While gym weight rooms used to be home to muscly men shifting massive dumbbells, these days they’re full of a wide variety of different people of all ages, shapes and sizes. More and more people are becoming aware of the incredible benefits of strength training and starting off on their own strength journeys – and it’s easy to see why.
Building muscle will not only make you stronger, boost confidence and increase self-esteem, but it can also help:
- Burn fat: Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so the more you have, the more calories you burn throughout the day.
- Keep you healthy: Strength training can improve heart health, reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, increase bone density, reduce lower back pain and improve sleep.
- Lift your mood: Research shows strength training can release feel-good endorphins to reduce anxiety and fight depression.
- Avoid injury: Strong muscles mean you also have strong bones and connective tissue. This will help avoid strain or injury.
How to get started
As a beginner, weight training can feel a little bit intimidating. Whether you’re unsure about which weights to use for which exercises, or confused about how a machine works, it can take time (and trial and error) to figure it out.
The best way to get started with strength training is to combine functional exercises (these imitate movements you use in everyday life) and compound lifts (these engage multiple large muscle groups at once). If you learn these basics, you’ll have a solid foundation to build on in the gym.
Here are five key exercises to begin with:
- Hold a weight at your chest in both hands, elbows close to your body, and stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees and drop your bum back and down to lower into a squat. Keep your chest high and core tight.
- Push your knees out and make sure to keep the weight in your heels.
- Push through your heels to stand back up and squeeze your glutes at the top.
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent.
- Hinging at your hips, bend your knees slightly as you lower your body and push your bum outwards.
- As you lower down make sure you hold the dumbbells close to your legs, pull your shoulder blades together and keep your back straight.
- Keeping your core tight, push through your heels to stand up straight. Keep the weights close to your body as you pull up.
- Pause at the top and squeeze your bum. Repeat.
- Lie on your back on the floor or on a flat bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand, or a barbell.
- Rotate your wrists forward so that the palms of your hands are facing away from you.
- Hold the dumbbells at the sides of your chest, elbows bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Press the dumbbells up and together. Think about using your chest muscles to initiate the movement.
- Bring your arms back down to starting position.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and dumbbells resting on your hips. Your feet should be about hip-distance apart with your heels a few inches away from your bum.
- Push through your heels to lift your hips up while squeezing your glutes. Try to create a line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Pause for a few seconds, then slowly lower back down to the ground.
- Hold a dumbbell on one hand. Step the opposite leg forward so that you’re standing in a staggered stance. Hinge forward at the hips so your torso is angled toward the floor and your back is flat.
- Keeping your body in this position, lift the dumbbell up to chest level, keeping your elbow close to your side.
- In a controlled motion, lower the dumbbell back down to the starting position.
Choose a small weight you can lift and repeat each move 10 to 12 times for 2 to 3 sets. If you’re unsure of the movement, try it without any weight to begin with.
As you progress, you can increase the size of your weights (you’ll know it’s time to move up when the last 2 to 3 repetitions feel easy to lift.)
Some points to bear in mind
Warm up first
Warm muscles are less prone to injury, so do 5 to 10 minutes of cardio or some warm-up sets of each exercise in your workout.
Focus on form
Good form will give you maximum benefit with a reduced chance of injury. To maintain proper form during strength training, pay attention to your posture (lift your chest and squeeze your abs), move slowly (so your muscles, not momentum, do the work), and remember to breathe. If you need expert advice on your form, a personal trainer can be invaluable.
Give yourself at least a day of rest
Rest days are essential for building lean muscle tissue and preventing injury. Try to avoid working the same muscle groups two days in a row.