The weights room can be an intimidating and confusing place for newbies. In this beginner's guide to weight training I'm going to run through the basics, explain the jargon and offer a couple of pointers to anyone who's just starting out.
What different types of weights are there?
A straight steel bar that allows for weight plates to be loaded on either side.
A short bar that has weights at each end. Generally used in pairs.
An iron, ball-shaped weight with a flat bottom and a single handle at the top.
A solid, weighted ball.
What types of lifts and exercises are there, and what muscles do they work?
Lifting a weight while lying on a bench. Works your pectorals (chest) and triceps (back of your upper arms).
Pulling your own bodyweight up using an overhead bar. Works your latissimus dorsi (back).
Squatting downwards, either with weights or without. Work your quadriceps (thighs) and gluteus maximus (bum).
Lifting a weight up from the floor. Works your erector spinae (lower back), gluteus maximus (bum), and hamstrings (back of the upper legs).
Lifting a weight up your head, from its starting position on your shoulders. Works your deltoids (shoulders).
Stepping forward and kneeling down onto one knee, either with or without weights. Works your quadriceps (thighs), gluteus maximus (bum) and hamstrings (back of upper legs).
Lifting a dumbbell up to shoulder height by folding your arm up. Works your biceps (top part of the front of your arm).
Lifting your own bodyweight up by bending and straightening your arms, either using bars, or with your hands behind you on a bench or chair. Works your triceps (back of your upper arms).
These are the names used to describe the number of times you perform an exercise. A rep (short for “repetition") is the number of times you perform a movement; a set is the number of cycles of reps you complete. So, for example, if you did 20 bicep curls, you'd say you did one set of 20 reps.
What does tempo mean?
Tempo refers to the speed at which you perform an exercise, and it's an important factor to take note of if you want see steady progression and avoid injury.
Concentrating on your tempo allows you to fully contract the muscles you're working, and avoids you becoming an “ego lifter", using weights that are far too heavy for you.
How do I follow weightlifting instructions?
Here's an example of a weightlifting instruction:
Bench press with a tempo of 3 1 X 1
The first number refers to the lowering (or "eccentric") phase of the lift. So in the example above, it should take you three seconds to lower the bar to your chest from the starting position of your arms being locked upwards.
The second number refers to the amount of time spend in the bottom position. In the bench press example above, this would mean you spent one second with the bar touching (but not resting) on your chest.
The third number refers to the ascending (or "concentric") phase of the lift. So in the case of a bench press, this would be the time taken to push the bar back to the starting position of your arms being locked upwards. If – as above – there's an “X" instead of a number, this translates as “as fast as you can".
The fourth number refers to the amount of time you should pause at the top of a lift. So in the above bench-press example, the amount of time spent with your arms locked upwards would be one second.
How do I choose the right weights?
My advice to anyone when starting a new training program is to err the side of caution when choosing your starting resistance. Choose a weight that you know you'll be able to perform the desired reps with for your first set, and then assess from there. If it's way too easy then you can go up a weight for your second set.
The worst-case scenario is being too cocky and choosing a weight that's too heavy
The worst-case scenario is being too cocky, choosing a weight that's too heavy, and either only managing a few reps, getting stuck under the weight, or injuring yourself. Never let your ego lead you in the weights room!
Now get in there, enjoy yourself – and good luck!