Weightlifting can help to manage your weight, strengthen your bones, and reduce the rates of chronic illness, reports the Mayo Clinic. For optimal results when starting a weightlifting routine, start slowly but progress steadily.
Wear Proper Gear
As with any athletic endeavor, wearing appropriate gear is an important part of weightlifting. To maintain safety, be sure to wear cross-trainers or other shoes that are specifically designed for weightlifting. Choose shoes that fit snugly and tie them securely before starting a resistance training workout.
Clothes that are breathable and allow for full range of motion can also be helpful when it comes to weightlifting. Wearing clothes that are too tight or do not allow for flexibility can result in injury or accident.
A warm-up is a type of activity that prepares the body for exercise by increasing blood flow and loosening tight muscle. In general, warm-ups are done at low-intensity levels.
To warm-up for strength training, perform five to ten minutes of light aerobic exercise. Walking, jogging, or using an elliptical at low levels are all especially effective warm-up exercises, as they incorporate all major muscle groups.
Choose Appropriate Exercises
In The Personal Trainer’s Manual (pages 257-258), the American Council on Exercise reports that for optimal results, individuals should design a resistance-training program that includes eight to ten exercises, which target all major muscle groups in the body.
To get the most bang for your buck, choose compound exercises – or those that target several muscle groups at the same time. Squats are an example of a compound exercise, as they target quadriceps, hamstring, and gluteal muscles, among others.
Use Proper Form
Using proper form is crucial for those who want to maximize their weightlifting workouts while avoiding injury.
To ensure proper form, individuals who are new to resistance training may want to consider the use of weightlifting machines, as they provide a structured range of movement and prevent potential form deviations. The Personal Trainer’s Manual (page 271) notes that these machines can provide a quality workout while preventing possible injury or accident.
More advanced exercisers who prefer to use free weights may want to consult with a personal trainer or exercise physiologist for guidance when it comes to adding a new exercise to their workouts. These professionals can provide recommendations for form and technique, thus ensuring safety during the performance of the exercise.
Selecting Initial Weight Amounts
Determining how much weight to lift with a particular exercise can be challenging, especially if you have not performed the exercise in the past. Always start with light weights that you are confident that you can lift when adding a new exercise to your repertoire, recommends The Personal Trainer’s Manual (page 274), and gradually add heavier weights as needed to produce a moderate-intensity workout.
Increasing Weight Amounts
As with selecting the initial weight amount, knowing when to increase weights can be difficult. The Personal Trainer’s Manual (page 296) notes that variations in gender, body composition, and rates of strength gains will all affect how often exercisers can – and should – increase the amount of weight lifted. Depending on the individual, these increases may occur on a weekly, monthly, or semi-monthly basis.
Instead of focusing on the calendar, listen to your body and how easy – or difficult – it is to perform the exercise in question. According to The Personal Trainer’s Manual (pages 280-282), you are lifting an appropriate amount of weight if the last few repetitions of a set are difficult, but possible, to complete. In contrast, if you can breeze through a set of a particular exercise, you should increase the amount of weight that you lift.
Aim for a five to ten percent increase when adding more weight to a particular exercise, recommends the American Council on Exercise (page 282). Exercisers who are performing 100-pound barbell squats, for example, should increase their weight to between 105 and 110 pounds.
Watch the Clock
To avoid injury, be sure to lift and lower weights in a slow and controlled manner. The Personal Trainer’s Manual (page 279) encourages individuals to use a two-second count during both lifting and lowering phases to avoid performing the repetitions too quickly.
Repetitions that are done very rapidly often rely on momentum – not muscular strength – and can cause injuries.
Set Reasonable Goals
Goal-setting is a must for individuals who want to achieve optimal results with weightlifting, reports WebMD. In fact, setting goals is an important step when it comes to establishing a protocol for the number of sets and repetitions performed during a workout.
In Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (page 182), the American College of Sports Medicine suggests that individuals who want to increase muscle size perform three to five sets of six to eight repetitions of each exercise included in their workout. In contrast, those who want to increase muscular strength should perform two to three sets of ten to fifteen repetitions of the exercises in question.
Advanced exercisers can make their exercises more difficult by varying the types of resistance equipment that they use. Instead of performing bicep curls with dumbbells, for example, The Personal Trainer’s Manual (page 290) encourages experienced exercisers to consider the use of kettlebells.
Plyometrics – or jump training, as they are sometimes called – are a dynamic type of resistance training exercise that can also be helpful for advanced exercisers looking for a more challenging workout. As opposed to more traditional forms of weightlifting, WebMD reports that plyometrics incorporate explosive movements and quick response times, and can be useful for those looking to improve athletic performance.
Squat jumps and one-legged hops are both great examples of plyometric exercises that can be incorporated into the workouts of an advanced exerciser.
Getting adequate amounts of rest both during and after workouts is invaluable when it comes to achieving optimal results with strength training. Individuals who are interested in building muscular strength should rest for three to five minutes between each set of a particular exercise, recommends the American College of Sports Medicine, while those who want to increase endurance should rest for 30 seconds to two minutes between sets.
Recovery Between Workouts
According to Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (page 184), resting between workouts helps repair microscopic muscular tears and promotes gains in strength, mass and endurance. Aim for two to three days of weight training each week, with at least 48 hours of rest in between workouts.
As with a warm-up, a cool-down is an important part of any strength training program. Engaging in light aerobic exercise, such as walking, biking, or even swimming, for five to ten minutes after resistance training can help to reduce lactic acid build-up in the muscles, notes Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (page 186), and can lower muscle soreness after a workout.
Stretching after a weight-lifting workout also reduces muscle soreness and can help protect against injury. For optimal results, choose stretches that target muscles used during the workout. Individuals who complete a lower-body resistance training workout, for example, should cool-down with stretches that also target the lower body.
To maximize the results of your workout, be sure to follow a healthy diet. While incorporating carbohydrates and healthy fats into your diet is important, consuming adequate protein stores is especially crucial.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, resistance trainers should aim for 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day – or between 81 and 116 grams for a 150-pound man or woman. Eating adequate amounts of protein helps to repair the microscopic tears that occur in the muscles during resistance training, and aid in the promotion of increases in muscle size and strength.
Building a Better Body
When basic recommendations are followed, weightlifting can prove to be invaluable for both male and female exercisers. It is important to note that while women may not be able to lift as much weight in a particular exercise as their male counterparts, they do not need to make any significant changes to basic weightlifting principles.