When you’re new to weight training it helps to know exactly what to focus on. Starting a new routine at a gym or even from home can be intimidating. We always want to make sure we’re doing the most effective exercises and doing them properly. Which leads me to the first and most important rule.
1. Form and Technique are Everything
As a beginner to weight training, we need to build a foundation of proper movement patterns. Weight training is a skill. And just like any other skill, it takes time to learn. It’s best to start with light to medium weights you can safely control and with good form. Set aside some time to research and watch exercise videos to learn proper technique. Even better, invest in a coach for a few sessions. If you live in Fairfield County, I would love to help you.
Get your mind into the muscle and create as much tension as possible in the muscle you are working. Avoid “cheating” or transferring of weight to surrounding muscle groups. The goal is to create maximum tension in the muscle. Tension is squeezing a muscle forcefully.
2. Follow a Consistent Routine
To make lasting changes in a physique, you need to follow a progressive training plan. The best routine for beginners is 3 to 4 workouts per week with either a full body or upper/lower split. This way you are working each major muscle group 2 or 3 days per week. This frequency will stimulate change in the muscle. The stronger a muscle, the tighter and firmer it becomes. For a full body workout, select one exercise from every movement pattern. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions for 3 to 4 sets. Include a day of recovery in between each major muscle group.
1. Upper body push: bench press, dumbbell chest press, overhead press, push up
2. Upper body pull: chin up, lat pulldown, row, single arm row
3. Squat: goblet squat, front squat, box squat
4. Lunge: split squat, reverse lunge, rear foot elevated lunge, front foot elevated lunge, walking lunge
5. Hinge: deadlift, hip bridge, hip thrust, pull through, kettlebell swing, single leg deadlift, good morning
6. Weighted Carry and Core: farmer carry, single-arm carry, racked carry, overhead carry, plank, side plank, deadbug, ab rollout, banded rotation, chop and lift
So a full body workout might look like this:
A1. 3x12 Dumbbell chest press
A2. 3x12 Seated row
B1. 3x12 Back squat
B2. 3x12 Barbell hip thrusts
C1. 3x10/leg Reverse lunge
C2. 3x40 yd/side Single-arm carry
C3. 3x10/side x Deadbug
Consistency is key. You need to stick to one plan, be confident in your approach and show up. Sometimes it can take four weeks before you notice positive changes in your body. You have to trust the process and celebrate the small wins in the journey, like getting to the gym 3 to 4 times a week for a month. I have all my online clients track their workouts to ensure accountability and consistency. Visualize your end goal, the person you want to be and how you want to feel. Use this as motivation to follow through and be successful. Anyone who has made a permanent body transformation has made this a lifestyle.
3. You Don’t Have to Kill Yourself
A workout doesn’t have to be stressful to be a good workout. An effective workout can be completed in as little as 30 to 40 minutes.
For each exercise, you should be able to lift the weight for just the number of designated repetitions, in the above workout, 10-12 reps. If you can only do 8 reps, the weight is too heavy and if you can do more than 12, it’s too light. For more on how heavy a weight should be, read this article.
We want to create just enough tension in the muscle so it has to adapt and grow. Yes, we want the muscle to grow. Muscle tissue is dense and takes up very little space compared to body fat. There is no such thing as “bulky” or “lean” muscle. The “toned” physique most of my clients come to me for is building lean muscle in the absence of body fat. Muscle gives the body shape, and turns the body into a fat burning machine due to a higher metabolism and promoting fat loss hormones.
4. Cardio Guidelines
Always prioritize weight training workouts and then add cardio on top of this. The most important cardio is to be active on a daily basis. Get a fitness tracker and hit 10,000 steps per day. Cardio in between weight training workouts helps with soreness and muscle recovery. Cardio can also be added to the end of a weight training workout. Include a wide variety of cardio at least twice per week from steady state, medium intensity and high intensity interval training (HIIT).
HIIT can be done up to 2 times per week where you sprint for 10-20 seconds followed by a 20-40 second recovery interval. Continue alternating between a sprint and recovery for 10 to 15 minutes. Complete a 5-8 minute warm up and cool down. Sprints are best done on a sled, bike, stair climber, and as hill sprints.
Medium intensity includes circuit training, running, and cycling. Perform 15-30 minutes with a 5-8 minute warm up and cool down. This can be done 2 to 3 times per week.
Steady state cardio includes light jogging, brisk walking, zumba, cycling and hiking. Perform 1 to 3 times per week for 30-60 minutes.
5. Nutrition and Recovery
With this plan you’ll be in the gym 3 to 4 hours a week. There’s 168 hours in the week. What we do these other hours is more important than what we do in the gym. To transform a physique, an unprocessed diet is essential. Have lean protein and vegetables at every meal and complex carbs post workout and at one additional meal. Drink at least half your bodyweight in ounces of water each day. I have dozens of articles on how to put together a balanced healthy diet that you can read here. Getting eight hours of quality sleep each night is needed for workout recovery, energy levels and balancing hormones. Find a stress management practice that works for you whether it’s meditation, deep breathing, hobbies, sauna, or yoga.
Have fun with your workouts! Yes, they’re going to be intense, but this is how we get stronger and healthier from the inside out. Experiment with a variety of equipment at the gym, treat yourself to a new toy for the home gym, find outdoor space to do cardio. For a sustainable body transformation, our workouts need to be enjoyable.