When you are new to strength training, the weight room can feel really intimidating. Whether you’re completely baffled about which weights to use for which exercises, or confused about how to contort your body to fit into a machine, there’s a lot of unknowns to figure out. As a certified personal trainer, I’ve noticed that for many women, those unknowns are enough to send them running right back to their favorite indoor cycling class and give up on lifting weights altogether.
Many women that I work with express that they feel this overwhelming sense of self-doubt and fear about weightlifting—that all eyes are on them or that they are not in good enough shape to work out among people who clearly frequent this area of the gym. This gymtimidation can be very real, but letting it get the best of you means you’ll miss out on all the benefits weightlifting has to offer.
Building muscle will not only make you stronger, but it also helps boost confidence and self-esteem as you see what your own body is capable of achieving. Shifting your focus from the weight on the scale to the weights you hold in your hands is empowering. Not to mention, strength training also keeps your bones strong, and research suggests it can have other health benefits like helping to reduce anxiety and improve heart health. You’d be doing yourself a real disservice by letting fear stop you from cashing in on all the benefits.
The best approach to weight lifting as a beginner is to start with a combination of functional exercises that mimic movements you use in everyday life and compound lifts, which are exercises that engage multiple large muscle groups at once. Most functional exercises fall within one of the following movement categories: squat, push, pull, hip hinge, and hip extension. Learning these movement patterns is key for establishing a foundation on which you can build more complex exercises. The exercises I’ve outlined below (and demo in this video on my Instagram) are great for beginners, because they get you moving according in these functional ways. Mastering them will help you get comfortable with lifting and prepare you to progress safely as you get stronger.
When you’re just starting, choose a weight you can lift 10 to 12 times for 2 to 3 sets. This is generally 5 to 15 pounds, depending on the muscle group (you will probably be able to use a heavier weight for your lower body versus upper). As a beginner, you will quickly outgrow these weights, and will know it’s time to move up when the last 2 to 3 repetitions feel easy to lift.
If you’ve never done bodyweight versions of the Goblet Squat, Romanian Deadlift, and Glute Bridge, start by mastering each movement first without weights. Using just your bodyweight will help you establish proper technique and form—reducing your risk of injury—before you add weights into the mix. I recommend practicing these movements two to three times within a week to feel comfortable enough to pick up a pair of dumbbells.
Here are six essential weightlifting moves that beginners should do:
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