Be sure to check with your doctor before you start lifting weights if you have any medical conditions, injuries or illnesses.
- If you're not familiar with the basic principles of strength training, Weight Training 101 is your starting point for learning about the rules and guidelines for lifting weights.
- Start with a program that works all muscle groups 1-3 non-consecutive days a week.
- Warm up with 5-10 minutes of light cardio or with warm up sets of each exercise using a light-medium weight.
- Choose 1-2 exercises for each muscle group (see below) and do 1-2 sets of 8-16 repetitions of each exercise. As a beginner, you may want to start with about 15-16 reps until you feel comfortable with the moves and build some strength. After that, you can add more weight and reduce your reps for a different challenge.
- If you exercise in a gym, you may want to start with machines so you have more stabilization for the movements.
- Give yourself at least a day of rest (though you may need more after the first workout) to recover.
- Each week, add either 1 repetition and/or a few pounds of weight to each exercise to progress. Just keep your reps at about 16 or below. Once you hit 16 reps, increase your weight and drop your reps down to 10 or 12 reps.
- You want to challenge yourself, not kill yourself. The first few weeks, focus on learning how to do each exercise rather than on how much weight you're lifting or how many exercises you're doing. You have plenty of time to build muscle.
- After 6 or more weeks of consistent strength training, you can change your routine to make it more difficult.
What Exercises Should You Do?
If you don't know much about weight training, consider hiring a personal trainer to help you set up your program. You should work all of your muscle groups each week so that you avoid muscle imbalances, which could lead to injury. For detailed information on specific exercises, see How to Choose Your Exercises.
Below is a list of muscle groups along with sample exercises. If you're a beginner, you only need to choose 1-2 exercises for each muscle group in the upper body and 3-4 moves for the lower body.
- Chest: bench press, chest press machine, pushups, pec deck machine
- Back: seated row machine, back extensions, lat pulldowns
- Shoulders: overhead press, lateral raise, front raise
- Biceps: bicep curls, hammer curls, concentration curls
- Triceps: tricep extensions, dips, kickbacks
- Lower Body: Squats, lunges, leg press machines, deadlifts, calf raises
- Abdominals: crunches, reverse crunches, oblique twists, pelvic tilts
Choosing Your Sets, Reps and Weight
Choosing your reps, sets and weight can be the most confusing part of strength training. How many reps and sets you do will depend on your goals.
- To lose body fat, build muscle: Use enough weight that you can ONLY complete 10-12 repetitions and 1-3 sets (1 for beginners, 2-3 for intermediate and advanced exercisers). Rest about 30 seconds-1 minute between sets and at least one day between workout sessions
- For muscle gain: Use enough weight that you can ONLY complete 4-8 repetitions and 3 or more sets, resting for 1-2 minutes between sets and 2-3 days between sessions. For beginners, give yourself several weeks of conditioning before you tackle weight training with this degree of difficulty. You may need a spotter for many exercises.
- For health and muscular endurance: Use enough weight that you can ONLY complete 12-16 repetitions, 1-3 sets, resting 20-30 seconds between sets and at least one day between workout sessions.
To determine how much weight you should use, start with a light weight and perform one set. Continue adding weight until you can ONLY do the desired number of repetitions. The last rep should be difficult, but not impossible and you should be able to keep good form. See Weight Training 101 for more info.
- Beginner Abs and Back
- Beginner Ball Workout
- Total Body Beginner Strength Workout
- Total Body Beginner Strength Workout 2
- Total Body Beginner Strength Workout 3
- Strength Training for Beginners
- More Workouts for Beginners
- Workout Center
More About Setting Up Your Program