Weight lifting is awesome and I often write about why I love it so much, but I recently realised that many of you may have never tried it. So I’ve decided to write a blog post with advice on how to get started so you’ll hopefully feel more confident going into a gym and picking up some weights, if you fancy trying it.
Oh, and ladies, if you’re reading this and worrying that you’ll get bulky from weight lifting, don’t worry. Check out my post all about that myth.
I still remember how I felt when I stepped in to the weights room at the gym for the first time. I was petrified! I wasn’t completely new to lifting weights as I had been doing a little bit of light weight lifting at home for a while using a few different things I had bought, as (back then) I didn’t want to go to the gym and be the only woman in the weights room. I’m guessing I’m not the only person who had (or still has) that fear…which is part of the reason I’m writing this post.
So, I decided to join the gym because I wanted to take my training up a notch and only had very few weights at home, and certainly no resistance machines! I did quite a few things wrong in the beginning stages, and also let my concerns about what people thought get in the way, mostly because I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’ve learnt a lot since then, both through my gym instructor qualification and PT qualification, but also through practice from my own experiences weight training.
Although I’m not including any tips for a specific exercise in this post, I just want to give you my general top tips for if you’re thinking of trying weight training:
1. Lift the weight you feel comfortable with
To begin with, only lift weights that you feel comfortable lifting. It shouldn’t be really easy, but it also shouldn’t be something that you severely struggle with. Try to find a good balance of it being a weight you can lift without losing correct form (and/or causing injury), but also a weight that challenges you, although obviously not too much. Don’t force yourself to try to lift something way out of your ability just because you’re worried someone will think it’s only light (or because you really wish you could become super strong from your first session). Find a weight for each exercise that you feel comfortable lifting and focus only on what you are doing. It’s not a competition…and coming from someone who is crazy competitive, that means a lot!
2. Always maintain good form
This means always make sure you are lifting the weight correctly. So basically, you want to learn how to do it properly as it’s surprisingly easy to do it wrong or just to allow your form to drop when you start to get tired. I’ve been guilty of doing this before, but have learnt a lot since then and always think about my form now. If you lose correct form then you’re more likely to injure yourself and bad habits are very hard to break, so take some time to get used to lifting correctly and make sure you always focus on that. This tip doesn’t just apply if you’re new to it either, it’s an essential part of weight lifting…always.
3. Don’t worry about pulling faces/grunting/sweating
Stop worrying about what people think when you’re working out. I spent ages trying to stop myself from pulling faces or grunting, but as soon as I reached a point where I realised none of that matters, my training was so much better! Just focus on what you’re there to do and don’t worry what anyone else thinks – they’re probably all grunting and pulling faces too!
4. Ask for help
If you are uncertain about anything, whether it’s if you’re doing an exercise correctly, or if you think you might need someone to spot you (which is when someone supports you while lifting weights in case you struggle), ask for help. Gym instructors are there to help!
5. Don’t let the instructor skimp on the gym induction
Speaking of gym instructors, there are some awesome ones out there, but there are also some that fall below an acceptable standard. If you’ve signed up to a gym, don’t let them get away with just pointing at the machines and weights and telling you basically to get on with it. Ask them to show you how to use the gym equipment – it can be different for every gym as there are so many machines out there, so you need to learn how to use it. Besides, that’s what they are there for!
6. Don’t worry if the weight on the scales goes up (or your clothes fit differently)
It took me a while to adjust to this after I started weight lifting and I spent ages thinking I was gaining fat. I wasn’t though, I was gradually gaining muscle (don’t worry, not bulky muscle – good things like my booty growing). Yay! The weight on the scales will go up gradually, but it’s nothing to be afraid of. Instead, if you want to track your aesthetic progress, try measuring yourself with a tape measure or just see how your body shape changes in the mirror. Gaining muscle changes your shape, but it’s all good as you’ll be getting the toned appearance, so embrace the changes.
7. Take at least one full rest day every week
Working out every day isn’t healthy. Many years ago I was convinced that if I worked out almost constantly then I would get super fit, but I was very wrong and ended up pretty unwell. You might think that if you train seven days a week you’ll see quicker results than if you workout four or five days a week, but adaptations occur during rest. So your body needs a full day of rest each week to recover and improve. In other words, at least one full rest day a week is a good thing!
8. Always remember to warm up and cool down
The one time I didn’t warm up properly I was left with an injury, so it’s really worth taking the time to do it. Check out my recent post about how to warm up so your body feels prepared for what’s coming its way. Cooling down is just as important.
9. Don’t worry if you ache the next day…or the day after that
It does’t mean you need to give up and it’s not a bad thing (providing you’ve not actually injured yourself) – it’s normal. When you lift weights, you make tiny tears in your muscles (don’t worry – they’re really tiny and it’s all ok), and the ache you feel 24-48 hours after you’ve trained is something called Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which is your body repairing the muscles from the workout. It’s a normal process to go through after weight training so don’t freak out. If the pain is severe though then it’s worth checking with a doctor or physiotherapist to make sure you haven’t injured yourself!
10. Headphones make you feel better
This sounds odd, but if you’re really self conscious in the gym and would rather imagine you’re somewhere else so you can basically avoid contact with other gym users, headphones are awesome! You can play your music and get on with your workout and people don’t generally interrupt you because you’re clearly in your own little world. It also means you don’t have to make small talk with anyone nearby, if you don’t want to. I used to wear headphones in the gym all the time because I was new to it and loved the security I felt of being in my own little world, but I’ve grown to love the chit chat in the gym.
11. Take your time
Whether you’re in a rush because you need to get to work, or if someone is giving you the evil eye because they’re waiting to use the machine you’re using, it’s really important to remember to take your time. If you only have 30 minutes to complete a workout that would usually be an hour, just cut a few exercises from it to make it fit the time frame you have available. That’s much safer than rushing through the full length workout and not doing things correctly, risking injury.
If you’re rushing because of that person waiting to use your machine, don’t worry about them. You are just as entitled to use that machine as they are (presuming they don’t own the gym, obviously), and if you rush then you’re risking not doing your workout to the proper standard, which could negatively affect your results, or even cause injury. Politely inform them how many sets you have left and they’ll come back later. Oh, and while I’m on this subject, if someone does ask how long you’ll be using the machine for, don’t freak out thinking they’re rude. Nine times out of ten it’s just so they know when to come back ready to use it. We all do it at times. I’m yet to experience someone who doesn’t politely reply that they’ll come back after my sets are finished.
12. Allow adequate rest time between sets
Talking of sets, you know when you see people standing around after lifting weights and then they go back to what they were lifting, as though they’re just ‘owning’ the gym? Yeah, that’s not them being awkward…well, not usually anyway. When you lift weights it’s important to allow yourself time between sets so your energy stores can replenish. It varies depending on how you’re training, but as a rough guide I’d say to leave 1-2 minutes between sets. I’ll talk more about this soon in a post explaining what sets and reps are, and how you can include them in your gym plan according to your goals.
13. Don’t forget your pelvic floor!
Did I really just go there!? Yep. It’s so taboo to talk about your pelvic floor for some unknown reason, like it’s a secret we have one! Ooops, did I just give the secret away!? Anyway, your pelvic floor is made up of muscles (obviously) and they need training too! So when you’re doing weight training, particularly exercises like squats and shoulder press for example, make sure you engage your pelvic floor as well as your abs. Bracing your abs (as though you’re about to take a punch to the stomach) will support your back and keep your core strong during the exercises, which is essential for preventing injury and becoming generally better at weight training. But your pelvic floor is part of your core too and if you don’t brace that while you’re lifting heavy weights and bracing your abs then…you guessed it…your pelvic floor will be taking the pressure. Remember to engage your pelvic floor too and keep your whole core strong. It can be tricky to start with and it does feel weird (particularly if you’re not used to engaging your pelvic floor muscles), but it’s just as important as training any other muscle group, so don’t forget it.
I’ll be posting all about pelvic floor training soon, so check back in a few weeks when I’ll be sharing my interview with a pelvic floor specialist.
As always, please do ask if you have any questions. I’m happy to help!