If you’re brand new to fitness and exercise, you’re probably hearing several terms tossed around. Sets, reps, superset, compound lifts, and so on. This can get to be very overwhelming for someone just beginning and trying to make sense of it all. What means what? And more importantly, how do you utilize this information in your routine?
If weight lifting seems more complex than learning a foreign language, not to worry, there are things you can do that will make it less complicated. Reading this article is a good start.
Weight lifting is something that you will learn as you go and as you become more experienced, most of these terms will just ‘click’ and make sense.
So while right now it may feel like you’re stumbling around them, take comfort in the fact that in the future, they’ll seem like everyday language.
Let’s get started and go over some basics so you can get off on the right foot.
Weight Lifting Defined
Before we talk specifics, it’s important to give a bit of a definition to weight lifting. What is it? What benefits does it bring?
Weight lifting can essentially be summarized as any form of exercise that is applying external resistance to the body in some manner. Most people will immediately think of free weight lifting when thinking of this term, but it doesn’t necessarily have to involve dumbbells or barbells.
Weight lifting can also involve the use of resistance bands, kettlebells, or even everyday items such as milk jugs filled with sand if you want to. Get creative. If you don’t have a gym membership, see what other forms of external weight you can lift. As long as it’s providing a stimulus for the body to work against, it counts.
Benefits Of Weight Lifting
We are not here to talk about all the benefits of weight lifting so we’ll keep this rather brief. It is important to know what you stand to gain by including this form of exercise in your workout routine however as that will help keep you committed to seeing long term success.
The main benefits you’ll reap when you partake in weight lifting activities include:
- Increased functional strength – everyday activities will feel easier
- Improved muscle tone and definition – you’ll firm up and add attractive curves in all the right places in your body
- Improved resting metabolic rate allowing you to burn more calories all day long, even at rest. This is great for long-term weight control
- Enhanced overall daily calorie burn. You’ll also burn calories faster on an everyday basis simply because you are doing the weight lifting activity in your program
- Increased cardiovascular health
- Improved ability to tolerate fatigue development
- Increased sports performance if you participate in any other additional activities
- Enhanced bone strength
- Lowered blood pressure levels
- Improved cholesterol profile
- Better sleep quality
- For most people, improved self-confidence, especially as they see their body composition improve
- Weight loss or muscle building results, depending on the diet that you happen to be using while going about your program plan
- Improved day to day energy levels
All of these benefits start taking place the day you begin your program, so this isn’t something that you need to be doing for months to be seeing results. While you may not see noticeable changes in your physique immediately upon starting the program, if you keep up with it for a while, you definitely will.
The Goals Of Weight Lifting Exercise
Now let’s talk about your objective – what is the purpose of doing weight lifting in the first place? What are your key objectives?
While some people will hit the gym and just go through the exercise because they simply like doing weight lifting activities and for them, it’s a bit of a social experience as well (these are the people you see chatting just as much as they are exercising), most people do go in with the goal to get results of some kind.
So you need to have a progression formula in mind. It should come to no surprise that the single biggest goal when performing weight lifting exercise is to lift more weight. The purpose of this exercise is to get stronger than you were before, so that’s always your number one objective.
At the end of the day, most programs are designed so you are moving towards this goal. In some cases, lifting more weight may not be a reasonable goal to have, in which case you may instead have the goal of doing more total volume or ‘work’. This means you lift more total tonnage per workout than before. This is especially the case if one of your primary objectives is muscular hypertrophy. To grow larger muscles, they need to be exposed to more volume every week.
Finally, the last goal of weight lifting exercise could be injury prevention. Now this goal can easily come along with the other goals as well as a stronger muscle is generally one that is less likely to become injured, but if you have a particular muscle you are trying to rehab or prevent injuries with, this may guide your exercise selection to a larger degree.
For example, if you suffer from knee pain when you are playing your favorite sport of soccer, your physiotherapist may have told you to get involved in weight lifting exercises and strengthen your glutes and hamstrings because they are weak and leading to an imbalance that is causing this pain to occur.
So then you would begin this exercise, focusing on these muscles primarily in your workout routine.
While it’s typically a great idea for all athletes to be doing some form of strength training exercise, some do only perform it when find they find themselves injured, in which case, that will be the primary objective of their program.
To help you navigate the waters, let’s go over some key terms you should know and remember regarding your exercise routine.
Weight Lifted: Refers to the total amount of resistance that was applied to the body during the workout session.
Total Workout Volume: Refers to how much total work was performed during that session. This is often calculated by multiplying total reps by sets by the weight lifted.
Reps: Refers to moving through the range of motion called for an exercise one time. So performing the exercise from start to finish.
Sets: This refers to how many reps you perform in a row before you take a rest period.
Rest Period: This refers to the time you take in between the sets you perform. Rest periods can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
Time Under Tension: This refers to how much total time you spent under the tension of the weight. This will be impacted by tempo, which describes the speed in which you lift the weight up and then down.
Superset: Pairing two exercises back to back. So you perform one exercise and then immediately move into the next exercise.
Drop Set: Performing all the reps called for at one weight, dropping the weight by an incremental amount and then performing all the reps at that lower weight. You may drop the weight a third time and perform another set after that.
Circuit Training: Performing a series of exercises one after another with little to no rest in between.
Good Form: Describes performing the exercise with the correct body positioning needed to see good results and prevent injuries.
Compound Exercises: Refers to exercises that work for more than one muscle group at once, thus typically giving you better results for your time invested. Good examples of these exercises include squats, deadlifts, lunges, leg presses, split squats, bench presses, push-ups, shoulder presses, bent-over rows, pull-ups, and pull-downs.
Isolation Exercises: Refers to exercises that have you working for just a single muscle group at once. The ‘isolate’ the muscle so no others can come into play and help that muscle carry out the movement pattern. These are good if you want to target just one key muscle in the body.
Workout Split: Describes how you choose to divide the body up in your workouts over the week. Examples would be a full-body split (working the entire body every workout), an upper/lower split (working just the upper or lower body every workout), or a push/pull/legs split (where you do just pulling exercises and then just pushing exercises and then legs).
Periodization: A plan of progression. This may involve you focusing on certain goals at certain times of the year and creating a long term plan that will help you achieve your long term goal.
Rest Days: Days that are devoted to rest during your workout program. You are not supposed to be doing any sort of heavy or hard exercise during this time.
Deload Phase: A time where you are reducing back on both the weight lifted and volume for about a week to give your body a little extra time for recovery. This is so that you don’t have to take an entire week off the gym entirely.
Overloading Stimulus: Any sort of stressor placed on the body that is more than it’s used to dealing with. This is what prompts it to ensure that it gets stronger, better, faster, etc.
Hopefully, this terminology can help you when reading other information about workout programming and will ensure you understand what is being said in that literature.
Structuring A Routine For A Beginner
Finally, let’s cover how to go about structuring a workout routine for a beginner trainee. You don’t want to just dive into any routine as if you do one that’s for a more advanced individual, this could easily leave you injured and burnt out.
For beginners, the best workout split you can do will be a full-body workout split. This one is great for beginner trainees because it has you working out one day and taking a full day off the next, so it allows you to exercise each muscle group at a high frequency while still getting sufficient rest.
When you’re a beginner, you tend to respond very well to training, so you should take advantage of this by working out the muscles as often as possible.
You can opt for an upper/lower body split if you want to and prefer to specialize in your muscle group training a bit more, but for most people, the full-body split is the better way to go to start.
Next, you’ll have to choose your exercise selection. For beginners, now is not the time to get fancy. Stick to the basics: squats, deadlifts, chest press, shoulder press, bent over rows, pull-downs (or pull-ups, if you’re ambitious).
All of these exercises are going to help you maximize the total number of muscles worked at any given instant and the total amount of strength you can build.
Very early on you’ll experience what’s referred to as ‘newbie gains’, which is a rapid progression as your body adapts so you can take advantage of this with these movement patterns.
Rep and Set Ranges
For beginners, it’s best to keep the rep and set ranges moderate. As you advance with your training, you can play around with lower rep ranges, which would then mean you would lift a heavier weight, or higher rep ranges, meaning a lighter weight.
For now, focus on building a foundation of strength and muscle definition and that will come best if you are lifting between 8-12 reps.
For sets, you’ll want to stick with between 2-3 sets per exercise as this will be enough to evoke good training results without risking overtraining as your body is still adapting to the stressor of weight lifting on the body.
Finally, for your rest periods, aim for rest breaks of between 30-90 seconds long. This is a good amount of time to recover but not so long you’ll lose momentum or the training stimulus being created.
Longer rest breaks are more appropriate for those who are lifting maximum loads and using rep ranges of 3-5 reps.
Conclusion on Weight Lifting for Female Beginners
So there you have the basics that you need to know and remember when it comes to weight lifting. As a beginner, it can feel like a lot to learn but if you put in the time and energy it’s a great investment that will repay you many dividends throughout your fitness career.
Get it all right now and you’ll be building a foundation of success.
Shannon Clark holds a degree in Exercise Science from the University of Alberta, where she specialized in Sports Performance and Psychology. In addition to her degree, she is an AFLCA certified personal trainer and has been working in the field for over 15 years now, and has helped others of all ages lose weight, build muscle, and improve their physical performance. She’s been featured in Bodybuilding.com, Muscle & Strength Hers and Oxygen magazine.