The idea for this blog post was actually given to me by my mum - Big up Mumma H! For me, someone who has been using weights for many years, I sometimes forget that I wasn’t born knowing how to use weights, which weights to use, and what the difference between a barbell and a dumbbell was. Thinking back to when I first started, however, I REALLY didn’t know how to use weights. Some of the things I did were certainly silly, and some just plain stupid. If only I had read a short guide on how to best start using weights… 😉
With the gym atmosphere not necessarily being the most inviting, you might be scared of making a fool of yourself. Well firstly let me tell you, people will be wanting to help you (they’re also far too busy checking themselves out in the mirror to notice what you are doing with those weights). In fact, I remember a time when Jenny was deadlifting and got a little nervous because the owner of the gym came over and started shouting encouragement! Whilst this was slightly nerve racking at the time, we now don’t think twice of people doing this at our gym. Don’t worry, this is only really in the grassroots type gym where everyone shouts out loud and to people unsolicited to give them encouragement! In the more commercial gyms, most people keep to themselves, but will be happy to help if you ask – particularly the instructors who wander around (it’s part of their job!). Ironically the gyms you first think of as scary gyms, turn out to be the most encouraging and friendly – but that’s a whole other blog post.
Apologies, I digress. We should get back to getting you lifting those weights in a safe way. Now, as I’ve said in previous posts, but gonna say again here, simply lifting weights is not going to give you big muscles! Instagram and magazines are full of people with these massive physiques which you will have different opinions about. Reality check – half of these people are on steroids, do specific training 3 hours a day, 6 days a week and for 10 years. Doing some resistance training will, however, help you get toned, build stronger muscles AND bones, increase your basal metabolic rate (that means you end up burning more calories by doing nothing!) and burn some fat. I’d imagine you have one of those goals in mind!
So where to start?
1) Start off light and get the form right
If you are new to lifting weights, this is going to be hugely important. If you think you can go heavier, then great – wonderful in fact, but don’t try going heavier until you have got the form right. One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting to use weights is trying to lift too heavy too soon. The reason you need to get your form right is to avoid injury. An injury can set you back months, even years (trust me, speaking form experience here). Weights, however, shouldn’t be feared - when used correctly, they will generally not give you injury. Weight training actually will reduce your chance of serious injury in everyday life by making your bones, tendons, muscles and well… you… stronger. That means you are less likely to break!
2) Warm up properly
Stretch, stretch and stretch some more! Something which is vitally important when doing ANY kind of physical activity is the warm up. It is something you often want to skip, as you don’t see the direct benefit, but something which is key to avoid injury. You can’t just suddenly expect your muscles to start lifting heavy things without giving them a chance to warm up! A warm up should consist of at least very light cardio, and some stretches. It’s also essential, when you get to the stage you can start lifting heavier, to do some lighter sets of the weights first.
Some of the best weights exercises to start with
Quick terminology check. Dumbbell = the one you hold in one hand. Barbell = the one you hold with two hands and has a longer bar.
Even if you have never set foot in a gym before – bicep curls are probably the main thing you’ve seen in magazines, on movies or on the internet. Everyone loves a good bicep curl… including me! It’s a pretty easy one to get right too. If you stand with your arms down beside your side…. Do it now, without any weights. Face the palm of your hands forwards, keeping the arms close to your body. Spread your legs to about hip width apart, then pivot the arms AT THE ELBOW. I can’t stress this enough. You want to work your biceps, you don’t want to swing your arms. So, bring your hand towards your chin by only pivoting at the elbow.
Your bicep in-fact should be in the same position throughout the whole of the movement, close by your side. Now lower your arms in the same manner. You’ve just done a bicep curl. Now all you have to do is choose a low weight to start with and try again. If you start to lose your form (i.e start swinging the arms rather than lift the weight by pivoting at the elbow) then you’ve gone too heavy. That ain’t helping anyone!
With the bicep curl, it really isn’t about the weight. It’s about keeping the bicep under tension. You’ll actually see a lot of people with big arms doing comparatively light weights on the bicep curl.
Contrary to what the name may suggest, kickbacks have nothing to do with kicking. This is again an arm one. Again, one where lighter weights are very effective. And another one where pivoting is important. I’m starting to sound a little like Ross here. PIVVOTTT, PIVOTTTT (sorry only Friends fans will get that reference).
Again, try it without a weight first. Grab a bench. Put the knee opposite to the arm you’re about to use, on the bench. Then put the arm you’re not using on the bench too. For the arm you want to work, your upper arm into your side, look straight ahead of you and gradually pull the arm backwards. Don’t do a jerking motion, nice controlled and slow. Then bring it back down. Simple as that.
Now try it with a dumbbell, holding the dumbbell with your palm facing in towards you. If you start to not be able to extend the arm, or you start swinging, you’ve gone too heavy again! Yes YOU, stop going heavy!
Barbell bent over rows
This one is with a barbell instead of a dumbbell. You’ll be pleased to know, no pivoting in this one. It’s a nice low impact one. Carefully lift the barbell from the floor. Being careful to lift from the knees, not the back.
Then you set your feet 1.5x hip width apart and bend over and bend your knees as if you’re about to sit down on the loo, create about a 90 degree angle at the pelvis. Some could say pivoting at the pelvis 😉… but I wouldn’t dare after promising no more pivoting. Keep the wrists fixed, bring the barbell towards your chest in a straight line up. Make sure you are pulling the barbell back from the shoulder blades. Really squeeze them together like you’re trying to squeeze a stress ball between them.
If you find your wrist flopping, you’ve once again gone too heavy! I keep telling you… stop going so heavy!
Oooo a fun one! Goblet? Like in Harry Potter? Sure, why not … if you want. Except think of the dumbbell as the goblet. Ok I know I said a dumbbell is a one-handed weapon, but for this exercise we are going to hold it with two hands! Controversial!
You want to get your feet 1.5 – 2x hip width apart, with toes pointing slightly away from your body. Then hold the goblet (dumbbell) close to your body on its end. Really you need to see the picture for this one to understand what the hell I’m on about. Then slowly go down, keeping the back straight and head looking forwards. Once you bum breaks parallel with your knees, then go back up. Again, try this without a dumbbell first.
No points for guessing what you’re doing with this one. Yep… pressing a dumbbell from your shoulders. You can do this standing or sitting. But if you are standing make sure you keep a straight back, hold the abs, and get a good balanced grounding with your feet. Do the classic power stance that politicians do to exert dominance. Stand with your feet 1.5 times hip width apart to ground yourself.
Now carefully bring the dumbbells up either side of your head, with your palms facing towards the front. Then carefully push the dumbbells to the sky. Make sure you do it slow and controlled again, and make sure you keep your balance! Then repeat.
This is the chest press. Ideal to do it off a bench, but for those who want to do the weights at home, you can do it lying on the floor too. The trick to this one is the arching of your back and the position of your arms.
You want to lie on the bench or floor with the dumbbells coming with you. Be careful to keep them under control, you don’t really want to be smacking yourself in your face with them!
Then have a slight arch in your lower back, so that your shoulder blades and bum are well grounded. Have your elbows half way between your shoulders and your bum, and keep this kind of angle with your arms. Then push up towards the sky. Make sure you slowly lower it back down too. The good thing about doing this with dumbbells is that you don’t need a spotter. In fact, none of these exercises require a spotter. Great if you have one, but I’ve chosen them because they are relatively simple and to give you a weighted exercise for each main muscle where you don’t need a spotter. (A spotter is someone who is meant to save you if you go too heavy and can’t do the rep!).
This is meant to be an introduction for you to get you started using weights. I’ve tried to show that they aren’t scary, and you really can be doing them right now. You don’t even need a gym to do these exercises. (All of these pictures are us at home!). If you need any more guidance on the specific exercises, then youtube’s your friend here! Just search on youtube the exercises and see some instructional videos for them.
So Mumma H, hope this helps you to start using weights – no excuse now!!