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New to Lifting Weights? How to Start the Smart Way

Fitness professionals and members of the general public alike are getting on board with the fact that weightlifting or resistance training is important for overall health, fat loss, and attaining your performance goals. But if you have never done it before, how should you start?

By
Brock Armstrong,
Photo of a woman listing wieghts

There are veritable heaps and loads of articles all over the internet explaining how to build bigger biceps, more massive pecs, bulging glutes, and so on. But, there are surprisingly few that tell you where to begin. As an online coach, I get asked at least once a week, "how much weight should I be lifting?" and for those people I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that the answer is most often "it depends." The good news is that I can give you some guidelines to help you get rolling.

First, let's review some helpful items from a past article called How to Start Weight Training

The Major Muscle Groups

Before you start throwing huge weights around, let's review the groups of muscles that you will want to target.

Upper Body Pushers: This group includes the chest muscles (affectionately called your pecs), your shoulder muscles (referred to as your delts), and the back of your arms (known as the triceps). These upper body pushers are responsible for pushing heavy things away from you or above you.

Upper Body Pullers: The upper body puller muscle group includes your upper and mid back area (your lats) and the major muscles in the front of your upper arms (your biceps). 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 weightlifting are the lats and the biceps. Obviously, these muscles do the opposite of the upper body pushers and are used to pull heavy objects closer to you.

Lower Body Pushers: Just like the upper body pusher muscles, these 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. It has been speculated that this is why they tend to get injured so often. When someone says that they “pulled a hammie,” they’re referring to that muscle on back of your thighs called the hamstrings, which are your major lower body pullers.

The Core: Core is a catch-all term for all of your mid-section and lower back muscles. You can think of the core like one big muscle 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. Without the core, we wouldn't get much done.

Work Each Muscle Group

When you begin weight training, it is a good idea to hit each of the five major muscle groups at least once a week. If you just focus on one muscle group, you risk overtraining that one area of your body and as a consequence, undertrain another. For example, if you make the mistake that many guys (in particular) make and all you do is upper body pushing, then you’ll be all chest and no back. You may also develop a back that is slouched forward due to excessively tight chest muscles and weak back muscles. 

Additionally, by knowing and using each of the five groups, you will be able to put together a highly effective workout. We'll get to that in a bit. 

Sets & Repetitions

Knowing the terminology isn't all that important for executing the workout, but it is helpful when you are researching workouts.

Set – a set is when you perform one specific exercise a certain number of times through, without stopping. In most workouts, you would repeat a set of an exercise anywhere from one to five times. Some bodybuilders will do up to 20 sets for just one muscle group, but that is only done in very specific circumstances.

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

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