Weight training is the most effective way to increase strength and muscle mass. It can help alleviate the symptoms of existing health conditions as well as improve other types of athletic performance. It also helps to maintain balance, coordination and overall quality of life.
Lifting should be considered an essential part of any healthy lifestyle, alongside an anti-inflammatory diet and proper stress management. It accelerates muscle growth and repair in ways other movements can’t. For example, after 25 to 30 years of age, bone cells are prompted to be produced only when there’s shock in a specific area and weightlifting enables the necessary shock. If you focus your training on one specific sport, you can avoid muscle atrophy (and increase performance) by routinely including some variety of the exercises listed below.
Below you’ll find an easy beginner’s guide that doesn’t require the watchful eye of a coach or anything more than a standard gym. If you’re new to weightlifting, it’s an easy way to get started. If you need a quick refresher, it’s also beneficial. Variations of these are exercises are everywhere so when you feel like you’ve mastered one, push yourself by increasing the weight or by intensifying the movement.
Weightlifting for Beginners
5 Conditioning (Overall Body) Movements
These combine strength training with aerobic endurance. Variations and similar techniques can be thought of as necessary exercises to be performed in conjunction with weightlifting.
1. Wall Balls or Medicine Ball Cleans
Holding a medicine ball at chest level, elbows low and in, squat and throw the ball against the wall. Catch it on the reverb (1). Repeat until failure or for time.
Wall balls help to improve coordination and balance. Your brain is forced to focus on aligning your arms and hands correctly in anticipation of both the throw and the catch.
During a medicine ball clean, you’re essentially squatting and focusing on form. The faster you go, the more of an aerobic exercise you create.
2. Double Unders
The difference between a double under and your standard rope jumping is that the rope passes under your feet twice in a double under. It’s an effective and easily accessible form of cardio for any weightlifting session.
A few tips: The handles of the rope should reach your armpits, jump higher than you normally would and don’t let your arms swing out to the side. Controlled movements force your lower body to work in conjunction with your upper body.
Burpees are sort of where the push-up went to die. It’s a quick movement that like double unders, forces a full body workout in a quick expanse of time. Stand, then quickly squat and go into a push-up position, extending your legs out. Lower your chest, bring your legs back in and either stand or squat again. Repeat until failure or for time.
If you dislike running or high impact cardio because of joint pain or boredom, a rowing machine can be a good conditioning alternative. Resistance (and ultimately level of difficulty) increases the faster one rows. The drive (push, extend and straighten your legs) and the catch (pull shoulders back upright and bend your knees) combine to create the two primary movements.
5. Box Jumps/Stairs
Depending on where you’re training, it’s either box jumps or stairs. Box jumps are explosive movements that require the use of full body coordination, especially your arms as you jump onto the box. Stairs are easily customizable and are more adaptive for time. Both exercises work your lower body and special attention should be paid to stabilizing your back.
Essential Lifting Movements
Any combination of the 10 exercises listed below can contribute to a solid weightlifting program. Focus on mastering form, then progress to varying them and adding weight. How many should you do? That depends on the exercise. Typically, two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps are for moderately uncomfortable weight. Extremely uncomfortable weight (such as a PR or percentage of a max) would be much less.
The reason why the squat is listed as the number one exercise is for its rollover effect. The technique, as well as any increase in mass, directly affects how you’ll perform in all other weightlifting exercises. It’s easily adaptable to suit any level of strength and should be thought of as the backbone of lifting because, quite literally, it strengthens your backbone.
Squatting can be as simple as air squats (no weight, descend with a straight back perpendicular to the ground, knees at a roughly 90 degree angle) or with a loaded bar that can be used to increase weight and power. It works your entire body and a bar will work your upper body and cardiovascular system as well.
This foundational move consists of lifting a loaded barbell off the floor, carrying it to your hips and lowering it again. Focus on keeping your hips and feet locked and avoid stressing your spine/back. It specifically targets the entire lower body and maintaining proper form leads to strengthening your back and core. Variations on this are endless and it should be one of your go-to’s (2).
Example variation: sumo deadlifts. This variation of the above is helpful for those who are prone to rounded shoulders — perhaps from too much hunched over sitting, for example. Position your feet about a foot away from your shoulders and like a sumo wrestler, descend in this wider stance. Keep your hands inside of your knees and less pressure is put on your lower back.
3. Split Squats/Lunges
This necessary movement is crucial for developing lower body agility and strength, specifically in your hamstrings. It helps improve coordination, especially if you use a barbell. The split squat is a more stationary move; you put one foot in front of the other until you’re parallel with the ground. The lunge requires you to stand back up which gives you a greater range of motion and thereby more muscles are worked.
The clean can be a rough and tough movement or fun and exciting to do, depending on your opinion. As with a deadlift, the bar is in on the floor, in front of you. So, with your palms facing away from you, in a front grip, you sweep the bar up — literally “clean” it up off the floor and bring it up to your shoulders. It’s a moderate-to-hard difficulty level, but it’s worth including as it’s one of the staples of lifting. Your shoulders and upper back are more engaged and your back needs to stabilize in order to properly execute this move.
Variation: clean pull. Using your lower body, bring the bar up as far as you can. It’s different from the deadlift in that there’s more motion. You’re focusing on raising it as far as it can go without lifting your arms much.
An extension of the clean, the jerk picks up where the clean finishes. When the bar is at your shoulders, you’ll want to split your feet and push the weight overhead, extending your arms (3). Again, it isn’t necessarily a part of a simple weightlifting routine, but it’s challenging and can be fun as well as a variation of skills already established.
The word snatch means to grab quickly, similar to stealing. Bring something up quickly and then get it out of sight — usually overhead or away from your line of vision. It’s what you’ll want to equate the range of motion for this specific exercise to (3).
Kettlebell (or plate) snatches can easily be done at any type of gym. It’s one of the more advanced movements but as your lifting progresses, you’ll find that it’s worth pursuing.
7. Muscle Ups/Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups
Often considered one of the most challenging (albeit one of the most crucial) exercises, pull-ups and chin-ups represent upper body strength but also core strength. Working up to individual reps and eventually sets is an easy way to increase all-over body conditioning and power. It influences spinal alignment and focuses on trouble spots (like shoulders). The main difference between the muscle up and the pull up/ chin up groups is that a muscle does not include the bar, so there’s an increased need for balance and core strength.
Abdominal muscles can’t be isolated through crunches — we know this. In order to establish a healthy and stable core, resistance must be applied. The purpose of doing any type of sit-up is to get your shoulder blades onto the ground and then back up. It’s your core that’s working, not only your abs. It establishes core strength and determines the level at which you’ll be able to perform other exercises. Hanging leg raises help to strengthen your lower body, as well as to improve the foundation for other exercises, such as muscle ups.
Any time you can use your own body weight to increase mass and strength, go for it. This not only forces your core to be engaged, but it also whips your shoulders and upper back into shape. Maintaining a plank (or any of its variations) means that your entire body is being worked. The amount of time you’re able to hold one can be reflective of your overall athletic ability so pay attention to how your body reacts and give yourself some well-deserved credit for getting through as many minutes as you can.
Stretching not only helps to release tension from training but it can also alleviate the effects of lactic acid build-up that occur during physical exertion. When we train, extra oxygen and sugar (in the form of glycogen) are signaled as necessary in order for that exercise to be performed. The byproduct of this is lactic acid, which can build up (4). Stretching helps to increase circulation so toxin removal can occur. You’ll find that not only are your muscles less sore but also your flexibility increases.
Not only is weightlifting a great way to improve physical health but it can help to enrich one’s wellbeing. The easiest way to accelerate the results of any workout program and to increase muscle mass is by adding or increasing the amount of weightlifting. In conjunction with a healthy diet, it rounds out any effective training program.
- “Exercise Demos.” Crossfit.com Staff. 2016.
- “Squats and Deadlifts for Crossfit.” Smith, Chad Wesley. 2015.
- “Teaching Progressions the Olympic Lift.” Burgener. 2013.
- “Why Does Lactic Acid Build?” Roth, Stephen. 2016.