Your Guide To Weightlifting

Training & Fitness

Weightlifting can provide a range of benefits and is recommended for anyone who wants to get fitter, stronger, build muscle or burn fat. But there are elements to lifting weights properly such as having correct form and picking the right weight. Both are crucial to having a good workout. Picking too light or too heavy weights and your muscles won’t be challenged in the right way, slowing down your progress. Knowing how to lift weights can help reduce gym anxiety, increasing your confidence during your sessions.

A person holding a dumbbell.

The Different Types Of Weights

If it’s your first time in the gym you’ll see loads of bars, dumbbells, kettlebells and large frames with weights built into them. But how do you know what one to choose?

Barbells: Those long metal bars you see are ‘Barbells’ and can be used for a range of movements and workouts, from full body movements to working individual muscles.

However, by having both hands grip the same bar, if you are right handed, you may lift the bar slightly more with your right hand, leaving your left hand to not develop as much.

Dumbbells: Dumbbells are the smaller weights you’ll likely see lined up on a long rack with circular weights at either end of the handle grip. Dumbbells are great for dealing with any imbalances and focusing on single limb movements.

Using dumbbells means you are training each arm individually so both sides are getting equally stronger instead of using barbells where you could be lifting the bar slightly more with your stronger arm. If you wish, you can even do a few extra repetitions of an exercise with your weaker side to help even out any imbalances.

Kettlebells: Kettlebells are the oddly shaped weights with a handle at the top and a large weight at the bottom. Similarly to dumbbells, Kettlebells can be used for single limb movements.

Cable Machines: Cable machines are the large frames that use leverage to move the weight as you perform a movement. Cable machines are great as they can keep constant tension on the muscle and allow you to perform movements at slightly different angles than you would with free weights (dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells).

Sets and Reps

If you’re starting a workout programme, it likely includes ‘sets’ and ‘reps’. If you are unsure of these terms, a ‘rep’ is a ‘repetition’. Let’s say you are doing a basic bodyweight squat. 1 Squat = 1 Rep. If you are performing 4 sets of 12, you will perform 12 squats back to back and then rest for e.g. 60s. That’s one set done. Perform another 12 squats and that’s set 2, you get the idea.

There is no concrete set or rep range that is ideal for everything, you can do 10 sets of 10, 4 sets of 12 or 3 sets of 15 or whatever else helps you reach your goal. What matters is that you are selecting the right weight for the rep range you are working in.

What Weight To Select

You can perform the right amount of sets and reps and rest the right amount of time but picking a weight that is too light or too heavy and you won’t work the muscle in the right way.

When selecting a weight, you want to pick a weight that challenges you for the rep range you are working in but that you can still keep good form throughout the movement. For example you would pick a heavier weight if you are only doing sets of 5 reps, but a lighter weight if you are doing sets of 20 reps.

Rest Times

Rest times give your muscles time to repair between sets. If you are working with heavy weights, you might want to rest for 90-120 seconds between sets to give your muscles adequate time to repair after lifting a heavy weight.

If you are working with lighter weights, you might only need to rest around 60 seconds. You can rest shorter (e.g. 30 seconds) if you like to put the muscle under more tension, but keep in mind your muscle might not be fully recovered. Both approaches can work but keep good form and choosing the right weight in mind if you are resting shorter.

Rest times are just one aspect of recovery, an important element in improving your level of performance in the long run.

Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is a simple concept: putting your body or muscles under more tension each time you work out. For example, if you are performing 4 sets of 12 reps of a bicep curl with 10kg, after a couple of weeks, you can either increase the number of sets to e.g. 5 sets of 12, increase the number of reps to e.g. 4 sets of 15, increase the weight from 10kg to 12kg or decrease the amount of time you are resting between sets.

The goal of weightlifting is not to get a weight from A to B. Take a bicep curl, the goal is not just to move the dumbbell up from your hip to beside your shoulder as there are many ways you can do that by throwing your arm up using your shoulder or back muscles. The goal is to get the desired muscle to work as much as possible.

Key Takeaways, Do’s and Dont’s:

  • There is a range of equipment in every gym, don’t limit yourself to using only one type
  • Do perform a range of sets and reps to challenge your muscles in different ways
  • Do select the right weight for the exercise, sets and reps you are performing
  • Do rest adequately between sets and exercises to give your muscles time to recover
  • Do keep track of the weights you are using and gradually increase the weight over time to put your muscles under more tension
  • Don’t lift a weight you can’t lift to try and look strong
  • Don’t keep using the same weight weeks on end. Challenge yourself.
  • Don’t neglect rest. This is where your muscles repair.

Weightlifting is great for building muscle, toning up, burning fat and increasing strength, meaning it has a place in every workout routine. Strength training can also reduce the chance of cardiovascular injuries as your muscles become more resilient. Use our guide above to start you on your fitness journey onto a stronger and healthier version of yourself.

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