Last fall I recall a certain phone call with my BFF.
We were discussing her fat loss program and exercise regime; she was telling me about what she does at the gym when she uses weights.
She told me she does “arm movements with weights.”
I asked her what she meant to get a better understanding.
“Well I just do bicep curls and things like that…” she trailed off.
It almost seemed like she wasn’t really sure. But I knew she had to be able to describe what she did a little bit more…
“How many?” I asked, adding, “What weights do you use?”
“I don’t know… ten reps maybe? I try to do ten reps, three times around because I read it in a magazine.” She said.
Then it hit me— she thought she could just “do the weights” like you would fold laundry and still get the benefits of lifting.
She also didn’t realize that she could crush her goals more effectively by simply strategically planning specific set and rep schemes for various exercises with challenging weights.
Before we discuss five ways beginner’s can get the most out of your weight training, let’s talk about some common misconceptions about weight training.
We all read about weight trainng, we see #fitspo instagrm photos showing #hardcore motivational pics, but how do you actually do it to get the results you seek?
You see there are some major differences between cardio, high intensity interval training, lifting for strength, lifting for size and using weights for conditioning that aren’t so clear in any magazines and isntagram posts.
Talking through the nuances of weight training styles will help you understand how to make your training sessions the most effective for your goals.
You will be able to create a lifting plan that is in line with exactly what you want to accomplish.
No longer will you have to rely on a magazine’s advice.
After this article you should be able to strategically set up a weight lifting plan using the exercises you love to get specific results.
First let’s debunk some common weight lifting myths:
Myth #1: Lifting weights takes a lot of time.
False. Effective weight lifting doesn’t necessarily mean a longer workout.
Often times when people get on a good exercise kick they take their usual 30 minutes on the cardio machine up to higher intensities or slap on an extra 20 minutes to their time on the elliptical. They feel that the longer they go, the better.
In weight lifting you don’t always need more time.
In fact an effective weight lifting workout can be done in 15 short minutes.
What matters is that you fatigue the muscles effectively (more on this later).
So, while advanced lifters may take their time with heavy barbell lifts (and longer set/rest periods) and then move on to accessory work that may take an hour, you don’t need to lift like an advanced lifter to reap the benefits.
For beginners, an hour is not necessary; longer doesn’t mean better.
Even advanced lifters can have short effective workouts.
Myth #2: The more sweat the better.
False. You might not sweat as much as you are used to when you first begin lifting.
This was one of my favorite aspects of lifting when I first began lifting kettlebells.
I could attend a kettlebell class and leave without looking like I went swimming?!
It was not an easy transition at first though. I was constantly worried I wasn’t getting an effective workout due to the lack of sweat.
You see, my athletic/exercise background before lifting heavy involved lots of high intensity interval training, burpees, sprinting, spinning and more.
When I began lifting I was not only testing my strength with slower movements but I was doing less reps and focusing on the skill of lifting kettle bells and I barely sweat.
I will admit, it irked me quite a lot at first.
I would have these urges to go for a run because I thought I needed to sweat to feel like I had “worked out.”
I was also convinced if I wasn’t constantly out of breath I was doing something wrong.
Not the case.
Just know that as a beginner you may not sweat lifting like you do when you run or take a spin class.
The better I get a lifting the less I sweat because for me, getting better has meant learning to take more rest.
Lifting weights for strength does involve taking ample rest time.
The actual “work” is brief but neurologically and muscularly taxing.
It’s a weird feeling if you haven’t purposefully taxed your muscles with weights before.
However, think about a time you were lifting boxes for a big move. You probably had to pick things up, carry them and put them in a truck.
Were you sore the next day?
Were you out of breath and sweaty while doing it?
Maybe; maybe not.
Either way, it is a different “tired” or fatigue than jogging or the elliptical.
**And if you’re like my boyfriend who sweats peeling an orange (just because he sweats in general), disregard this section.
When you lift weights you are doing the same thing as you do when you move houses and lift boxes– taxing the muscles.
You are simply taxing them in a more strategic way with sets and reps and maybe even focusing on specific parts of the body to attain certain results.
You might sweat; however beginner lifters will most likely not feel like they are sucking wind when they first begin general strength training (and have done general aerobic exercise as of recent).
Myth #3: You must be working #allthemuscles, using every machine or piece of equipment to be effective.
False; total body every time is not always the key to success.
Don’t get me wrong, total body workouts are great– especially if you are someone who can only get into the gym sporadically due to a crazy travel schedule or family life.
But, while you can have an effective total body strength workout by doing complex exercises, you do not necessarily have to spend time on each muscle group individually every time you train.
As for equipment, you can train with only dumbbells or only barbells– you don’t have to have all the machines or special apparatii to have a good session.
The trick is to be strategic.
Use the cable for pushing and pulling movements; try the machines; practice with the kettlebells and barbells; but don’t try and do them all in one session, one time through or you will miss out.
My advice is to pick two to three tools.
-one heavy kettlebell, two medium dumbbells and a barbell
– two kettlebells, rowing machine, and a pull up bar.
This way you can hone in on a few muscle groups and have a few ways to work them.
Trying to plan a workout for evey muscle group is tough and trying to use a ton of equipment makes it even harder.
If you want to do a total body workout and get the most bang for your buck (make it as quick as possible) doing complex exercises using multiple muscles at once may be your best bet.
Examples of complexes:
-squat to press (thruster)
-kettlebell clean to press
-curl to press
-deadlift to high row
Try some of these when you are short on time and want to make it an effective session.
Some people like to split up their training between upper body and lower body.
If this works for you, try it! This allows more time for upper body exercises in one session.
Then, the following day or a few days later you can work you lower body just as effectively.
Myth #4: Doing more reps gives you better results.
This is arguably the best piece of advice I can give you in this article.
If you take nothing away, take that specific set and rep schemes matter; different ranges of reps will get you to your goals.
No longer will you read an article that says, “Do 20 reps, then 30 reps, then 50 reps!! The harder the better!”
In order to figure out how many to do you just have to know your goals:
To build Strength (not necessarily big size): 4-6 reps *heaviest weight you can handle* 3 to 5 sets
To build muscle (size) : 8-15 reps 3 to 4 sets. For size you want to get more volume; more time under tension, getting more blood to flow there.
To get in cardio interval training/ metabolic conditioning: 10-20 reps
Know what your strategy is for incorporating weights.
What do you want to do? What is your goal?
Then plan your workouts accordingly following the guidelines above.
1. Take your time.
Smart effective training includes ample rest.
In strength focused training, you will be resting anywhere from three to five minutes between sets.
Ever seen the guy in the weight area that appears to be exceptionally lazy… almost like he is on his phone messing around more than he is actually working out?
He’s actually training correctly (so long as he is using the heaviest weight he can handle for each set).
If you are training for size/hypertrophy you will want to take shorter rests… the more volume and consistent tension on the muscle the better when the focus is to build more size and get definition.
If there is any type of training to get you sweaty, it is metabolic conditioning. Metabolic Conditioning training involves weights (most of the time) and when done effectively it has strategic rest periods.
30 seconds of kettlebell swings 25 second rest (4 rounds)
15 seconds of rope slams 15 sec rest (4 rounds)
60 seconds of sled pushes rest 60-90 seconds (3 rounds)
2. Be purposeful
When you decide to start lifting it is important to follow a program or get into a routine.
For instance, I write strength programs for my clients to follow for four to five week cycles. This way they can practice the workouts and see their strength increase each time they go in to train.
They follow a consistent program so progress measurable results occur.
Keep a your wokrouts on a sheet or in a notebook/binder. This way you can keep track of how many sets /reps you are doing and at what weight.
Some people do three total body workout days.
Powerlifters plan their lifting around the big three lifts (squat, bench, deadlift).
Others do more of a split style (upper & lower or push/ pull) training style.
You can train in whatever way forces/motivates you to stay consistent, fits into your schedule and is enjoyable!
Let’s say I want to increase my strength and I follow a split style program. See chart of example of how to break up training days if you opt out of total body work each time, or powerlifitng style.
If today I decided to train chest and back (upper body), here is what I would do to target those areas for strength:
– 4x 6 heavy chest press
-4 X 4 weighted pull ups
-3 x 8 lat pull down + 3X 6 narrow chest press
-3 x8 face pull + 3 x 8 pushups with a plate on my back
Then the next day or a few days later I could do a strength workout for my lower body and hit the glutes, hamstrings and quads.
Let’s say instead you want to build bigger shoulders and biceps:
-3 x 12 Overhead presses + 3×10 lateral raises
3x 8 bicep curls slow eccentric + 3 x 8 tate press
-3x single arm press OH from a knee x 10 /arm + alternating hammer curl
-Bicep single arm cable curl 3×10 + single arm cable lateral raise 3x 10
Here are a few more examples of some metabolic conditioning:
Goblet Squat 30 sec on 25 off
-snatches 30 sec on 25 off
-20 sec ball slams rest 10-20
- 12 Kettlebell swings or snatches (6 per arm) On the Top of the Min (OTM) for 5 minutes
- Sled pushes I-go-you-go 8 minutes, 25 yd lengths.
Know what your goal is that way you can plan to find the BEST way to work the muscles you want for strength purposes, for heart rate training/ conditioning or for muscles growth/size.
3. Make sure it feels heavy
When you are doing these sets and reps, it may take some time to learn how to focus on the muscle or muscles working; as you learn you may need to adjust weights.
For example, I have spent little to no time in my life focusing on biceps..until recently.
I can assure you it has taken about five weeks of working on heavy curls to really feel my biceps working and good stress on the muscle!
It is tough to feel it in the right places when you first start.
It make take a few times of doing the exercise to understand what weight is right for you.
Let’s say on your first set of overhead presses you use 10 pound weights and you get all the reps and it feels like a 5 on a scale of 1-10 difficulty (10 being the most difficult).
If it feels like anything less than a 7 on a 1 to 10 scale try using something heavier, like 12 pound weights.
You’ll know if you’re using the correct weights when the second to last rep feels VERY difficult—not like you will fail, but that it is taking all you have to get that weight up there.
In the powerlifitng world you don’t count your sets as working sets until you find that sweet spot where it feels very challenging. In example, let’s say your goal is to do 5 sets of 5 reps deadlifting at 160 pounds.
(In case you missed it, see my “5 Takeaways from Powerlifting”).
You won’t start with 160 without a warm up, therefore your first set will be less than 160 pounds. You don’t count and reps as an official set until you get to 160 pound working set.
In the same vein, if 3-point rows with a 10 pound dumbbell feels too easy on the first set you might consider doing a heavier weight the next round; you can still count that set as a working set unless it was just way too easy.
Make sure you increase weight for the next set.
It is about maximizing effort in each rep of each set.
You need to feel challenged and actually stress the muscles to get the benefits you seek from weight lifting.
4. Eat accordingly
Besides wanting to be able to do cool tricks with weights (aka learn skills of lifting), we want to get leaner and look good naked right?
If you want to see the effects of your training appear on your body eating right is key.
Even more, if your goal is fat loss you need to be eating strategically.
It is kind of like the chicken or the egg scenario.
We know that muscle is more metabolically active, using/burning more calories than fat tissue, so we want it on the body– but to get it, we have to build it by lifting and eating right.
This is where strategy comes in: you must be at a deficit for fat loss while refueling to build/repair the muscles via protein and carb consumption. You can fuel well with carbs and protein while still eating less overall calories.
Even better, lifting burns calories during the session and for hours afterward as the muscles recover, which is why having muscle and strength training aids in fat loss.
When you strength train you are putting stress on the muscles causing mini tears to the fibers. They need to be repaired.
If you didn’t catch my recent piece on “How to Pre-&Post Workout Fuel for Fat Loss” Check it out!
Fueling for a lifting session or refueling after truly depends on the person.
There is no “perfect” meal or food to consume, however emphasizing protein and carbs before, after or around your workouts is crucial.
The bottom line is that you must eat well to reap the most benefit from your training.
Therefore to get the toned arms you seek you must first stress the muscles and then replenish them in hope that they repair a bit bigger.
5. Don’t get comfortable
Once you get through your first session of your strategic lifting program you have a baseline.
It may take a few “first attempts” to figure out who to feel the muscles working, lifting heavy enough weights but once you figure it out your goal is to keep picking up heavier weights each week on some of the exercises.
You won’t always lift heavier on every exercise but you should see a fair amount of increases.
If you spend one to three weeks using around the same weights as a beginner that is totally fine.
However to see the best results you must push yourself to constanty strive to lift heavier weights each session.
In example, let’s say you lift four times a week in these splits:
- Back and glutes
- Chest and triceps
- Biceps, shoulders and abs
- Legs and glutes
After the first week you used a 35 pound dumbbell for goblet squats; the next week you should be trying to do the same exercise (after a brief warm-up) using a 35 or 40 pound dumbbell, for example.
Everybody is ready to move up in weight as different paces.
One person may go up in their squat each week but take four weeks to lift heavier weights for bicep curls.
What matters is that you are constantly challenging yourself to feel muscularly taxed with new stressor (aka heavier weights) en lieu of changing the program every week.
You should write a new plan for yourself every three to six weeks in order to give yourself time to improve on a program to see results.
#doingwhatyoudream and writing yourself a plan to follow through is one of the most empowering things ever. However, it is not always easy to carry out a plan without accountability. This is where I come in. If you need any help on porgramming never hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Having a coach makes it easier but know that you can do this on your own!
- decide on your goal and pick a deadline (is it strength, size, conditioning?)
- pick how you will split up the workouts
- design the workouts focusing on the planned muscle groups
- Keep track of what you lift each session and plan to improve during the next one!
If you want an excellent exercise video bank, sign up for my newsletter and you shall receive my exercise video bank full of great examples of what to include in your program!