8 Weightlifting Tips to Take You from Beginner to Beast

Local trainers weigh in on building strength without letting the muscle bros scare you off.

By Katelyn Best December 22, 2015

Resistance training is an important element of any fitness program. Beyond building strength, lifting weights—the heavy kind, not the vinyl-covered ones—can strengthen bones, improve posture and balance, reduce symptoms of depression, and decrease blood pressure. Plus, there’s nothing that feels quite like lifting the weight of an adult man off the floor.

But for newcomers, it’s hard to know where to start. Lifting can seem complicated and dangerous, and the culture of the weight room is often intimidating. But never fear! We talked to Emily Corso, the iron-fisted, warm-hearted MMA pro behind Bold & Badass, and Josh Sabraw, owner and trainer at Form and Function, for some quick tips on getting on the road to a stronger you. 

  1. Consistency is crucial. Corso recommends hitting the gym at least two days a week. “Treat these scheduled workouts like appointments with someone who will charge you even if you don't show up, such as a doctor, massage therapist, or stylist. If you can be accountable to those professionals, you can be accountable to yourself.” 
  1. Don’t get overwhelmed by choice. There’s an enormous number of weightlifting programs out there; pick one and stick with it for a while. Free weights—dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells—are better than machines, since they more closely resemble real-life movements, says Corso. As a beginner, look for a plan that emphasizes basic, compound movements (lifts that require moving more than one joint) like squats, deadlifts, and presses.

    The internet is a great resource for lifting programs, but consider picking up a book to avoid information overload. Starting Strength is a classic that takes a straightforward approach to weight training. 
  1. Your own bodyweight can be a brutally effective tool for strength training. Chin-ups are great for training your biceps and back, but if you can’t do a full chin-up yet, try bodyweight rows from suspension straps. “Because you can alter how much of your weight is on your feet and how much you are actually lifting, these exercises are great to work towards manipulating your own bodyweight,” says Sabraw. Push-ups and other bodyweight exercises can also be great strength builders, particularly if you don’t have access to free weights. 
  1. Find a workout buddy. Ideally, says Corso, find “a fitness community of some kind: a gym, a team, a coach, friends and family, or even just a Facebook group.” Working out with friends boosts motivation, can help you learn good form, and keeps you accountable.

  1. Write your workouts down. Tracking your lifts will help you stick to a plan, with the added bonus of being able to look back on your progress in a few months.
  1. Fuel up! “Your results will be stunted if you don’t adequately fuel and refuel your body,” says Corso. Snacking on simple carbs before and after workouts, as well as protein post-workout, will help “rebuild the muscles that just did all that work for you.”
  1. “Being sore is normal,” according to Corso, “especially when you first start out.” Give it a few weeks, and your body will stop complaining so much after workouts.
  1. Start lifting now, wherever that is. “If you wait for the right moment—‘when I lose ten pounds,’ or ‘when things slow down at work,’ or ‘when my knee stops acting up,’” Corso says, “that moment may never come.” You might need to modify a program or a particular lift, but whatever you can manage is worthwhile.
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