Whether you’re looking to improve your athletic performance or just want to feel more confident in the way you look, lifting weights is a great way to gain strength and build muscle.
But as a beginner, you might find weight lifting a little bit intimidating.
If you’re a beginner in the weight room, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed: the dozens of different weight machines, confusing exercises, and the fear that you may injure yourself all make taking the first step a little scary.
But, with the correct guidance, you can safely get started on your weight lifting journey and reap all of the awesome benefits that come along with it.
With the help of a couple of fitness experts, I compiled a list of 15 tips that every beginner should know when lifting weights for the first time.
These are the top tips for your first time lifting weights, according to experts:
- Focus on technique
- Start with lighter weights
- Do a light cardio warm-up
- Stick to the basics
- Set your fitness goals
- Always ask for a spot
- Hire a personal trainer
- Follow a program
- Stay hydrated
- Plan rest days
- Breathe properly
- Target all muscle groups
- Don’t ignore pain
- Bring a notebook and pen
- Switch up your workout
Let’s take a look at each one and how you can start lifting weights the right way today!
1. Focus on technique
When you first lift weights, whether you’re a total beginner or it’s just your first time working out in a long time, your top priority should be using proper form with all exercises.
Perfecting the fundamental movement patterns will set you up with a solid base to begin your weight lifting journey.
No matter which exercise you start with, start by focusing on maintaining a straight spine, performing the exercise slowly, and not using any excess momentum from other body parts to lift the weight.
Using proper form will also reduce the chances of injury and allow you to target the muscles of the exercise correctly.
Search YouTube and you’ll easily find tons of tutorials and form demonstrations for any exercise you’re interested in doing.
2. Start with lighter weights
When asked what a beginner should know when first starting to lift weights, personal trainer James Shapiro said:
“Just because you think you can press the 50 lbs dumbbells doesn’t mean you should. Most professional athletes and professional strength coaches will tell you that most training lives between 70-80% of your maximal effort.”
You may feel inclined to load up the bar with as much weight as you can physically handle, but this will only hurt you in the long run.
Your focus should be on performing the movements properly first—then you can start to gradually increase the weight and intensity.
Proper form goes hand in hand with a reasonable weight when you’re getting started. Go too heavy and you’re bound to compensate–and put yourself at risk.
Starting with an empty weight bar or very light dumbbells at a public gym may seem embarrassing at first, but truth be told, nobody will be focused on your workout routine.
Stay focused on your progression, and soon, you will be matching the weight of experienced gym-goers while using the proper form.
3. Do a light cardio warm-up
In a 2016 study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, it was found that a light warm-up of 15 minutes provided an increase in strength and performance compared to doing no warm-up.
Before you get started with your weight lifting workout, begin with a light cardio warm-up to get the blood flowing.
It doesn’t need to be anything complicated or intense. A brisk walk on a treadmill for 15 minutes should be enough to get started.
A light cardio warm-up will increase the blood flow and oxygen to provide the nourishment needed for an intense workout in the weight room.
Your muscles will also move with less pain or stiffness when they are warmed up and relaxed.
4. Start with the basics
When you lift weights for the first time, you don’t need to get fancy with your choice of exercises. Stick to the most basic compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups.
As a beginner, your body reacts quickly to the new stimulus, and this is known as newbie gains. Because your body reacts very well to basic movements as a beginner, you do not need to create a complicated routine to start to see results from lifting weights.
Some of the most basic weight lifting movements that should be incorporated into your routine are:
- Bench press
- Bent-over rows
- Overhead press
With these few exercises, you can target various muscle groups and see your strength and muscle gains progress.
While these should be the focus of your workouts, you can also add accessory exercises like dumbbell curls and reverse dumbbell flys to balance out your physique.
5. Determine your fitness goals
To help you get started, I asked Robert Herbst of w8lifterusa.com what a beginner should do to prepare for their first time lifting weights.
The first thing he said was:
“If you are going to lift weights for the first time, you should decide on your fitness goals. Do you want to lift for sports, strength, appearance, size, health, or something else? Then, read everything possible and look at videos to find the right kind of exercises and routine.”
Before you step foot into the weight room, determine what goals you want to achieve by lifting weights. Your goals can be to become a better athlete, or you can choose to lift weights to improve your overall health.
Goal setting makes it easier to determine what your workout will look like, and can also help with motivation in the weight room. Once you have set your fitness goals, you can set up a workout routine that you can follow to achieve your desired goals.
With countless free resources on weight lifting, there is information to meet any of your goals.
Check my guide here to the different weightlifting styles depending on your goals and personality.
6. Always ask for a spot
Whenever you are doing an exercise like a bench press, you should always have a spotter to help you.
(A Trusty Spotter, at that!)
In the instance where you don’t quite have enough left in the tank to push the barbell back up, the spotter will be there to prevent you from getting stuck under the bar.
Getting a spot when you are lifting weights is very important, but it can seem difficult to ask a stranger to help you in the gym. It’s easy to have a spotter if a friend is there with you, but sometimes you will go to the gym alone.
In 99% of situations, the person will agree to help you and will have no issues with being your spotter for the few sets of an exercise.
The process is as simple as saying, “Hey, sorry to interrupt, but can you spot me while I do bench press?”
It’s a good idea for common courtesy to ask this question when they are resting and not in the middle of performing an exercise.
7. Hire a personal trainer
For those who aren’t confident in taking on weight lifting by themselves, personal trainer James Shapiro recommends enlisting help:
“Should you feel uneasy, a personal trainer can be a great asset. A good personal trainer will understand you are starting out and don’t have the movement literacy that they probably have and training age.”
When it comes to finding the right type of personal trainer, Shapiro recommends looking for someone who is communicative, personable, technically proficient, and on-time.
A great trainer will be able to work with you and develop a program that meets your goals and current ability so you can progress in a safe way.
A knowledgeable personal trainer will be able to help you work around any injuries, perfect your form, and keep you motivated.
8. Use a program
Keeping track of your progress is a crucial part of weight training.
When you stick to the same weight lifting program, you will notice the improvements weekly in how much weight you are using for each exercise.
If you are using a personal trainer, they will create a personalized routine based on your goals and experience level.
(See what to expect at your first personal training session.)
If you don’t have a personal trainer, there are dozens of websites and apps you can use to construct your own workout program.
A popular one of the best workout apps for building your own program is FitBod, which generates custom strength training workouts based on your skill level and the equipment you have at your disposal.
Included in the app is a library of over 400 video demonstrations of exercises that you can reference if you aren’t familiar with a particular exercise.
Apps like these help you bridge the gap as a beginner and develop a program tailored to your goals.
Making things up as you go is fine for a few workouts, but to see real progress you must follow a structured program.
9. Stay hydrated
Lifting weights and other forms of exercise will increase your body’s demand for water.
And with 79% of your muscles made up of water, it is vital that you increase your water intake while doing strenuous strength training workouts.
By staying hydrated, you will improve your strength and performance during your weight lifting workouts and feel better.
If you become even moderately dehydrated during your workout, your power output will drop drastically.
After your workout, it is also essential you stay hydrated to aid in your recovery and get you ready for the next workout.
10. Plan rest days
Resting is equally as important as what you do during your weight lifting workout.
Without giving your body the rest it needs, you could potentially be hindering your results and increasing the likelihood of injury.
Believe it or not, your body does not get stronger while you are in the gym. Your progress is made once you leave the gym and your body is repairing itself.
While you are in the gym, you will be making small micro-tears in your muscles that will be later repaired to be bigger and better — this is why you’re so sore after a workout.
While you might feel incredibly motivated and want to lift weights every day, you need to take rest days to achieve better results as a beginner. Give your body one to two days off before going back for your next workout.
11. Breathe properly
Not breathing during a set of an exercise is a problem that weight lifters of all skill levels seem to have.
When you are straining with a heavier weight, you might automatically hold your breath—which can be dangerous.
If you overexert yourself and hold your breath for too long, you could become lightheaded and potentially pass out if you aren’t careful.
That’s why it’s crucial you pay attention to how you are breathing while you are lifting weights. Proper breath and diaphragm control also helps protect your spine while lifting.
An easy breathing pattern to remember is to exhale while you are lifting the weight and to inhale while you are lowering it. This breathing pattern will keep you safe and increase your endurance while you are lifting.
12. Target all muscle groups
To avoid any imbalances in your body, aim to workout all muscle groups at least once a week.
While your goals might focus on one muscle group in particular, training your full body over the course of your workouts will keep your body balanced and healthy.
(Don’t just do cardio and biceps!)
In the beginning, you should be focused on targeting each body part equally. Once you have enough experience with lifting weights, you will notice your weaknesses and focus more of your attention on specific muscle groups.
Stick to a balanced program that incorporates compound exercises as the main movements.
Compound exercises are the best choice to build an athletic and functional physique while increasing your overall strength.
13. Don’t ignore any pain
Lifting weights poses the danger of causing injury if done incorrectly.
One of the most prominent signs that you should stop doing a movement is when you feel any sharp pains. Lifting weights should only cause a dull tense feeling in your muscles as you are finishing the exercise.
If you feel a sharp pain in your body, immediately drop the weight and move on to another exercise, or stop altogether for the day.
Everyone has different body types and problem areas that they need to work around during their workout.
Sometimes an exercise will not agree with your body and can put pressure on your joints. Pushing yourself to do a movement your body does not like will potentially sideline you for multiple weeks, causing you to have slower progress.
14. Bring a notebook and pen
Documenting your progress in the weight room is often an overlooked part of lifting weights.
Each time you workout, you should note the weight and how many reps you performed on each individual exercise.
After each week, you should compare your previous weight and reps to see how you are progressing. Staying organized with a notebook can eliminate any guessing about what weight you should be using.
( like to text myself every set and every rep, or keep a spreadsheet or phone note. But paper and pen work well for most people, too.
15. Switch up your workouts
To keep your muscles guessing about what’s coming next, you should switch up your workouts regularly.
After doing the same routine for three months, things start to become stale, and you could start to lose your motivation to workout.
To spice things up, you can change the type of exercise, change the rep range, or speed up the rest times for a more intense workout. Get creative with your workouts and discover what is best to achieve your desired results.
Along with curing boredom, you will also achieve better results by bringing in new movements that your muscles aren’t accustomed to doing. However, be aware that a new exercise can have you feeling sore the next day. It might remind you of when you were just a beginner!
There you have it!
By following these 15 weight lifting tips, you will be able to take on the weight room like a pro.
As a beginner, you must focus on safety first and not worry too much about how much weight you’re lifting.
Your progress will come with time, so start by building a solid foundation. Remember: form comes first, and the heavier weights will follow.
Whether your goals are improving your general health or to make visible changes to your physique, the work doesn’t stop in the weight room.
Leading a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and a solid sleep regimen are an important part of the picture, too.
Before you go, check out:
- The best gyms with power racks to get started on your weight lifting journey
- How long it takes to bench press 225 pounds – a major strength standard
- How long it takes to squat 315 pounds – another major milestone
Hope this helps!