A Beginners Guide to Women’s Weightlifting : Despite the myths and misconceptions around women and weightlifting, strength training is activity that is empowering and intensely beneficial, with a trifecta of physical, mental, and cognitive proven benefits.
Weightlifting isn’t just about performing heavy lifts. It’s versatile, helping you to achieve whatever fitness goal you want to achieve.
Whether your goal is weight loss, toning up, becoming stronger, or just staying fit, strength training’s focus on cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance and muscle growth can help you achieve and exceed your goals.
However, for a beginner, knowing where to begin with weight training can often feel overwhelming.
To get you started, here’s a quick guide to the most important things beginner ladies who lift need to know, plus some common questions and answers.
Don’t Lift Heavy Straight Away!
Often weightlifting comes with the perception of lifting heavy barbells up and over your head.
But beginners – that doesn’t happen in your first session!
Just like any new exercise, weightlifting and strength training have learning curves.
Weightlifting beginners must start with exercises and routines that are easy to grasp from the very first workout, but that still provide great benefits. This lets you build momentum, gain confidence, and practice your technique which will eventually transition into increasing those weights and getting stronger.
For example, a biceps curl performed with a dumbbell has a tiny learning curve, but it won’t provide huge benefits. An alternative option that would provide greater benefit could be a cable pulldown that uses a palms-up grip.
The exercise trains your back as well as your biceps which means it’s working a lot of muscle mass. As it has a larger loading potential, it means you can get stronger and progress in your training much quicker.
Don’t Aim to Get Sore
At any point in your gym going you’re bound to experience soreness, but for women a common misconception is that if you’re not sore, you’ve not done it right.
This could not be further from the truth and is a dangerous myth that severely impacts healthy muscles as well as repair and muscle growth.
Beginners who get painfully sore at the start of their training can also often be discouraged to continue.
Luckily the easy solution for this is to ignore all collateral that suggests “no pain no gain” and start your training with around two sets for each exercise.
Sets are simply reps – otherwise known as repetitions – of specific exercises performed in a row. For example, a weightlifting workout regime could include instructions to do 4 sets of 6 reps with a twenty to thirty second rest in between.
Aim to Get Strong
As a beginner to weightlifting, your sole priority to begin with will be to increase your body strength.
This means that for the first several months of your training, your program should ideally follow a plan whereby you first perform increased reps with the same weights, then either increase the weight, or increase the number of sets in each exercise.
This builds up resistance and endurance, eventually allowing you to transition to heavier weights with much more ease, and much less risk of injury.
Don’t Compare – Be Proud of You
When you first start strength training it can be demoralizing to see other people further along in their journey than you making it look easy. You can often feel stuck or inadequate, and that’s before hitting a plateau!
As hard as it is: You need to ignore these people. Following influencers on Instagram is fine, but obsessing over them and pushing yourself too hard to attempt to compete is not.
You will get there and you will achieve your fitness goals, but ultimately weightlifting rewards patience and persistence.
All weightlifters start on the lowest rung of weights, doing the simplest movements before they work up to the impressive, social media snap worthy stuff.
Whilst it’s great to take tips and advice, ultimately focusing on your journey and your performance is what will keep you motivated. The results will start to show, and you can be the inspiration someone else looks up to.
Don’t Burn Out
When you’re a beginner adjusting to the movements, exercises and routine of a weightlifting training programme you may be tempted to think that you must go to the gym every day, else you’ll lose progress and be back where you started.
This is another dangerous and incorrect myth.
Weight training involves building endurance, muscle and strength, but actually, a lot of this happens away from the gym when you are resting. Strength and resistance training break your body tissues down, and rest days allow your muscles, connective tissues, bones and nerves to rebuild – just stronger!
So, instead of going every day and risking exhaustion and muscle fatigue, diversify your workouts. Each time you repeat a sequence, do something different. Either perform more reps, use more weights, or perform an extra set.
This also helps to measure the value of your workouts alongside your progress. If you know your limits and strengths, that’s the first step to building a strong, healthy body in the safest way.
Strength training is a marathon, not a sprint. Move at a consistent yet challenging pace that suits your body and lifestyle.
Don’t be intimidated.
Everyone was a beginner once upon a time, even the people you see making it look effortless in the free weight area of your gym.
Whilst it can be easy to be intimidated at first, do not be afraid to own your workouts! Take a friend with you to help, or take your music so that you can plug your earphones in and zone out the environment around you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help either, a majority of the time fellow gym goers and lifters will only be happy to lend a hand and spot your form, or give you advice.
How much weight should I use?
Nobody will be able to tell you that straight away. Every person is different, so every body’s body is different! Thus, lifters start on different weights than their peers.
The most important thing to do before worrying about weights is to learn how to correctly execute each exercise. Only once you’re happy and confident in your form and the movement can you begin to look at challenging yourself by adding challenging weights.
What does a “challenging weight” mean?
A challenging weight is just a weight that pushes you. If you can perform 10 reps with a weight and not feel challenged, then it’s time to up the weight size and perform 5. This gives you a boost in strength, without rushing anything.
How should I warm up for each exercise?
Warm ups should begin with weights, or body weight exercises that safely allow you to perform 10 easy repetitions.
Once those 10 are complete, add some weight and perform 5-8 reps.
On the third set of reps, perform 3-5 repetitions and use a heavier weight.
The great thing about warm ups is that you can use them to find the correct weight variation that works for you as the main aim of warm-up sets is to allow you to craft the correct technique and above all, prepare you for your main workout.
What Should You Do Next?
Have fun! Experiment and challenge yourself safely. Work with professional trainers or fellow lifters to improve your form, positioning and workouts. Sprinkle variety into your workouts and use a combination of different exercises including barbell squats, deadlifts, standing presses, bench presses and barbell rows. They may sound a new level at first, but you’ll come to rely on these to help you get stronger!
Sally Moss has been voted one of the 10 Most Influential Women in the Strength and Conditioning World and appears in the list of Top 100 Most Influential Personal Trainers. She is a regular expert contributor to Men’s Fitness and Women’s Fitness UK magazines, and was the featured personal trainer on the cover of Lift The Bar magazine in 2018.
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