How to Start Weight Training

Weight training is an important part of losing weight and getting fit; learn why and how you should get started.

Ben Greenfield,
May 6, 2010

Though it wasn’t always the case, people now generally accept that weightlifting, or resistance training is important for overall health as well as weight loss. And fitness professionals realize that it is crucial to attaining your goals.

Why Is Weight Training Important?

Research has shown that a combination of weight training and cardio sheds more pounds and boosts your metabolism higher than cardio alone. One reason for that is because you burn several more calories per day for each droplet of fat that you replace with a fiber of lean muscle, and weight, or resistance, training is a great way to get fibers of lean muscle.

In addition to the weight loss benefits, resistance training can provide you with higher bone density, a more coordinated and well-functioning collection of muscles and joints, and better agility and balance. Weight training will help you achieve a nice, symmetrical appearance and avoid injuries from muscles that are too strong or too weak.

When Should You Lift Weights?

One of the most common questions I receive is “Should I do weights on the same day I do cardio?”

Since weight training can take some focus and a little bit of time, I’d recommend you devote an entire workout routine to weight training, with just a brief five to ten minute cardio warm-up and cool-down. Save your cardio workouts for a different day.

In addition to the weight loss benefits, resistance training can provide you with higher bone density, a more coordinated and well-functioning collection of muscles and joints, and better agility and balance.

On days you devote to weight training, start your workout by doing just enough cardio to break a sweat. When you start sweating, that’s a good sign that your body is warm, and if your body is warm, it’s going to move much better. But wait, don’t rush off to the weights quite yet!

After you finish your cardio and you’ve got nice warm and toasty muscles, it’s a good idea to stretch before weightlifting, especially if you been sitting or not moving for most of the day. The best stretching scenario should involve a few controlled leg swings and arm swings before you lift weights. You should also do some nice long stretches after you lift weights. You’ll get to read much more about stretching in future articles.

What are the Major Muscle Groups?

So where should you start? Before we can get to that we first need to talk about which muscle groups you’ll need to focus on:

Upper Body Pushers: These include chest muscles, affectionately called your “pecs,” your shoulder muscles, often referred to as your “delts,” and of course, the lovely triceps, which are located in that area on the back of your arm that can tend to jjiggle a little bit. Don’t worry. Together, we’ll get rid of that jiggle. Your upper body pushers are responsible for pushing things away from you or above you.

Upper Body Pullers: These muscles do just the opposite of the upper body pushers, and are used to pull objects closer to you. Upper body pullers include your upper and mid back area, often referred to as your “lats” and your biceps, which are located on the front of your arm. To be honest, you’ve got a bunch of tiny pulling muscles all over your upper body, but the major ones you need to know about to begin weight lifting are the lats and the biceps.

Lower Body Pushers: Just like the upper body pushers move objects away from your upper body, the lower body pushers push stuff away from your lower body. Your quadriceps and your calves are your two major lower body pushers.

Lower Body Pullers: Technically, some of your lower body pullers also work overtime and also act as pushers. Maybe this is why they get injured so much. Ever hear someone say they “pulled a hammie”? That’s right--they’re referring to that muscle on the upper back of your legs called the hamstrings, which are your major lower body puller.

The Core: Core is a catch-all term for all your abdominal and lower back muscles. Think of these muscles like one big belt that wraps around your entire mid-section. The core is very important, because it connects your upper body pushers and pullers with your lower body pushers and pullers.

Knowing these five main muscle groups is important for a couple of reasons.

You Need to Work Each Muscle Group

First, if you just focus on one muscle group, you’ll risk overtraining one part of your body and undertraining another. For example, if all you do is upper body ushing, then you’ll get a back that is hunched forward and you’ll have soreness in the front of your shoulders because of excessively tight chest muscles.

Here’s a quick and dirty tip: Once you begin weight training, make sure that you hit each of the five major muscle groups at least once a week.

Additionally, by knowing each of the five groups, you can put together a  highly effective workout. All you need to do for a great beginner workout is find a machine that targets each muscle group and put each of those machines into your workout. I’ll give your more details on lifting weights with machines in my next article .

What Are Sets & Repetitions?

There’s just one last thing to know before you start your weight training program: you should be familiar with the terms “set” and “repetition.”

Set – a set is what you do when perform one specific exercise a certain number of times without stopping to rest. In most workouts, you would repeat a set of an exercise anywhere from one to five times, although some bodybuilders will do up to 20 sets for just one muscle group. I would not recommend that.

Rep – a rep, or repetition, is the number of times you actually perform the exercise in one set. For example, one set could include 15 reps.

In a future article, you’re going to learn all the details of how to customize sets and reps to reach your exact goals. But for now, you should start with a very effective beginner’s method: perform two to three sets for each muscle group, and do between 10-15 repetitions. I’d recommend you move from machine to machine after each set, then, when you’ve finished a set for every muscle group, go back to the beginning and do it again, until you’ve made it two to three times through.

Don't be afraid of soreness, but don't overdo it either.  Find out how to tell if you've overdone it in my Quick Tip on muscle soreness.

Now you know the basics of weight training. Next week I’ll talk more specifically about how to use the weight-training machines.  

Keeping muscle once you've built it is important, too. Check out my Quick Tip on maintaining your fitness level for more information.

Weightlifting image courtesy of Shutterstock