First Time Lifter – Where to Begin

If you want to build muscle, strip fat and increase athletic performance, you’ve got to lift weights. Not only that, but you have to train hard consistently, push yourself to your limits, strive for new personal records, and listen to your body, making changes to your training when you need to.

With so many training programs, websites, DVDs, and weightlifting books out there, knowing what to do when you start lifting weights can be extremely confusing.

However, before you jump blindly into following the program in the latest edition of your favorite bodybuilding magazine, or decide to copy what your friends are doing in the gym, there are several other factors you need to consider, to make sure that your training program is well-balanced, results-orientated, and tailored to you.

Step 1: Goal Setting

Before you do anything else, decide on a goal. Chances are you’ll be training for either hypertrophy (muscle growth), athletic performance (strength, speed, power, etc.) or fat loss.

Step 2: Frequency

Next up, decide how many days per week you can dedicate to training. This is a fairly individual thing, and there’s no correct or incorrect frequency. Three to four lifting sessions per week is a good start, but if you can only spare two days, or you want to do five or six, this is fine too.

Step 3: Exercise Selection Part 1 – General Guidelines

The majority of your exercises should be compound exercises, which involve the movement of multiple joints and muscle groups, and be done with freeweights, such as barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, or your own bodyweight. These exercises build more strength, burn the most calories, and recruit your stabilizing muscles, so are better for injury prevention and increasing functional performance. Your program should contain a mix of five basic movement patterns:

  • Knee Dominant Exercises – Squat and lunge variations.Hip Dominant Exercises – Deadlift variations, glute/hip bridges, and hip hinging movements like kettlebell swings.
  • Upper Body Pushing Exercises – Pushups, bench presses, dips, overhead presses, etc.
  • Upper Body Pulling Exercises – Chinups, rows, scapula retractions, etc.
  • Core Stabilization Exercises – Planks, rollouts, Pallof presses, landmines, etc.

Step 4: Exercise Selection Part 2 – Individual Considerations

If your program covers all the exercise variations in the above step, chances are you’re doing fine, but you might want to add in a few extras, depending on your goals, genetics, and body composition or structure.

For example, if you’re training for a contact sport, power exercises like snatches, cleans, and box jumps can be extremely useful. For bodybuilding purposes, weight machines and isolation exercises will play a bigger role, and for fat loss, you’ll see great results from adding in conditioning work such as hill sprints, kettlebell training, and weights circuits.

Step 5: General Considerations

- If you’re unsure about exercise form, ask someone to help you.
- Don’t do an exercise if it causes you joint pain.
- Have at least one full day’s rest per week.
- Ensure your diet is suitable for your goals and recovery needs.

Step 6: Putting it All Together

As stated, how you train is entirely dependent on multiple factors, but to give you an idea, here’s a sample program for someone training to increase their performance for basketball. This is a three times per week workout, done on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday:

- Warm up
- Box Jumps – 6 sets of 2 reps
- Glute Ham Raises – 5 sets of 5
- Dumbbell Reverse Lunges – 4 sets of 12 per side.
- Standing Overhead Press – 4 sets of 6 reps.
- Dumbbell Rows – 4 sets of 6 reps.
- Ab Wheel Rollouts – 3 sets of 20 reps.
- Conditioning Circuit – Kettlebell swings, shuttle sprints, burpees and pushups, done continuously for 10 minutes.
- Cool down.

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