Weight Lifting Basics

I started lifting weights freshman year in college as part of our training plan. Despite being a varsity athlete and lifting three times a week at the boathouse, it took me two years to get over my intimidation of the weight room at the gym.

As usual, talk to your doctor before lifting, especially if you've never lifted before. If you do start lifting, though, you'll find that your metabolism is higher, you'll feel stronger, and you'll look smoking.

Here are some of the things I've learned:
1. Use Google before you go to the gym
There are a LOT of serious weight-lifters out there who have posted videos and animations on how to do certain lifts. Watch them before you leave so you don't look like an idiot when you get there and do a squat with your feet together.

2. Use free weights, not the machines
When you use a free weight, you not only develop the major muscles, you also develop the minor muscles it takes to keep the weights balanced and above you. Also, it just simply makes you look like more of a badass.

3. Do exercises that bend more than one joint
The more joints you bend, the more muscles you're using. In other words, tricep extension? Bad. Bench press? Good.

4. Pick the right amount of weight
This is the trickiest part of weight-lifting, and most people lift the wrong amount of weight. First, make sure it's not too light. The easiest way to do this is to select something you know is too light, and using it to warm-up doing the same lift. Keep increasing weight until it gets to be too heavy and then drop the weight back down. How can you tell the weight's too heavy? You should be able to do the reps with complete control. The exercise should burn, but you should be able to maintain a steady, even pace for the majority of your reps, while keeping those parts of your body not involved in the lift relatively still.

5. Plan your weight circuit ahead of time
- Do some cardio to get your blood pumping. Preferably, use a machine that uses both upper and lower body, like the rowing machine or an elliptical with moving handles.
- Start with 5-10 core exercises to help get your body warmed up. I suggest: planks, hamstring bridge, push-ups, back extensions (without weight) and bicycles as a basic set. [The first two are not super easy. If you can't do them, replace planks with crunches and don't use a ball for the hamstring bridge--just hold the bent knee position on the ground.]
- Alternate upper body and lower body exercises. Also alternative pushing and pulling exercises on the upper body. Here's an example:
                   1. Squats (lower body)
                   2. Bench Press (upper body, pushing)
                   3. Lunges (lower body)
                   4. Seated Row (upper body, pulling)
                   5. Jumpies (lower body) [squat down to a sitting position and then jump up as high as you can go]
                   6. Overhead press (upper body, pushing)
                   7. Single leg squats (lower body)
                   8. Pull-ups (upper body, pulling)
If you want to do a short lift, switch off between the first four and the last four exercises.
- Know the number of repetitions per set and the number of sets you want to do. For general purposes, 3 sets of 15 reps is a good place to start. If you're trying to gain muscle, do fewer reps with heavier weights.
- Set a rest time between sets and stick to it. Generally, I rest for 1-2 minutes between sets.

6. Stretch thoroughly after you lift
You will have a lot of build-up of lactic acid in your muscles after you lift. Stretching will help get rid of it. If you haven't lifted in a while, I also suggest doing some light cardio for 5-10 minutes after you lift to help flush out some of the lactic acid before you stretch.

7. Lift regularly
The first time you lift, you won't feel like moving the next day. If you keep up the lifting, you'll start to feel better each time. Lift 2-3 times a week, always with at least one day of rest in between lifts and preferably no more than 3 days of rest between lifts.

8. Switch up your routine
Every 2-3 months, switch up your routine. This could be as simple as doing it backwards or as complicated as changing all of the exercises, number of reps and number of sets. Not only will it keep your brain interested, it'll train you better.

Do you ever lift weights at the gym? Or at home? What's your weight-lifting advice? Let me know by leaving a comment or sending me an email at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com!

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