Lifting for Beginner's Series - Part 1: Intro & Creating Your Weekly Workout Routine
So you want to get into lifting, and are wondering where the hell to start. In this series, I will delve into the details of creating, using and maintaining your fitness goals. Before we do that, let’s talk more about the ins and outs of lifting, as well as how to construct your weekly split.
What lifting is not.
There are many misconceptions as to what lifting is and isn’t. It is not exclusively for men. Anyone can practice lifting regardless of age, sexual orientation, weight, height, body fat percentage, blood type, marital status, mother’s maiden name, or name of the first childhood pet.
Lifting is not the active use of steroids. While some people use steroids as a method to increase muscle gain (or simply, gains), it is not the only way to induce muscle growth. The use of steroids is a particularly polemic argument, but more on that later.
Last, lifting is not a shortcut to attaining the body of your dreams. Lifting is a hobby that becomes a lifetime commitment and a way of life. Those who have a body that looks like it was chiselled by Michelangelo himself actually have spent a great amount of time and effort in the practice. I myself have now spent about two years in the practice, and still have a ways to go before reaching my final goal.
What lifting really is.
The term “lifting” comes from the phrase “weight lifting,” and specifically refers to the concept of going to a gym and lifting weights in an effort to build muscle by the repetitive practice of lifting weights using certain muscle groups. The concept’s main idea is to target specific muscles through movements that isolate that muscle in hopes of that muscle growing after repetitive use.
Likewise, lifting can either be an independent or group practice. It is really up to personal preference. Most people tend to go alone, or have a single workout buddy (swole mate) who keeps them accountable and motivated. I personally enjoy it because it something that I can do alone. I have always hated team sports … I was that person that let the ball pass by and thought “Oh look, there goes the ball, along with all the fucks I give.”
But above all, lifting is a way to have fun, improve your self-confidence and make friends while becoming the best version of you that you can be. For me, lifting was a way to manage my depression and anxiety by allowing me a physical outlet to express and exert my frustrations. That’s the best part about the lifting community, in my opinion, the amount of brotherhood and camaraderie that comes with it. So make sure to talk to people and tell them your story! Chances are, they are they for the same reasons you are.
Now that we have covered the basics, here is what you need to know about creating and implementing a sustainable workout routine. Emphasis on the word “sustainable”, because I have seen time and time again people who go on these crazy workout outs that involve two-a-days (going to the gym twice a day), run an hour’s worth of cardio and do this 6 times a week.
The key to designing a weekly routine, more commonly referred to as a workout split (AKA weekly split/split), is knowing yourself and your limits. It’s always better to start small and then increase based on what you know your body is capable of.
How many times a week should I go?
I can’t answer this for you, but I will simply ask you this, how many times do you want to go? When I first started, I literally went twice a week for about an hour. At the time, I was going through a major depressive episode, and this seemed like the a good starting-off point. After about a month of this, I realised that it actually made me feel so good to go, so I slowly started adding more days, and increasing the amount of time I spent at the gym. The latter not on purpose, but because I simply liked it, and found myself wanting to spend more time at the gym. Now I go 5-6 times a week and usually spend anywhere from 1.5 - 3 hours there.
It also has to do with your schedule. For a young-adult, it might be a little easier to find the time to go compared to an adult working a full-time job. If you fall in the second category, you may also have other commitments you may need to consider. Do you have weekly hang-outs with friends? Do you need to pick the kids up from school? Are their weekly doctors appointments you need to attend?
I suggest getting a blank sheet of paper, and literally mapping out what a regular week looks like for you. Block off the times you know you will be busy, like the scenarios I mentioned above, and especially ones that are weekly occurrences. Once you have done this, you will see the pockets of time that are free. Pick the days where you have the least amount of stuff going on, if possible, and make them your days. Once you have an idea of how many days and how much time you have available, commit. Like I said, start small, maybe two or three days, and go for 45 minutes to an hour! That is all you need to get the ball rolling.
How do rest days work?
Now that you know how many days you want/can devote to working out, you must factor in rest days. Rest days, in essence, are just that — days to rest. These are the days that you allow your body to recover from the workout you just did. If you are committing to three days a week, you will have four days of rest, because 3 + 4 = 7. (Thanks UT Math for Non-Math majors)
Ideally, when you are first starting out, you will be alternating days of rest with days of lifting. So, say you commit to going three days a week and your least busy day is Monday. Your week would look like this:
Sunday (Rest), Monday (Workout), Tuesday (Rest), Wednesday (Workout), Thursday (Rest), Friday (Workout) and Saturday (Rest)
Once you begin committing to more days, you will have to move your rest days around, and will begin to notice that there won’t be as many rest days compared to workout days. More workout days also means the higher likelihood of having to workout multiple days in a row. This is where muscle group assignation for each day comes into play! This is another topic we will cover in the future.
What do I do on each day?
The fundamental weekly split, which is named so because of the body’s muscle groups that are split across the week, are usually divided between upper and lower body and a day of muscle isolation, where you specifically target one muscle.
If you are subscribing to a three day week, I would suggest for sure having one day be devoted to legs, one to arms, and the third day of your choice! On this third day, you could target back, which is something that I wish I would have started with in my first weekly split, or you can have this third day to do another activity that you like. If you enjoy going to hot yoga, taking a Zumba class, running or cycling this would be a great time to incorporate it!
Using the above scenario we know have:
Sunday (Rest), Monday (Arms), Tuesday (Rest), Wednesday (Legs), Thursday (Rest), Friday (Back or Yoga), Saturday (Rest)
Notice on that last day, I put “Back or Yoga.” The truth of the matter is that life happens. Maybe you have had a rough week, and don’t want to devote a day to working out your back, though I would prefer you would, you always have the option of yoga. Or, alternatively, you could alternate weeks. One week you could do back, and the next week could be yoga. This is your split, and you should personalise it to make it something that you look forward to.
Likewise, there is no specific day or muscle group you should be starting with. This is all up to you and your schedule. Maybe Monday is your busiest day, and you can’t go. No problem! Simply switch around your days, making sure you have a rest day in between. You also do not have to start with arms, you can start with whatever muscle group you enjoy or hate the most. This is totally up to you.
What exercises should I do on each day, and how much?
Truth be told, everyone is different. You have to see what best suits you, and what movements you are most comfortable doing. One of my favourite places to look at for inspiration is Pinterest. You can usually find a workout routine that is already made if you simply search what you are trying to workout that day. If its arm day, search “Arm Day Routine” and a myriad of suggestions will pop up. Pick one and try it out! When you are first starting out, there is no right or wrong way to pick a specific routine for the day. However, I would like to make sure that I emphasise the fact that you should try to expose yourself to as many different exercises as possible. One movement can have three or four variations, simply find one you like!
Alternatively, Youtube is a great resource if you have a little more time to plan out your workout for that day. The same concept applies: look up “Beginner Arm Day Routine” for example, and watch some videos. If you find a YouTuber you like, they will most likely offer shorter versions of their workouts on Instagram for you to access during your workout.
Now, deciding how many sets and reps is a different story. A good beginner workout is about 3 or 4 exercises, 3 sets of 12 - 15 reps. If you find that you have more energy or are able to do more than this, well then by all means! But be warned, you will be sore in the morning because you won’t be used to doing so much. At this point, if you have no prior experience in fitness, I suspect you might be asking, Angie, what are you talking about? What are sets and reps?
Ahhh… it is elementary my dear Reader.
A rep (repetition), is a complete motion of an exercise. A set is a number of repetitions. So say you decide to do a bicep curl, one bicep curl is one rep. 12 - 15 bicep curls back-to-back is a set, and BOOM! A weekly split is born.
Let’s break it down again using our mock scenario. Your weekly split might look like this:
Monday: Arms/Upper Body
Bicep curl: 3 sets of 12 reps
Front raises: 3 sets of 12 reps
Tricep pushdown: 3 sets of 12 reps
Wednesday: Legs/Lower Body
Squats: 3 sets of 12 reps
Seated leg curls: 3 sets of 12 reps
Calf raises: 3 sets of 12 reps
Friday: Hot Yoga for 1 hour
What should I expect from the first couple of months?
The first couple months of lifting are usually a trial run. You are experiencing what it is like to train on a regular basis. Chances are, you won’t be able to lift as much as you want to, will be excessively tired and more often than not, will want to give up. It is in these first couple of months, however, where you start to distinguish what your lifting personality is like. If you find that you are highly motivated to work out, then it will be easier to get up in the morning and do so. If you find that it takes a little more mental preparation, you start to figure out ways that hype you up and excite you to go. You start to build a ritual of your own that allows you to look forward to the before, during and after workout process. You will find that some exercises are harder for you to do, and some exercises are easier for you to do, and will probably want to do these more often. The trick is to pop a couple of ibuprofens and not give up!
I know this was a lot of information, but trust me, this is only scratching the tip of the iceberg.
In the coming weeks we will be discussing more about:
How to choose the right weight
How active rest days work
Incorporating warm ups and cardio into the mix
How to know when to add to your weekly split
Muscle groups and targeting them
Different types of gym equipment
I hope you found this helpful, and are able to construct a weekly split of your own!
Welcome to the cult!