include the number of reps and sets completed along with the amount of weight used (if any). That way you know what changes you need to make in the future to drive better progress. You can create a 4-week beginner workout plan that includes 10-15 exercises, and after those four weeks you can look back at your log and determine what exercises you want to switch out and any other changes you need to make! By keeping a workout log at the beginning of your weight lifting journey, you'll be able to see all the progress you made and pick up the good habit of tracking your workouts!
Invest in the right equipment and supplements
Oftentimes newbies will purchase any and every supplement they see, and possibly invest in the equipment they don't need. This isn't necessary! However, getting a few pieces of fitness equipment that you can use at the gym and home, and getting effective supplements you need can be extremely beneficial. We suggest getting a pair of good workout shoes, resistance bands (for warm-ups and home workouts), a foam roller for stretching, and maybe even some lifting gear for the heavier weightlifting you'll be doing in the future!
As for supplements, reflect on your goals and lifestyle. We suggest getting a protein powder to ensure you're eating enough protein to build muscle, and a pre-workout if you need something that will help increase your energy levels, enhance your focus, and improve your overall training performance. There are so many more supplements you can choose from, but be careful with what you select... There are some bad apples out there! But don't worry, we have a beginner's guide to workout supplements so you can find the best supplements for you and your goals.
If you want to see results, prioritize rest! Weight training places stress on your body and causes small tears in your muscle tissues, and in order to repair those tears so your muscles grow, you need to prioritize your recovery. This means getting good sleep (between 6-8 hours a night), eating nutrient-dense foods, and implementing the appropriate amount of rest days. You want to rest the muscle group you trained for 24-48 hours before training it again. So if you're starting out with three full-body workouts space them out in a way that allows you to rest for at least two days between each session. Neglecting to do so won't give your muscle fibers a chance to repair and build back stronger!
The point is, listen to your body. Maybe you're still extremely sore after two days, if that's the case, take another rest day and do some stretching to increase your blood flow! Always prioritize your recovery and rest because it's when the real growth happens.
Follow these tips and you'll have everything you need to get started on your strength training journey! You now know how to develop an effective workout plan that will get you started hitting the weight room with confidence, and most importantly, safely!
Still not sure how to plan a workout or too busy to plan new workouts every week?
Download the Fit With Iulia app and get your workouts planned for you! Iulia, the founder of 373 Lab, plans new goal-focused workouts every week for the Fit With Iulia app. She picks the right exercises that will effectively get you to your goal, implements proper training splits, gives you a recommended number of reps and sets, and there are even video and written instructions to ensure your form is as perfect as possible! You can even practice progressive overload directly on the app, track your macronutrients, and track your personal progress.
It's like having a personal trainer at the palm of your hands! Try your first workout for free - no subscription required. Simply download the Fit With Iulia app, go to Goals & Workouts, select your goal, and start your first workout with Iulia for free!