The Bottom Line in Health: Beginner’s Guide to Weight Training
Many of us dread the idea of going to the gym to exercise. The day has drained you of your last drop of energy, the numerous machines at your gym are confusing and difficult to adjust to your preferred settings, and the buff bodies moving weight in every imaginable direction are intimidating. As a result, many people turn to “quick-fix” workout regimens that claim to give you the body you have always wanted in the fewest days possible. The claims surrounding these programs are usually glorified and aimed at convincing uneducated buyers that a particular exercise program is the secret formula to achieving their fitness dreams. The truth of the matter is that real physical results come from a measured, planned, and most importantly, consistent approach to exercising. To help you understand the common misconceptions around the topic of weightlifting, I have structured a multi-step guide to help you become an informed exerciser.
1. Set Your Goals
Before we get into the technicalities, we need to understand exactly what you might want out of weightlifting. The term “weightlifting” entails three main areas of exercising: powerlifting, Olympic lifting and bodybuilding. Powerlifting is the pursuit of lifting heavy weight, and goes hand in hand with gaining many pounds of weight; Olympic lifting is the pursuit of technical lifting ability, trying to lift substantial amounts of weight without gaining a lot of weight yourself; and bodybuilding is the pursuit of gaining muscle for aesthetic and fitness purposes. Assuming you’re interested in bodybuilding, we then need to decide exactly what we want to achieve. As an amateur, you should only concern yourself with gaining lean muscle. As an inexperienced trainee, focusing on this one objective will serve to increase your muscle mass and reduce your body fat. Take note however, that as you get more experienced, this will become harder and harder to achieve.
2. Eat Big to Get Big
Now it is time to start working at the goal you have set for yourself. This work will start every day in the kitchen. Building muscle necessitates two conditions from your diet: The first, a high protein diet, and the second, a caloric surplus. When protein is digested, it’s broken down into smaller compounds known as amino acids, and it is these amino acids that are transported around the body and assembled into new muscle fiber. Without adequate protein, your body won’t be able to make new muscle, regardless of how many times you hit the gym. Similarly, your body is going to be reluctant to commit precious calories to building muscle mass if you aren’t in a calorific surplus. By eating more calories than you’re using each day, the body isn’t concerned with the looming possibility of starving to death, and will more efficiently create muscle. Eating too little each day can even cause your body to panic, and hold on to as much fat as possible to ward off famine.
3. Don’t Over/Under Train
Training frequency is another area clouded by misconceptions, and for the natural weightlifter, the traditional training split popularized by pro-bodybuilders is not the most efficient way to make progress. A traditional 5-day training split would have you training each part of your body on its own separate day. A regimen like this may have an individual chest, back, shoulders, arms and legs day each week. This may seem to allow the best part of a week for each body part to fully recover between sessions, but in reality, you simply don’t need to wait this long. Furthermore, doing so will limit your progress by about half. The best training programs focus on upper/lower body splits, training most body parts twice a week. While this might seem like overtraining itself, these routines are built around the compound lifts, with relatively low-rep ranges and constant, measurable progression from week to week.
4. Find Yourself a Proven Routine
Speaking of routines, if you’re serious about weightlifting, the best decision you could make would be the adoption of a popular and proven weightlifting routine. Some of the leading programs, including famous routines like “Starting Strength,” focus on building a balanced foundation of muscle and strength over the entire body. These programs have a framework that focuses on the main compound lifts, like squatting, benching and deadlifting, and will both teach correct form and build a balanced physique.
5. Choose Free Weights Over Machines
Machines utilize a very limited range of motion, forcing your body to work through a single plane of motion. This can be great if you’re trying to rehab an injury. But if you’re looking to gain lean muscle, you need to be activating as many muscle fibers as possible, and the best way t accomplish this is to challenge your body in as many planes of motion as possible. There’s no issue with a balanced routine incorporating a mixture of free weights and machines for variety, but the compound, free weight exercises should always be your staple.
6. Don’t Over-Supplement
Supplements should be supplementary to your training program. If you’re eating enough nutritious, high-protein food each day, you simply won’t see the need for any supplements. The only exception I would be willing to make would be a protein shake, which can come in handy as a quick and accessible source of stomach-filling protein when we are on the run. Save your money, and buy something that might actually help, like a subscription to physical fitness journal or a comfortable pair of exercising sneakers.
7. Stay Motivated
Weightlifting is hard and there’s no two ways about it. Sometimes, you’ll even find yourself unwilling to train, bored and frustrated. When this happens, don’t give up on weightlifting forever. Try changing your routine to make it more interesting, training with a partner to increase the competitive element, training fewer times a week, or even taking a week off. It won’t ruin your physique overnight, and it might just stop you from quitting altogether.
There is no arguing that exercise can help most people lose weight, as well as look more muscular and trim. Of course, there's a catch. There is no short cut to attaining your desired physique or athletic strength. You need to get, and continue, moving if you want to cash in on the benefits of a structured fitness plan. Apply these guidelines to your weightlifting routine to maximize your physical results, and keep you striving towards a healthy lifestyle.
A Note on the Author: the Bottom Line In Health seeks to provide simple fitness and nutrition tips for the Yeshivah University community. As a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness and Nutrition Specialist, it is my goal to enhance the readers’ understanding of how to maintain a healthy standard of living while improving performance in and out of school and supporting an overall sense of well-being.