Exercise for Beginners - Strength Training


Learn the basics of lifting weights

Strength training is important for weight loss, raising your metabolism, burning fat, building muscle and keeping your bones and connective tissue strong. Check with your doctor before beginning exercise if you have any medical conditions or are pregnant.

How to Begin
Start with a program that works ALL muscle groups 1-2 non-consecutive days a week (never work the same muscle two days in a row).

  • Warm up with 5-10 minutes of light cardio to avoid injury
  • Choose one exercise for each muscle group (see below) and do 1 set of 10-16 repetitions of each exercise
  • It's a good idea to start with machines (if you exercise at a gym). They're easier to use and you'll condition your muscles before moving on to free weights, which requires a bit more coordination and the use of more muscles to stabilize your body.
  • Give yourself at least a day of rest (though you may need more after the first workout) to recover
  • Each session, add either 1 repetition and/or a few pounds of weight to each exercise to progress
  • You want to challenge yourself, not kill yourself. The first few weeks, focus on learning how to do each exercise rather than on how much weight you is lifting or how many exercises you're doing. You have plenty of time to build muscle!
  • After 6 or more weeks of consistent strength training, you can change your routine to make it more difficult (see below)
  • Stretch between sets and after your workout.

What Exercises Should You Do?
If you don't know much about weight training, consider hiring a personal trainer to help you set up your program. You should work all of your muscle groups each week so that you avoid muscle imbalances, which could lead to injury.

Below is a list of muscle groups along with sample exercises using both machines and free weights.

  • Chest: bench press, chest press machine, pushups, pec deck machine
  • Back: seated row machine, back extensions, lat pulldowns
  • Shoulders: overhead press, lateral raise, front raise
  • Biceps: bicep curls, hammer curls, concentration curls
  • Triceps: tricep extensions, dips, kickbacks
  • Quadriceps: Squats, lunges, leg extension and leg press machines
  • Hamstrings: deadlifts, lunges, leg curl machine
  • Calves: calf raises
  • Abdominals: crunches, reverse crunches, oblique twists, pelvic tilts

Choosing Your Sets, Reps and Weight
Choosing your reps, sets and weight can be the most confusing part of strength training. How many reps and sets you do will depend on your goals.

  • To lose body fat, build muscle: Use enough weight that you can ONLY complete 10-12 repetitions and 1-3 sets (1 for beginners, 2-3 for intermediate and advanced exercisers). Rest about 30 seconds-1 minute between sets and at least one day between workout sessions
  • For muscle gain: Use enough weight that you can ONLY complete 6-8 repetitions and 3+sets, resting for 1-2 minutes between sets and 3 or more days between sessions. For beginners, give yourself several weeks of conditioning before you tackle weight training with this degree of difficulty. You may need a spotter for many exercises.
  • For health and muscular endurance: Use enough weight that you can ONLY complete 12-16 repetitions, 1-3 sets, resting 20-30 seconds between sets and at least one day between workout sessions.

To determine how much weight you should use, start with a light weight and perform one set. Continue adding weight until you can ONLY do the desired number of repetitions.