When I first began weightlifting, I was uneducated and very misinformed about the effects it would have on my body, hence I would avoid the heavier weights in fear of getting ‘too big’. I was in my second year of university, overweight and didn’t have any consideration of my health. I eventually found the courage to admit to myself that I had lost control over my body, and vowed to lose as much weight as possible, but I didn’t take the time to fully understand what my goals actually were and how I would reach them.

However, after starting a structured programme back in April 2014, and with my own research, I began to understand the basics of weight training and how beneficial it can be to your body. I wanted to share my own knowledge and experience with weightlifting through these five top tips, to help you start your own journey to strength training.

Set a goal

Before you even pick up a barbell, you need to choose a goal. What is it that you want to achieve? And how is weightlifting going to help you reach your goal? The key here is to be as specific as possible, which will make the second step much easier. Whether you want to bulk up and build significant amounts of muscle, or slim down to achieve a more lean physique, by outlining your aims you are already setting yourself up for success. So get yourself a diary and write down everything you want to achieve with weightlifting.

It’s very beneficial to set both short-term and long-term goals, as this gives you a great accomplishment to work towards, whilst also enabling you to achieve smaller, more frequent successes along the way. Never underestimate the power of short-term goals, they are great for keeping track of your progress, such as the weights increasing or adding more repetitions onto a lifting exercise. They are quicker to hit and are therefore fantastic motivators to keep you dedicated for the long-term. When choosing a long-term goal, do not underestimate yourself. If you struggle to think realistically, defining a time frame will allow you to create achievable but still challenging targets. At this point, you want to be thinking about the bigger picture, where do you want to be in 6 months, a year or five years  yeah seriously, that long)?

“Never underestimate the power of short-term goals, they are great for keeping track of your progress”

Being able to envision the outcome is vital to understanding what steps are needed to
get you there, which brings us to step 2.

Make a plan

If there’s one thing I could change about my journey into weightlifting, it would without a doubt be to create a solid workout plan from the very beginning. Too many hours were wasted sat on machines, ‘resting’, when in actual fact I just didn’t know what to do next. When you first step into the weights room it can feel overwhelming, the sight of seemingly accomplished gym goers and not knowing where to start is perhaps why so many people and women in particular, never find the courage to begin. However, everyone has to start somewhere, and going in prepared with a killer workout plan will make it a lot easier to get going.

Joining in with an experienced friend’s workout or booking yourself onto an introductory
session with a personal trainer are both great ways to start your weightlifting journey,
as they also help build your knowledge and confidence to help you continue lifting on
your own. However, doing your own research is an invaluable way to form a plan that is
right for your specific goals.

“everyone has to start somewhere, and going in prepared with a killer workout plan will make it a lot easier to get going.”

How heavy and how often you lift will vary depending on the type of physique
you are trying to develop. Focusing on the compound exercises, those which involve working multiple muscle groups at once, such as deadlifts, squats and bench press are great for building muscle and increasing strength quickly, whilst performing isolation exercises, those which typically involve one muscle group, such as bicep curls, leg extensions and calf raises help to
strengthen individual muscles, and give you more control over which muscles you want to grow.

Keep your form first

Weightlifting is an incredibly rewarding type of exercise, and when performed correctly, the results can be phenomenal. Sometimes, it’s too tempting to load up the weight and lift as heavy as possible, and while this is definitely a style of training that is implemented to build muscle mass, it is not a recommended approach for first time lifters.

When starting your weightlifting plan, your focus should be on building a strong foundation. This is achieved by lifting lighter weights and learning how to activate the working muscles whilst keeping good posture and executing the lift with the correct form. Not only does this enable you to feel the full benefit of the exercise, but it also prevents injuries and permanent muscle damage.

If you’re unsure how to perform a particular exercise properly, don’t be shy, always ask for help. Most gym staff, personal trainers and fellow lifters will be more than willing to give you advice and spot you during a set to ensure your form is correct. After all, you want get all the benefits from your hard work, right? Also, don’t forget about body weight exercises or calisthenics. They both help to strengthen muscle and I would highly recommend incorporating these types of
exercises into any routine.

Many weight lifters underestimate the strength some body weight exercises require in order to be performed correctly. Single leg squats, push-ups and pull-ups are very effective exercises that support strength development, and you’d be surprised at how difficult some of these
actually are.

Nourish your body

No weightlifting routine is complete without proper nutrition. You know the old phrase about weight-loss being 80% diet, 20% exercise? Well, it’s true. You cannot out-lift a bad diet. Whether your goal is to lose fat or build muscle, a lack of nutritious food will negatively impact your training and slow your progress. There is a multitude of ways to approach a healthy diet, such as tracking macros (counting the amount of grams of carbohydrates, fat and protein consumed daily), creating a meal plan or eating intuitively, high or low carb diets, but the most important factor is to never restrict yourself, and ensure you are properly fuelled for each  workout.

“You cannot out-lift a bad diet.”

It’s important not to overcomplicate your diet, so by sticking to lots of healthy whole foods, you’ll be able to provide your body with all the essential nutrients it needs to support proper muscle growth.

Rehabilitation

Another tip that cannot be missed off your to-do list is rehabilitation. By this, I mean anything that helps your body to recover. Even though weightlifting helps to strengthen your body, without adequate rest you will quickly become fatigued and put yourself at risk of injury. Many beginner lifters go too hard, too soon and burn out very quickly. Always aim to incorporate a minimum of one or two rest days a week, to allow your body enough time to recover. Alongside this, it is important to get plenty of sleep, as a large part of the recovery process occurs during this down time.

Before your workout, after your workout, before you go to bed, when you wake up the morning… Stretch, stretch, stretch. Allowing yourself plenty of time to stretch will prevent injury and will assist in improving your form as it increases your range of motion. Combining this with other methods of muscle relaxation such as foam rolling, will ensure your body recovers fully and is in an optimum state to continue weightlifting.