Weight Training – “How Do I Start?”

At least once a week, I get a question about how to start weight training.  Trainers are going to LOVE this post, because I don’t know a better way to start than to work with a trainer.  Or a friend.  Or someone in the gym who just wants to help out.  I just don’t see how anyone can learn to lift by themselves.   My trainers taught me how to lift with good form.  But they weren’t bodybuilders.  They were corporate gym trainers that were familiar with helping clients with general fitness goals.  It was appropriate for me when I started.  But later, I needed to be around people with more experience.  And here is the BIG misconception – while lifting is my passion and is important for changing my body, there is no way I’d have the results I wanted without the nutrition.  It’s more than “clean eating”.  It’s a science to build muscle.  I’ll make a couple of recommendations here about resources for that at well.

Here is my reply to a recent email.  The question was generally about how to start weight training with the intention to compete in a year or two.  (For the person who received the reply, I’ve edited it.  Added a little.  Took out stuff that didn’t need to be in a blog.)

It’s very exciting the number of women who want to learn to lift!  If you’re going to compete, you need to do this right You may have muscle imbalances that could lead to injuries that will derail you early on.  I want you to consider getting to a gym. You need to be around people who know how to lift. You will need help. A trainer will be able to design a program to address your individual needs to form a solid foundation. Your program will change over time because your body will be changing. It’s a very dynamic process. Think of it this way – to compete, you’re on stage in a very small posing suit being judged. That’s the LAST of a series of obstacles/fears that need to be tackled. Do it the right way. I have no idea how I would have done this any other way. I worked with a trainer for months before I felt confident enough that I not only knew how to lift, but had an idea about how to design the program to get the results I wanted. If nothing else, that person was able to sift through the TONS of information out there and make decisions for me until I was able to analyze the info myself.

Even if the trainer option is not a good one for you right now, get back to the gym. Watch people – especially anyone who looks like a bodybuilder. Watch their form. Be a regular and let your goals be known. Things will begin to line up for you.  There are people out there who are passionate about lifting and will offer advice.  (It’s not always good advice, but it’s all info to either accept or reject.  Can give you ideas.)  If the trainer option is appealing, but you really want to do it at home, look for a trainer who has their own business. I work for DTR Fitness. We pay rent in a couple of small gyms in town so we can use their facilities to train clients, but we also train people in their homes if necessary.

There are a ton of online resources for starting programs. Start with at Bodybuilding.com. They have a ton of things, including programs and videos. YouTube is also a resource.  Strong Lifts and T-Nation are the other sites that have good info.  I don’t really look at a lot of sites, honestly. I don’t have time.  (Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, there will be a new site launched that might be interesting – I’ll let you know when it’s up.)

I’d also suggest you give yourself two years if you are starting from scratch, depending on the division you want to compete in and/or the look you want. I lifted for two years for Women’s Physique and I was too small. It takes a lot longer to grow muscle than it does to lose fat. I knew that I wasn’t ready to win, but the first show is just the first show. Most competitions are in the summer/fall months, so pick a show in your area a couple years from now and shoot for that goal.

Get two books about bodybuilding nutrition   First one is called “Nutrient Timing”. It’s a little dense with research, but it’s pretty much the bible for muscle building nutrition.  The second is called “Better Than Steroids”.  And I have Arnold’s “Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding” on my nightstand.  Over the months I was training, I read it cover to cover.  I’d ask what we were going to do next time and then I’d research those lifts before I met with the trainer.  (Arnold’s book is a little dated, but I love it.  There is current research online to find when you need it.)  I had academic knowledge before the trainer and I started working, and then he would correct form and give me tips.  I did my homework on every aspect of this program.  At the time, I was surprised at how little he knew about the nutrition side.

And this is MY opinion… DON’T train like a “girl”. Stay away from workouts “designed for women”.  Some won’t work, and others are just the basics repackaged to be “new”.    Stay clear of crossfit type workouts – won’t work to gain muscle size.  They are great for fitness and conditioning – assuming you don’t have any muscle imbalances and won’t get hurt doing them – but they are not designed to create competition physiques.  I know crossfitters are passionate about what they do, but I know of no one who has a physique I admire to trains with WODs.  I know of crossfit trainers who go to other lifting gyms to train for size.  It’s totally appropriate.  There are different methods of training used to achieve different results.  Power lifters training differently, too.  It’s a personal preference.

Be ready for the mental game!  The mental game is pretty tough.  I think weight training is an excellent thing to do, but you may have to face some demons with body image issues.  One will be weight gain.  Not just muscle.   The body will need excess calories to make muscle.  I trained my metabolism to store fat with excess calories, so that comes with the muscle.  I have to cut slowly for a long time to get ready for stage.  I am currently 25 pounds heavier than I was on stage in that “after” picture.  About 10 pounds of that is water, so I don’t feel like I let things get out of control in my off-season.  I’m pleased.  I think others who are not familiar with the process think I walk around looking like that “after” picture all the time.

Ok – well that’s my two cents. I am very excited for you! Don’t get overwhelmed – just get some help and guidance. You will be able to do this, but if you dabble, try to take short cuts, you will get discouraged.

Oh gosh.  Why don’t you all just move to my town and I’ll teach you how to lift???  Simple plans are best.  😉

“Everyone wants to be a bodybuilder but don’t nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weights.” ~ Ronnie Coleman, Mr. Olympia, 8 times

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7 Comments

Filed under Competing, Motivation, Personal Training

7 responses to “Weight Training – “How Do I Start?”

  1. Sorry to make it so “female orientated”, but that’s where the questions come from. Guys – don’t lift like “girls” either. There. Bases covered.

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  2. Deb Blankenship

    You must have felt me writing down the titles of these books as I was reading thru your old blogs on my lunch hour. I swear I have them written on a stickey note sitting beside me as I’m typing this…still working thru November 2011. I’m reading and soking in each and EVERY word. Tammy, we have so much in common, it’s scarey. So glad my path has crossed yours. Perhaps we may walk together for a bit if He so chooses. P.S. After happily announcing my glutes are so sore I can hardly walk because I did super sets last night that included 36 reps of squats with 60 lbs on my shoulders “Debbie, you shouldn’t be lifting that much, you’re going to get huge instead of long and lean”.[this coming from a 35 yr old]…thought to myself…”60 lbs ain’t nothing” and “that’s what my body does, it LIKES muscle…long and lean isn’t part of it’s make up…LOL

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    • Hahahaha! Sure sounds like you’re a lifter! Start tuning out the noise. Everyone has an opinion – and it’s usually an uneducated one. I found a few people I trusted and talked to the rest about the weather.

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  3. Colin DeWaay

    Gosh I was trying to think how I “learned to lift” and can’t really put my finger on it. I think it’s just been a culmination of things. I always have been a “learn by doing” kind of a person, but of course that’s dangerous with weights. I suppose I learned quite a bit in highschool when I took a course called individual conditioning, although I never got serious about it until 10+ years later. Otherwise it was a lot of research and “on the job” training. Helped when I got a training partner in my friend Derek, we teach each other. Even now I still learn and never plan on stopping that!

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  4. Celeste Castillo

    This is great information. Thanks so much for sharing as a somewhat newbie to the lifting world I have gained some great tips.

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  5. traceywebber

    I am amazed and inspired by you. I am very glad I heard you on the Half My Size Podcast. The timing is perfect for me. Lifting is something I always enjoyed doing but over the past ten years I got more into HIT, and WOD type routines, which has lead to injuries and 50 lbs of fat at the age of 50. I’m currently losing the weight and realize the only thing I’m interested in doing is lifting. I have also always aspired to be a body builder. Thank you for the book information. I am having trouble finding the “Nutrient Timing” book, who wrote it?

    Thank you.

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