How To Get Started Lifting Weights, Part 1

Alright so now that I have hopefully convinced you to get started resistance training, let’s look at how to do so.

The tips I am about to share with you are some that I have learned over my years working 6 days a week as a trainer with women.  I know they can be beneficial for you if you take the time to read through these articles carefully.

Before we get started I want to mention that one of my big philosophies regarding weight training is quality over quantity.  What I mean by this is that it is very important to learn to perform the movements/exercises correctly.  This will prevent injuries as well as keep progress more steady and consistent.  I know a lot of people who have stalled on progress or have injured themselves because their technique was poor.

Not acceptable.

Therefore, I am going to spend a lot of time covering proper exercise performance.  I am going to start out by covering 5 basic human movement patterns that will build our foundation for more advanced exercises.

If you learn to master these movements then you will be able to perform almost any exercise variation.

So let’s look at the 5 patterns:

  1. Squat
  2. Hip Hinge (deadlift)
  3. Upper Body Push  (push-up, bench press, overheard press)
  4. Upper Body Pull (chin-up, row)
  5. Abs/Core

Please take the time to really read over the instructions for these movements and watch the videos I have provided below.  It is a lot of information so take your time with it all.  Like I said, technique is very important for long-term success.

In the meantime, while we are learning some of these movement patterns, I will provide you with a simple workout below you can do at your home or at the gym.  It requires no equipment.

Squat

This is probably my favorite exercise!  The squat is a great exercise to challenge the muscles of the lower body.  It requires full body stability and strength.  It also burns a ton of calories because it requires the use of a large amount of muscle so it is a staple in most strength training programs.

How to perform:

Begin with feet about shoulder width apart and toes pointed out slightly.  Initiate by pushing your butt back and your knees out to the sides.  Think about sitting down between your legs.

Keep your weight towards your heels (still keep the foot planted) and your stomach tight.

Your knees should track in line with your toes and they should not come forward over your toes.**

If you are squatting to a chair or box, as in the video below, do not sit on it.  Just tap it and come up.  I usually tell clients to imagine it has glass on it.

Common mistakes:

Not pushing knees out hard enough.

Not sitting back enough.

Poor back position – either arched or rounded over.

 

Hip Hinge

This movement is one of the more difficult ones to learn, but it may be the most important and beneficial for women.  It is great to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings, which are muscles most women strive to build, and it can help alleviate and/or prevent back pain.

How to perform:

Start with feet about hip width apart and toes straight ahead.  Now imagine making yourself as tall as possible – like you are trying to reach your head to the ceiling.

Next, soften your knees and push your butt back as if you are trying to touch it to something far behind you.

Keep your chin down and reach your butt back as far as you can until you feel a slight stretch in the back of your legs.  Once you feel this stretch squeeze your butt and push your hips through so you are back to standing tall.

It is important to keep a straight back throughout and keep your stomach tight.  If you feel discomfort in your back you are moving it too much.  You should only be moving from your hips – not your back (see video below).

Common mistakes:

Trying to bend over versus sitting back.  It does not matter how far you can fold over.  It is more important to reach your butt back as far as possible.

Poor back position – either arched or rounded over.

Overuse of back musculature.  Like I said above, if you feel discomfort in your back then you are performing this movements incorrectly.  Do not worry too much about it now, but use it as feedback on how well you are performing the movement.

 

Upper Body Pull

After the hip hinge, I would place this movement as possibly the second most important for a woman (and men as well).  The reason is because it will have a significant impact on posture by putting your shoulders in a good position (less forward) and allowing you to give the image of a bigger chest (may be a good thing?).

The goal of this movement is to strengthen the muscles that pull our shoulder blades together.  So to learn how to do it correctly I like for women to start by just standing tall and trying to squeeze their shoulder blades together as hard as they can.

There are not a lot of great exercises for this category if you do not have equipment.  However, if you get good at learning to feel your shoulder blades being squeezed together then it will make it much easier once we move into other exercises that require load.

Common mistakes:

Failing to squeeze the shoulder blades together.

Poor back position – either arched or rounded over.

 

Upper Body Push

We are going to take the example of a push-up since it is one that most of you are probably familiar with and it requires no equipment.  The performance tips I provide will apply to other upper body push exercises, such as a bench press, as well.

How to perform:

How you will start performing a push-up will depend on equipment availability and strength levels.  If you are unable to perform a solid push-up from the floor then I would try and find a sturdy elevated surface to place your hands on so you can perform the exercise from an incline.

If you do not have access to an incline then perform on your knees.

It does not matter how you perform it, the following tips still apply.

Start with hands slightly outside shoulder width.  Now try to make your stomach and butt tight and get as long and tall as possible.  We want to make sure our spine is in a good position.

Next, begin lowering yourself slowly by keeping your elbows tucked fairly close to your sides (about 30-45 degrees from your side) and squeezing your shoulder blades together.

Once you feel your shoulder blades together, push yourself up.  When you finish I want you to make your arms really long like you are exaggerating how far you are pushing your body away.

Common mistakes:

-Failing to squeeze the shoulder blades together on way down.  This is a similar problem that I explained above in the upper body pull category.  For example, in a push-up you want to pull your shoulder blades together as you lower your chest towards the floor.

-Trying to go too low.  For example, in a push-up a lot of people try to get their chest to the floor, but this may be too far depending on shoulder mobility.  Watch video to determine how low you should go.

-Poor back position – either arched or rounded over

 

Abs

I am sure many of you were looking forward to this section!  Well, while I feel training your abs is important it is not because it will give you a 6 pack.  Training you abs, which I am going to refer to as your core from here on out, is instead important for stabilizing your back and providing a firm foundation to move from.  For example, if we are performing a hip hinge pattern and our core is weak then we will get a lot of movement in our back causing pain and possibly injury.

Picture of box to help explain what I mean by the core.

How to perform:

Almost all exercises I will have you do for your abs/core will force you to keep a neutral spine.  What I mean by this is that I want you to stay away from crunches and any other exercises that force you to round or arch your back.

These exercises are not needed to build a strong and sexy midsection and have been shown to cause back pain and injuries.  If you are more interested in why I feel this way then check out these two articles for more explanation (HERE and HERE)

There are many core exercises, but the two I like to start with are the birddog and wall press abs (see videos below).  You can perform both or pick one and really try to master it before moving to the next.

The key with the birddog is to maintain a good spinal position (ideally with a stick on the back to ensure good position and balance).  Start by only raising the arm.  If that is too easy then you can keep the hands down and stick one leg straight behind.  The most advanced version is performed by sticking a leg straight back and the opposite arm forward – it is very challenging when done correctly.

How to make use of all of this?

I understand this is a lot of information so take your time with it.  Please watch the videos thoroughly and if you are still not comfortable with the movements shoot me a message.  I want to help you.

Also, know that you can keep coming back to this as a resource.  You may just watch one video today and only practice that movement.  That is fine.  Just make it a goal to get through all of them.

If you are a beginner, and after you have watched all of the videos, I want you to practice each of these movements as often as possible.  Aim for 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps. You could choose three days to perform a workout with these movements and on your “off days” just practice the movements taking as much rest as needed between the exercises.

It might look something like this:

3x/Week Full-Body Workout

Squat x 8-12 reps

Upper Body Push (push-up) x 8-12 reps

Upper Body Pull x 8-12 reps

Hip Hinge x 8-12 reps

Abs (Wall Press Abs/Birddog) x 8-12 reps

Repeat this circuit 2-4 times.  Rest roughly 30-90s between each exercise and 1-2 minutes between each circuit depending on your level of fitness.  If you feel you can add some weight to these movements then go for it.

2x/Week on Off Days

Squat x 8-12 reps

Upper Body Push (push-up) x 8-12 reps

Upper Body Pull x 8-12 reps

Hip Hinge x 8-12 reps

Abs (Wall Press Abs/Birddog) x 8-12 reps

Repeat circuit as many times as you like and take as much rest as needed between each.  Or just perform the movements throughout the day at random times.  It does not matter when you do them.  You could even film yourself performing the movements so you can see how your form looks.

Outside of performing these movements on your “off days” try to go for a walk, ride a bike, play with your kids, etc. – just do something fun and active.

Lastly, here is a video of my girlfriend Emme performing this circuit.

In the next few parts of this series I am going to cover common exercises that fall within each category (hip hinge, squat, abs, etc.).  Once you have mastered the above movements with your bodyweight then it is time to add some external resistance and variety.  In these next articles I will help explain how to do this in a safe and effective way.

For now, start practicing the above movements as often as possible and you may be surprised at the improvements you see in body awareness, posture, stability, strength, and composition.

Please leave any questions, comments, or concerns below.  My goal is to make this site a community for women to get started lifting weights and improving their body image and confidence.  So please share this with your friends or whomever you think may benefit.  I would also like for you to help each other and provide support for one another.  Now go get started:)

 

4 thoughts on “How To Get Started Lifting Weights, Part 1

  1. Really phenomenal article Zach. I have cut out a really profitable niche for myself here in California by getting people started on EXACTLY what you just laid our here… probably has a lot to do with my early history with Dan John back in 2007, who taught me most of my lifting technique.

    I tell people when the come to me that there are basically 5 fundamental human movements, and that they need to hit each one of these movements every time the workout.

    For squatting I usually start people with a counterbalanced medball squat, since the weight out front helps with teaching them to sit their hips back.

    Hinging is usually a couple sets of PVC pipe hinges and then right in to kettlebell deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts depending on the person.

    Upper body pushing almost always a pushup, or modified pushup off pins. And upper body pulling is usually a TRX Row or Single-arm cable row.

    For the core movement I usually have people start with a plank or birddog w/ PVC pipe. I haven’t really used the wall-press-abs exercise before so I’ll have to experiment around with that. I also will have people do an asymmetrical loaded carry if they have time during the workout.

    All of your writing has been really good lately, I am going to be sending some people over here to read this stuff..

    What’s new in your world?

    • Thanks for the comment, Tyler. Your approach sounds very similar to mine. Some clients are a little more difficult, but this works for 95% of people. Dan John has also had a big impact on me. In fact, I about put weighted carries in there, but did not want to overwhelm people:)

      I appreciate your comment about my writing. I am enjoying it a lot more now since I am writing about stuff I really enjoy and am passionate about.

      Not much is new though. We need to chat sometime. I have been looking around at nutrition certs and would love your opinion. I have a few in mind. Do you have any certs or have you considered any?

  2. Thanks posting this in public view! This is very helpful information. I was doing many things incorrectly. I learned about your postings from a post your sister shared on FB, and now I’m trying to read as much as I can. Anyway, keep up the good work! You’re definitely helping people! 🙂

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