How to Start a Weight Lifting Program: What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

This post is for former Lori (pre-lifter). For my sister, who wants to improver her (already amazing) body. For those with questions regarding what the hell to do once you get into the Testosterone Chamber (*ahem* the weight room *ahem*). This post is What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do.

(*disclaimer: these are tips and ideas that really helped me. I have taken time to learn proper form and have seen these things work with my body. I am not a physician, and nor do I want to be. So just don’t sue me, ok? Ok. 🙂 )

Let’s get started!

From all the research I’ve done, blogs I’ve read, and personal experimentation, the key to transforming your body and losing some unwanted body fat (Oh, besides all the other amazing benefits of lifting: higher self esteem, better moods, less bouts of depression, those wonderful little endorphins) is to lift weights and to lift relatively heavy. Sticking to the basics of weight training is not only easier and takes less time, but actually works.

Entering the weights zone of the gym, ’cause there is more than the cardio area, can be intimidating. But that isn’t going to stop you, is it? No, Ma’am! You walk up to that weight rack and select your poison. And at this point, you know which weights to grab: Pick a heavy enough weight for you. Heavy is subjective. (Dude to my left is doing bicep curls with 40 lb dumbbells; I am curling 25 lb dumbbells. What is heavy to me might not be heavy for dude on the left, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.) Pick a weight that is going to make you work to get in the last two reps of that exercise. If you’re easily busting out 15 or more repetitions of your curl/squat/press/whatever, it’s too light.

Ok, so now you have your heavy weight. Check. Uh, now what?

Now, we work.

Hold up! Let’s back up just a bit. The best piece of advice I can give at this point is to figure out what you’re overall goals are. Are you going to body-building status and bulking up or are you looking for fat loss? Setting your intention before just winging it is far better for getting the results you desire.

S.M.A.R.T. goals will help. Goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-appropriate should be set. Anne has a great informational post on this.

Ok, now you’re holding your weights with your S.M.A.R.T. goals set…

Basics are best so if you’re just starting out (or even a seasoned heavy lifter)- compounded movements are going to give you the biggest bang for your buck butt, calorie-burning-sexy-and-lean-muscle speaking. Basics should be performed with good form and heavy-for-you-weight:

Again, these are the basics of compounded exercises, meaning they work a few muscle groups at a time. Once you get comfortable with these you can do all sorts of time-saving, metabolism boosting things with them. For example, I’m loving (but hating) my workouts with front squats with a push-press, one handed dumbbell bench press done on a stability ball, etc. Have fun and grow those muscles. 😉

Reps, sets, and intensity do count. You can manipulation of the number of repetitions (reps), sets, tempo, exercise types, and weight moved to cause desired increases in strength, endurance, and size, for this post we’ll just stick with the three first mentioned.

Repetitions, or reps, are usually in ranges of 3-5, 5-10, 8-12, 10-15. These will determine what you’re after and how much weight to lift. With the smallest reps, you’re going for strength and should be lifting really heavy. And as the reps increase, you’re weight might (and probably will) decrease so you can lift that last rep.

Rule of thumb:

  • 1-5 reps for strength
  • 6-12 reps for hypertrophy
  • 12+ reps for endurance

Sets will vary, also. 1-5 sets of an exercise is pretty normal. Anything more may be overkill.

Intensity, that’s information for another post.

Abs: If you lift weights, they will come…

Alright, let’s review (and compact all that writing into a short, easy to use list). These are the things that are important and a great way to get started lifting some weights!

  1. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals
  2. Write out/plan your workout
  3. Warm-up
  4. Perform exercises with proper form with your planned sets, reps, and intensity
  5. Be consistent with your weight training workouts (stick with a workout for at least 4-6 weeks before switching it up- I promise you’ll see changes!)
  6. HAVE FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Don’t worry, there are plenty more tips and tricks and suggestions where this came from. But for now, when you get the basics down and you’ll be glad you did.

Random quote for Friday:

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those you matter don’t mind.

-Dr. Seuss

Not so random quote for Friday:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results

-Albert Einstein


What has worked for you in the exercise world?

What type of exercise do you enjoy most?

What in your life isn’t working for you right now?