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Published on February 4, 2021

5 Weight Lifting Exercises for Absolute Beginners

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5 Weight Lifting Exercises for Absolute Beginners

January is the month of Fitness New Year’s Resolution and despite gyms being closed in most countries, the number of people jumping on the exercise and weight-loss train is higher than it has ever been.

Most people that are afraid of going to the gym have been converted to home-training over the pandemic (most of you Lifehack readers might even have purchased my Busy Yet Fit Home Workouts video course) and now—hungry for quicker results—are stocking up with dumbbells and barbells to add some juice to their home-workouts.

Adding beginner-friendly weight lifting exercises to a simple bodyweight routine is the next logical step to stimulate muscle growth, burn more calories, and increase overall strength.

The other side of the coin is that poorly executed exercises with weights can lead to serious injuries, and some exercises might not be very effective, ending up wasting your time doing something that doesn’t really bring you any benefits at all.

For the above-mentioned reasons, I’ll share with you my 5 favorite and most effective weight lifting exercises that every beginner should master before jumping into complicated routines.

Note: Nothing compares to having a trainer screening your movements. Most times, when I enroll a new client in my programs, I have to spend a lot of time addressing dangerous movement patterns or stiff and achy joints. If you are worried about your posture or have lower back, shoulder, or neck pain, please don’t try to lift heavy weights without guidance.

Weight Training Basics You Need to Know

Here are a few basic “gym jargon” you should familiarise yourself with if you want to lift weights.

One lift of weights or completion of an exercise movement is called “repetition” or “rep” for short. A series of repetitions is called a “set of reps” or a “set” for short.

A common exercise recommendation for beginners is to do three sets of ten repetitions of an exercise, often written as 3×10—for example, three sets of ten squats.

When starting, try one or two repetitions with a low weight to get the feel of the procedure. Then, try up to 10 repetitions consecutively (one set).

Try lighter or heavier weights for comfort with useful intensity. If you can only do less than eight reps, then you may be lifting too heavy a weight. If you can do more than 12 reps without too much effort, say 20, you may need to weight up a little, although some programs for strength endurance use this many reps. This applies to all exercises described.

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You should rest between sets so that your body replenishes its energy system for the next round. Time taken between sets can be as short as 60 seconds or as long as five minutes depending on the intensity and weight. One to two minutes is usually adequate rest time for a ten rep set of moderate to low intensity.

Safety Basics You Need to Know

When doing intense workouts, especially weight lifting exercises, you have to be cautious because improper practices may lead to injuries.

Rounded back

Exercises like the squat, leg press, and deadlift require movements that place the spine under pressure in ways that can precipitate injuries, particularly to the lumbar or lower spine. In such exercises, the importance of keeping the back straight or slightly arched in the neutral position cannot be overemphasized, especially for beginners. No rounded backs, please.

Hyperextension

Hyperextension means pushing a joint beyond its normal range of movement. This may produce injury when excessive joint movement stresses ligaments and tendons too much. This concern has led to the common advice not to lock out the arms at the elbow or the legs at the knees when doing any number of exercises with weights.

Okay, enough with the boring stuff. Now, let’s get to the meat—or should I say “let’s get to the iron.”

Compound Movements

These are the main exercises you would usually perform with a bar or with dumbbells. They are called compound movements because they involve several joints at once, and they engage a large number of muscles, making them your go-to exercises.

Every good weight lifting exercise program for beginners will focus mainly on compound movements to build a solid base of overall strength and muscle mass.

1. Squat

Targets:

Lower body

Equipment Needed: Barbell or 2 Dumbbells

The squat lift exercise is arguably one of the best overall weight lifting exercises for building lower body and leg power and strength. Because this is a compound exercise that engages multiple muscles and joints at once, it takes some instruction and practice to master safely.

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Squats build lower body muscle strength, endurance, and power.[1] Additionally, they engage the core and improve strength and stability in the trunk and upper body.

Barbell Squat

Dumbbell Squat

2. Chest Press

Targets:

Chest, arms, shoulders

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells, barbell

This exercise targets the main muscle of the chest—the pectorals. It also uses the anterior deltoids of the shoulder and the triceps brachii of the upper arm.

Building chest support and definition is desirable for a fit look, but building this muscle is also functional. You need strong pecs for power for sports where you swing a bat, racket, or club. The chest press also helps you with any daily activities that require pushing or carrying.

Barbell Chest Press

Dumbbell Ches Press

3. Deadlift

Targets:

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Full body, hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteals, lower back, trapezius

Equipment Needed: Barbell or Dumbbells

The deadlift is a great way to build good-looking legs and backside. In a deadlift, you lift the weight from the ground to thigh-level using primarily your leg and hip muscles but with the assistance of most of the large muscle groups of your body.

The deadlift is usually performed with a bar and plates or a fixed barbell but can be done with dumbbells. It is a specialty of powerlifters that shouldn’t be ignored in general fitness weight training. To build muscle and functional fitness, make the deadlift part of your strength training workouts.

Barbell Deadlift

Dumbbell Deadlift

4. Overhead Press

Targets:

Shoulders

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells

The dumbbell overhead press increases strength throughout the shoulders and engages the core for stability. It can be done in either a sitting or standing position and with dumbbells held horizontally at the shoulders or rotated in a hammer grip. A sitting position helps stabilize the back, while a standing position works a wider range of muscles.

Beginners should pick light weights to start, increasing it until you find a weight that you can lift with good form for 10 repetitions but feel fatigued at the final rep. Women might start with 5-pound dumbbells and men with 10-pound dumbbells. You can use this exercise in any upper body strength workout.

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Barbell Overhead Press

Dumbbell Overhed Press

5. Lat Pulldown (if you can’t perform pull-ups)

Targets:

Shoulders, back

Equipment Needed: Cable pulley machine

Most beginners won’t be able to pull themselves up, therefore, the Lat Pulldown machine offers a good starting option to build some back muscles. The pulldown exercise works the back muscles, especially the latissimus dorsi or the “lats.” It is performed at a workstation with adjustable resistance, usually plates.

While sitting with your upper thighs restrained under a thigh pad, you pull a hanging bar down toward you to reach chin level and then, release it back up with control for one repetition. This exercise can be used to achieve a V-shaped back.

 

What About Body Sculpting Exercises?

I often get asked questions on the line of “how do I get rid of my flabby arms?” or “how can I reduce my inner thighs or love handles?”

The brutal truth is that focusing on small body parts doesn’t bring results despite vigorous efforts. As a beginner, spending a lot of time training your biceps, stomach, or obliques won’t get you the body of your dreams.

Focusing on building a lot of strength and a solid base of muscle with compound movements while adding some postural corrective exercises will guarantee long term improvement. That’s why the five weight lifting exercises I listed above should be your main focus for the first 6 to 12 months of weight training.

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More Weight Lifting Exercises for Beginners

Featured photo credit: Sam Sabourin via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Davide Alfonsi

Online Weight Loss And Exercise Specialist

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Last Updated on January 5, 2022

7 Practical Stretching Tips to Enhance Your Next Workout

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7 Practical Stretching Tips to Enhance Your Next Workout

Stretching is one of the most essential aspects of a healthy fitness routine. It’s also one of the most overlooked. Instead of thinking of this activity as a separate entity, consider stretching as a continuation of your exercise routine. By making stretching tips a part of your workout, you won’t neglect the attention your muscles and joints require to perform effectively.

Whether using stretching as a way to wake up, get your mind in the game, or recover from strenuous activity, your body will reap its short-term and long-term benefits. In the moment, stretching is a great way to warm up the body and prevent yourself from overextension and injury. In the long run, stretching daily can help loosen your tendons and muscles, and ultimately help you maintain a full range of motion later in life.

Taking these ideas into consideration, follow these 7 simple tips for stretching to add stretches back into your workout vocabulary.

1. Stretch and Stretch Often

Ultimately, your body can benefit from stretching daily. Many of us experience a somewhat stationary lifestyle at work, so we naturally need to warm up our bodies after remaining immobile for long periods of time.

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With only ten minutes of stretching, you can increase your strength, balance and flexibility. From working out to waking up in the morning, slow, easy movements can warm up the body. Just remember to be gentle; any jarring movements can cause injury and muscle tear.

For the best results, hold each stretch for at least sixty seconds[1].

2. Warm up Before a Workout

Similar to establishing a daily stretching routine, warming up the body pre-workout is vital for having a successful session and one of the most important stretching tips. Just grabbing your foot to stretch your calf for a couple seconds could actually harm your body, so make sure you begin slowly and take your time.

Attempting any exercise with “cold muscles” or without “waking up the body” will also hurt your body and cause muscle pulls and tendon tears. Try taking a short walk or elongating your stretches for optimal results.

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3. Gauge Your Tension

Stretching should never be painful. Monitor how your muscles feel as you stretch. Naturally, you should feel some mild tension, but don’t push yourself past the edge of discomfort.

If you’re starting to experience sharp pain or sensations that gradually get more severe, you are doing something wrong. Try to focus on one area at a time so you are only pushing yourself so far. When you begin to feel comfortable stretching, deepen your stretch, but don’t over-exert yourself.

4. Avoid Bouncing

Stretching tips don’t often mention this, but bouncing can be one of the most detrimental things you can do to your body while stretching. When your body constantly shifts, your muscles can tighten, and you can increase the risk of pulling or tearing a tendon. Find your balance or focal point, and remain steady.

When in doubt, try using a mirror to watch yourself stretch to improve your form. Don’t be afraid to consult your doctor or trainer for someone to monitor your posture and stance[2].

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5. Just Breathe

One of the main benefits of stretching is its ability to help the mind and body relax. Therefore, try to breathe normally and make sure you don’t hold your breath[3].

As you deepen your stretch, make sure to inhale and exhale slowly. Any abrupt, fast breathing or lack of breathing can cause tension in your body and increase your risk of injury. Make sure you are comfortable so that your mind focuses on the task at hand.

6. Vary Your Routine

While stretching, don’t forget to work on opposing muscles and incorporate as many muscle groups as possible in your routine for a holistic workout. Also, one of the most important stretching tips I can offer is to change your routine often so you don’t get bored.

Often, boredom can cause carelessness and a loss of focus, which, in turn, can cause injuries. Look to Yoga workouts[4] or Pilates classes, as they are great resources for finding new stretches.

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7. Always Remember to Cool Down

Stretching is also an excellent form of recovery to avoid muscle soreness. Don’t overlook this part of a workout, as it releases the tension in your body and increases blood flow to muscles that are warm and worked. Cooling down can prevent injury and decrease your heart rate after an intense workout. Do what you can to help your body quickly recover from your daily exercise routine.

Final Thoughts

Stretching tips are vital when participating in an active lifestyle. However, your body needs fuel to assist you through these daily routines. Therefore, don’t forget to eat the right foods and stay hydrated. Not only do you replenish your body with fluids and nutrients lost, but you can keep your muscles strong and ready for the next routine.

If you struggle with stress and anxiety, stretching can help you move into a calmer headspace and find both mental and physical balance. Furthermore, stretching can help you and your body focus on something else, which will help you move past the stress.

As you plan your next workout, incorporate time for pre and post-workout stretches to see how it improves your exercise experience.

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More Stretching Tips

Featured photo credit: Oksana Taran via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: The ideal stretching routine
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: Six tips for safe stretches
[3] Penn State: Balance, Breathing and Flexibility
[4] Health: Best Yoga Poses for Your Trouble Spots

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