Every expert in a field of study, a skilled craft, or yes, weight training, started somewhere. It’s foolish to pretend, as a beginner, that you have it all figured out. Even those with a lot of experience have room to learn and grow. So, being skittish at the start of your journey is nothing to be ashamed of. To assist in jumpstarting your weightlifting journey, here are eight tips for beginners in the gym:
Don’t be intimidated
It’s critical to focus on yourself above all else. Remember, everyone has different genetics, muscle-building capabilities and training preferences. As a beginner, it can be easy to feel inferior to those with more experience, but even the well-seasoned lifters had to start somewhere. It’s normal to be self-conscious at first, but your overall confidence will grow with time!
Don’t be hesitant to take advice
While confidence is key, being humble enough to know your limits and take advice from others is equally as important. Stay away from blindly following social media fitness gurus because they have a lot of popularity and fancy equipment; corroborate the advice elsewhere with people less incentivized to make themselves look good.
Establish your form before adding strenuous levels of weight
Optimizing your form in each exercise goes hand in hand with making the most gains. Don’t let your ego get in the way by looking to impress others with the amount you can lift. You’ll garner much more respect doing an exercise correctly than if you pile on a bunch of plates with hideous form -- not to mention a much lower risk of injury.
Avoid spotters until absolutely necessary
Unless you’re performing a potentially dangerous exercise that could bring risk of injury, spotters aren’t necessary. If you are, they should not intervene unless the injurious situation seems inevitable. The whole point of lifting is to challenge your body into change. Getting help on the last few reps that are stimulating the muscle growth is doing zero favors in accomplishing that.
Be aware that soreness indicates novelty and not always muscle growth
A lot of people associate the soreness they feel within the hours and days after their workout to the level of muscle growth they’ve stimulated. While these two factors may correlate, causation is an entirely different story. Soreness is caused by muscle fiber damage, which is more attributable to how familiar or unfamiliar your body is with a certain movement. Mechanical tension is widely believed to drive muscle growth more than other processes. Metabolic stress and muscle damage can contribute as well.
Keep track of the weight you’re lifting and continuously increase your limits
This tip is how you produce mechanical tension. A way to make sure you’re getting stronger, besides visible differences in physique and muscle size/definition, is being able to lift a heavier resistance for the same reps or a combination of both. Recording weight and reps in a logbook or app is one of the best ways to document your progress.
Train to (near) failure and don’t be afraid to sweat
Pushing yourself on each exercise — with proper form — is vital to stimulation of muscle growth and producing the mechanical tension necessary. This means instead of training to meet a rigid, predetermined number of reps, train to the point that you can no longer perform the reps properly, or at least close to it. You have to reach this level in order to force your muscles to adapt to handle that resistance. Undershooting your limits because the paper said “3 rounds of 12 reps” will produce underwhelming results.
Take a rest day (or two)
The ancient philosophy of Taoism, the principle of yin and yang, still applies in our modern times and especially in weight training. Training hard is essential, but so is allowing your body adequate rest between workouts to fully recuperate. Getting sufficient sleep and nutrition are also vital components in this equation of building muscle and maintaining good health in general.