Resistance or weight training, which falls under anaerobic exercise, is the art of picking up heavy things and putting them down with the goal of increasing overall strength and/or power.
The implications of weight lifting for muscle growth are obvious and can be discussed way beyond the scope of this article. Therefore, I will primarily focus on weight lifting for fat loss and giving some basic tips to anyone looking to start with serious weight training. Unless you’re training with a clear goal in mind, while keeping track of your progress towards that goal, you may be suffering from fuckarounditis.
The importance of Muscle Mass
- Vanity – just about everyone will agree that having (a certain amount of) muscles looks good. If muscular girls intimidate you, just remember that DAT ASS is made in the gym.
- Health – higher muscle mass may lead to increased bone density, reduced occurrence of chronic disease, increased metabolism, type 2 diabetes prevention and improved cardiac function.
- Functionality – with stronger muscles and connective tissue comes increased everyday functionality and reduced risk of injury. This applies to practically any physical activity people perform daily: climbing stairs, playing with kids, lifting objects, etc.
- Metabolism – increasing your muscle mass increases your caloric needs, as more energy is required to power the muscles (even while you sleep). The extent is not large, but every bit helps in the war to “eat more and be less fat”.
Bottom line: having muscle is good. Since building consistent muscle on a calorie deficit is either difficult or impossible (with a few exceptions), you may wonder “why not just focus on weight lifting after I’ve cut the fat down?” Well, I’m glad you asked.
Benefits of Weight Lifting for Fat Loss
- Muscle mass retention – with enough protein and a consistent program, you will retain whatever muscle you already have during a calorie deficit.
- Noob gains – this refers to muscle gains made by those just getting into lifting weights for the first time or after a long pause. Apart from using drugs, this is one of the few opportunities you’ll have to get stronger on a caloric deficit.
- Learn proper form – get your exercise form right with low weights, while progressively increasing them. When the day to bulk arrives, you will be prepared to perform heavy lifts properly.
- Measurable self improvement – if you put in the work, you will see the results in the weights you’re lifting. This is a very quantifiable way of seeing yourself get better at something and provides a consistent source of motivation during your escapades of body improvement. Do not underestimate it.
Weight Lifting Exercises and Programs
If you’re a complete beginner, just getting your ass to the gym a few times a week and doing whatever sort of weight lifting in decent form is going to be 90% of the work. Until you can do that, there is no point in complicating things.
The big 4 compound exercises
However, at some point you will need a plan and my recommendation goes to the big four compound exercises:
These 4 will help build a balanced body and establish a solid foundation for regular weight lifting. All you need is a barbell with weights and a place to rack it, no machines or specialized equipment required. Sadly, many gyms these days would rather focus on endless rows of cardio equipment, so make sure your gym is compound prepared.
Learning to lift
One thing that applies to all types of training, but particularly to the big 4 is that you must perform the exercise with good form. This is crucial to avoiding injuries.
Instead of writing on for another week about this (and risk getting sued for plagiarism), I’m simply going to refer you to Starting Strength. This is an extremely popular and effective program for beginner and intermediate lifters as it explains the big 4 exercises in great detail. Read the book, check the resources and watch some videos of people doing these exercises correctly.
Don’t over-think it and get into analysis paralysis, just make sure you know where to begin and start (s)low. I cannot emphasize this enough. You many not need anything more than an empty barbell for your first training, and that’s OK. Start light and add weight gradually as long as your form stays solid.
Have a trainer or an experienced lifter check your form or take a video of yourself and post it online for a form check. I would be happy to give some pointers myself as well.
Weight lifting program – sets, reps & frequency
Have at least 1 full day of rest between two resistance training workouts and aim for 3-5 sets of 3-12 repetitions (depending on exercise), with 60-120 seconds rest between each set. Check the Starting Strength program for more details.
Your end goal should be to train 3-5 days a week for 30-60 minutes each session, including both cardio and weightlifting. It really doesn’t have to be any more than that for consistent progress, and if you can’t spare 3 hours out of a full week… then it might be time to rethink your life.
As always, start slow (even once per week is fine) and build up from there. Long term lifestyle changes are best made in small increments.
Simple Steps to Start Lifting Weights
- Discard your Ego – FYI: the sweaty babe on the treadmill and that guy over there on roids don’t give a shit about you. Put on some music and train for yourself, not for what people may think.
- Focus on your goal – pick a program that helps you achieve your goal and stick to it. Don’t get distracted by cool (or pointless) exercises that others are doing.
- Maintain proper form – learn it and make improvements over time if needed. Don’t sacrifice form at your ego altar just so you can lift heavier. The only exception is when you’re trying for a new record at a weightlifting meet, which you’re not.
- Balance intensity – go outside your comfort zone, but don’t kill yourself. This is a tough metric to measure, but when in doubt go for the lighter approach and try the heavier work next week.
- Track progress – if you want to keep getting stronger, you need to lift more and/or heavier as time goes by. Increases will be large in the beginning, and more sporadic as you get stronger. Unless you simply want to maintain your strength level (which is a legitimate goal), you need to keep increasing your lift numbers.
Fear of Getting Bulky or Too Big
This is a common concern that many ladies seem to have when the words “weight lifting” get mentioned.
First, let’s get one thing straight: nobody ever got too muscular by accident. Your body won’t explode into a ball of muscle overnight. It takes time and dedication, and implying otherwise is offensive to the athletes that put so much time and energy (and often some form of performance enhancing drug) into increasing that muscle mass.
Furthermore, since females naturally have less testosterone than men (testosterone is crucial for muscle building), it is considerably more difficult for them to bulk up.
Gender discrimination, in the context of muscularity, has no place among those who wish to improve their health and quality of life. So let’s throw in another Brazilian glute workout video or two to emphasize this point (just because).