Weightlifting For Beginners: The Ultimate Guide
Jun 28th, 2019 - 14 min read
Stepping into the world of weightlifting need not be scary or complex. The fact is, everybody started somewhere and anybody with an ounce of decency will appreciate and respect your space as you fumble around the weights room for the first few times. This ultimate guide to weightlifting for beginners is here to get you up to speed on the basics. Once you have the fundamentals in place, you can continue to build at your own pace.
I hope you’re prepared to do some reading, because this beginner’s guide has turned out to be much longer than I first anticipated.
We cover a lot here, but please don’t let it overwhelm you. Bookmark this page and refer back to it as many times as you need.
Weightlifting for beginners: Rule number 1
Before we go any further, know that you have as much right as anybody else to be in the weights room.
The harsh truth is; nobody cares that you’re there. So if they’re not worried about you, you don’t need to worry about them.
Your primary focus should be you and your workout. Everything else is just background noise.
Gyms are for everybody and so you should expect to find a variety of people doing a variety of things. If you want other people to respect your space, you must also respect theirs. Even if what they’re doing isn’t in line with your own expectations after reading this beginners guide.
Avoid gym faux pas such as hogging equipment, failing to wipe it down when you’re done, not putting your weights back, or talking to strangers who are clearly focused on their workout.
And don’t you ever attempt to speak to somebody in the middle of their set. If you have something to say, wait until they have finished.
What you choose to wear in the gym is your business. Just be mindful of the fact that if you want to take this seriously, you need to prioritise practicality over what looks good.
Generally your gym wear should be fitted. So avoid oversized baggy clothing.
The reason for this is because you will want to be able to monitor your posture and form, particularly on big lifts. And obviously, you won’t be able to see what your body is doing under baggy clothing. Gym mirrors were placed for this reason. Not selfies.
Weightlifting beginners should also pay attention to footwear. As you progress onto the big lifts, it is important that you are wearing stable footwear that will keep you well-grounded with each lift.
Gel bottom trainers and/or running trainers should be avoided for weightlifting.
You’ll want to be wearing something that has a solid flat sole, or a trainer with a slightly raised heel. Converse type trainers are a great choice.
Of course, you can get a pair of weightlifting trainers, but I would recommend familiarising yourself with the sport first. You can go out shopping for the gear when you have more experience.
If you can’t have either of the above, lose the shoes all together. You’re better off with no shoes, because it will allow you more stable contact with the floor. Obviously this only applies to lifts that drive the weight through your feet.
As with all types of exercise, you should make sure you warm your muscles up before you load them. As a beginner, you can do some basic bodyweight squats, reach overs, arm circles, torso twists etc, just to get you going with some beginner exercises.
When you start loading you will need to approach your warm ups differently. How you warm up will depend on which muscle group you intend to word during that training session. And your warm up should consist of some low volume reps.
Next, let's look at the types of weight you’ll have to work with.
Weightlifting for beginners: Types of weight
There are a number of ways to load a lift and each piece of equipment has its own unique purpose. Below you have a brief breakdown of the most common weights you’ll find in the gym and how they’re best used.
Although this is a beginner’s guide, I’m going to start with the big one. Because when it comes to weightlifting; barbells are King.
The reason for this is simply down to the fact that you will be able to lift more overall weight with a barbell than you will any other traditional weight type.
There are multiple types of barbell; such as straight fixed barbells and fixed E-Z barbells.
Moving onto the most important; you have a range of plate loaded Olympic barbells offered at a variety of weights.
And finally we have other bar types such as curved, E-Z, trap bars, Swiss bars and so on. However, I don’t think it’s appropriate to cover all of these in this weightlifting for beginners guide.
For the most part you will start with fixed straight barbells and move onto the straight plate loaded Olympic bar which at its ‘standard’ size weighs 45lbs (20kg’s).
Weight plates can seem scary to weightlifting beginners, but their purpose is simply to load the barbell. Make sure you use the clips!
With that said, there are some exercises that can be performed with weight plates alone. But this goes beyond the scope of this beginners guide to weightlifting.
Dumbbells are the Queen of the weightlifting room.
As a rule of thumb, free weights are preferred simply because they force you to carry the entire load. And in doing this, you gain faster by default. With that said, all weights have their place so don’t write anything off.
Most gyms will have an entire rack of fixed dumbbells at a variety of weights for you to use.
If you find yourself in a gym that uses spin lock dumbbells or another space saving type of dumbbell, just ask somebody to help you get set up.
Kettlebells are yet another type of free weight. Because of their shape, they are used differently to other weight types.
With that said, if you know what you’re doing you can get a great workout in with kettlebells alone. So they’re worth exploring.
Cables are prefect for accessory work and while they are considered assisted exercises, you can still get a great workout and move a lot of weight using cables.
There are a number of different upper and lower body exercises that you can perform with cables alone. You can even get a good ab workout in too. However, again, this is beyond the scope of this beginner’s guide, so we’ll park that thought for now.
Weightlifting beginners tend to start with machines, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you should try to move away from starting your workouts with them as quickly as possible.
Machines are similar to cables, though arguably less flexible.
They are ideal for ensuring correct form, since you must be in a fixed position to use them.
They are also assisted, so it’s not 100% on you to take the load, the machine helps too. For that reason, they are ideal for absolute beginners who have yet to understand their own strength.
Weightlifting for beginners: Types of weight summary
The above covers the most used weight types. Others such as parallel bars, sand bags and strongwoman lifting equipment will not be covered in this weightlifting for beginners guide. These deserve a guide of their own. I’ll be sure to add it to my ever growing list of things to do!
But for now, I hope that you can see that you have a wide range of gym equipment to get your head around. Honestly, the best thing you can do is get out there and familiarise yourself in person.
As a side note; pay attention to the order in which each type of weight was listed. As you progress, this is the order you should follow with your workout plans. Always start with the most weight first and then work your way down (after a warm up of course).
Weightlifting for beginners: Benches
The next item on the agenda for this guide to weightlifting for beginners are benches.
To be fair, there’s not really much to say on this front. Most people can get the gist just by looking at it. But for the purpose of this beginners guide, I want to touch on bench position briefly.
Obviously if a bench is in a fixed position, you use it in that position. But if you want to use a free bench, you will notice that the back adjusts. This is so that you can decide if you want to be in a flat, incline or decline position.
This is generally (though not exclusively) for chest exercises. I’m growing ever conscious of the length of this guide, so if you’re interested to know more about bench position from a chest perspective, this has been covered in detail here: Breast Lifting Exercises To Boost Your Boobs.
Weightlifting for beginners: Isolation and compound exercises
In the world of weightlifting, there are two main types of exercises. These are compound exercises and isolation exercises.
A compound exercise is one that uses two or more muscle groups and/or joint movements. Some examples of compound exercises would be; squats, deadlifts, lunges, overhead press.
An isolation exercise on the other hand, is an exercise that works a single muscle in a single joint movement. Examples of these would be; bicep curls, leg curls, leg extensions, to name a few.
Generally speaking, you would begin your workouts with compound exercises and follow those up with isolation exercises.
Weightlifting for beginners: Getting started
Well done if you’ve read this far. I’ve done my best to keep this brief, but there’s a lot to take in when it comes to weightlifting.
I must say, I didn’t anticipate that the introduction of this guide to weightlifting for beginners would turn out as long as it has. But here we are.
And finally, you will be pleased to know; we have arrived at the nitty gritty of how you can get started with some actual weightlifting.
Before you delve into the ‘big boy’ weights, you’ll need to prime your body for loading. If you are a complete novice you should start with some very simple bodyweight exercises and really focus on engaging each muscle group.
Bodyweight exercises for beginners
- Press-ups (on knees or against a wall if necessary)
- Bench dips
- Side lunges
- Russian twists
These are just some basic exercises to get your muscles used to being worked. Honestly, don’t spend too much time fussing over this, it is literally to get you through week one at most. After the first week you should be thinking about adding weight.
Weighted exercises for beginners
After you have laid the foundations with some bodyweight exercises. Or if you already have some workout experience, you can jump straight into our exercises pages:
For now, as a beginner, you should worry about perfecting each exercise on its own. Don’t worry too much about building the perfect workout plan yet. It will serve you well in the long term if you prioritise your performance on each individual exercise first.
Note that the above exercise categories offer more information and detailed instructions on each lift. So be sure to check them out.
Get to know the rack
I can’t stress enough how important it is for your overall progress to start using the power rack. This wonderful piece of equipment will very quickly become your most loved and trusted friend.
The beauty of the rack has already been covered in another article. There’s a lot to be said so please check out: How To Use A Squat Rack and familiarise yourself with your new best friend.
Weightlifting for beginners: Stepping up to the next level
Procrastinators don’t do well in the world of weightlifting, so as soon as you have spent a few weeks getting to know the weights room. Trying out all the different pieces of equipment and putting some actual weightlifting exercises to the test. You should start to think about stepping up your game and it all starts with a carefully structured workout plan.
Building a workout plan
It would be impossible for me to tell you everything about building a workout plan in one article. So for the purpose of this guide to weightlifting for beginners, I’m going to touch on the simplest approach you can take in order to start building your own workout plans.
Muscle group rotation
For this to work, you will need to have an understanding of which exercises work which muscle groups. Without this basic knowledge you will be unable to build a good workout plan.
The reason this is so important is because if you don’t know which muscles you’re working, you won’t know how to rotate them throughout the week.
Muscle group rotation is by far the most superior training method. So any plan you build needs to be broken down by muscle group and you need to rotate these throughout the week.
If you want a fuss free option, check out the push pull legs approach.
This is something I alluded to above, but to elaborate here; exercise order matters.
Here is a quick fire guide:
You should start with the exercises that move the most weight. These will be your barbell and compound exercises.
From there; you should move onto free weight compound exercises. So your dumbbells and kettlebells.
Follow those up with your isolation free weight exercises.
And finish up on machines and cables.
Reps & sets
As a beginner, start with 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps of each exercise.
There are a number of different rep & set executions, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record I’m going to say that this is beyond the scope of this guide to weightlifting for beginners.
As a final note on the matter of building a beginners workout, you should take rest into account. Not just between workouts, but also between sets.
Above all else, remember that weightlifting is about moving high volumes of weight effectively. It’s not about doing it the fastest.
Nobody who is inexperienced should be combining high volume with speed.
Focus on each lift and give it the attention it deserves so that you can move as much weight as possible.
Allow yourself enough rest time between sets so that you can achieve peak performance on the next lift.
Workout plans for both weightlifting beginners and advanced lifters
There’s a lot to take in here and honestly, nobody is expecting you know everything upfront. By far, the most effective way to learn is to do. So get stuck into some workouts and learn with real life experience.
If the above information about putting a workout plan together has got your head spinning, don’t stress. We have plenty of pre-built plans ready for you to use. Check out our full list of training categories and sample plans below:
- Leg workout plans
- Back shoulders & triceps workout plans
- Boobs & biceps workout plans
- Bum & thighs workout plans
- Muscle growth workout plans (advanced)
- Strength & power workout plans (advanced)
- Tone & sculpt workout plans
- Push workout plans
- Pull workout plans
- Calves workout plans (accessory)
- 30 Minute workout plans
- Fat blaster workout plans
Everything that Lipstick Lifters does is for the purpose of helping you to find and build your strength. For that reason, all members have access to an unlimited supply of workout plans and support. Find out more here.