Ladies Who Lift: Beginner’s Guide to Navigating the Weight Room

The hottest and most effective body-shaping trend for women isn’t hot yoga or indoor cycling: It’s weight training. Here is a beginner's guide to navigating the weight room at any gym. You'll transform your workout – and your body!

That’s it, it’s decided, you’re going to join the ranks of ladies who lift. Nice work! The only problem is, all the equipment looks super-menacing and you have no effing clue how to use a kettlebell or what a rep is. And what if you’re surrounded by big hard guys doing big hard things like pressing three times your body weight? It’s intimidating!

Before you forget about that sculpted killer body and slink off back to the treadmill, hold up. Everyone starts out somewhere and today is your day! I’m going to tell you everything you need to know that will make navigating the weight room a breeze.

Ready? Let’s begin.

#1: Be Prepared

As a newbie, the best thing you can do to increase your comfort levels is research. So, take a walk around the room so you know what’s there and you’re not wandering around like a lost puppy. Most gyms will offer you a tour so you can get acquainted with the space. Better still, ask a trainer or staff member to show you the ropes: we’re all really happy to walk you through the proper techniques for getting toned and stronger.

Remember, everyone is slightly overwhelmed and intimidated at first. While you can’t go from zero to hero in a single session, you can honor the equipment and be classy and respectful. There’s a right way to behave in a gym; check out my cheat sheet here.

#2: Learn the Equipment

Most well-supplied weight rooms include a combination of machines and free weights that you pick up and hold. Machines and keep you in a fixed range of movement to help you keep correct form. It’s hard to cheat or hurt yourself on a machine so they’re a really safe place for beginners to start.

Dumbbells are hand weights that get heavier by relatively small increments, from super-light (1 pound) to super-heavy (over 100 pounds). So, they’re newbie-friendly too. A barbell is the long metal bar that you attach weights or “plates” to for added resistance. The bar and plates are heavy so you’ll want to work your way up to those!

Free weights give you way more bang for your buck since they work more muscles at the same time. They also develop other skills like core strength, coordination and balance. You’ll see awesome results much faster when you incorporate free weights into your routine.  

#3: Go in With a Plan

If you’re feeling a bit shy, deciding upfront what exercises you’re going to do will take away a lot of the intimidation. Pro tip: if you know the following 10 exercises, you can walk into any gym and have a really effective workout:

  • Shoulder Press
  • Lat Pulldown
  • Back row      
  • Chest Press
  • Biceps Curl
  • Triceps pushdown
  • Squat
  • Lunge
  • Leg extension/Leg curl
  • Calf raises

Option A: Do 8-12 reps of each exercise, resting 60-90 seconds between exercises. Repeat the set 2 or 3 or even 4 times.

Option B: Do circuit-style training and perform exercises 1-10 once each; then repeat the entire circuit.

Not sure about the lingo?

  • A rep is the complete range of movement for a particular exercise. For example, a squat exercise would start at standing, descend into the squat, and rise to starting position again.
  • A set is a collection of reps for a specific exercise. So, 10 reps of squats would be a set. You’ll generally rest for a few seconds to minutes (depending on your goals and condition) between sets to allow for muscle recovery.

#4: Safety First

Dumbbells do not feel pain. You do. As a newbie, the best approach by far is to hire a trainer so you can learn the proper form and achieve powerful results without injuring yourself. If that’s not an option, be sure to study blog posts and YouTube videos from certified trainers. It will take time to sift through all the BS but trust me, FORM IS YOUR FRIEND. You’ll bruise more than ego if you get the technique wrong.

Start with light weights until you know what you’re doing, then make small increases so you can keep seeing results. Your sets should be challenging but not impossible. Never sacrifice form for added weight. When in doubt, ask for help!

Hopefully now you’re feeling empowered and motivated to get out there and kick ass in the weight room!

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