When diving in to the world of weight lifting, it is better to be prepared. Navigating the pitfalls and setting yourself up for success will mean less time spent training and faster results!
When it comes to any endeavor you are about to embark on, it is always best to be prepared, and I think the words of Winston Churchill say it best……
With that in mind, the first step I would consider is what your goals for a weight lifting program are, and the expected outcome of engaging in that program.
Is it your intention to build muscle, burn body fat or increase your overall strength? Were you looking to achieve a long term goal, for example putting on 10 kg of lean muscle mass or reducing your body fat percentage to the point that you have defined abdominal muscles, or is your goal a short term one, such as having the energy to walk upstairs without running out of breath?
Weight training has an advantage over many different fitness training protocols in that the results can be more easily defined, with incremental improvements in the amount of weight lifted and the amount of repetitions completed in a specific timeframe easily measured.
On the flip side of this is the fact that weight training has so many different aspects it can be very overwhelming for a beginner to get their head around. Should you do compound or isolation movements? Do you work the whole body in one workout, or break down your workouts into specific body parts over a number of days? Should you use free weights or machines?
The questions can be mind boggling for a new trainee starting out on a weight lifting journey to research, and can confuse or intimidate someone into not starting at all.
That’s where the help of a Personal Trainer or Gym Instructor can often be great, to work with a client to mind map their goals and have clear aspirations, so that planning a weight lifting program can feel a whole lot less daunting. Having said that, not everyone has the money to invest in one to one training services on top of a gym membership, and therefore another road block often comes up.
Taking all of these things into account, in my experience the best way to start is to sit down with a piece of paper and jot down your thoughts to make the picture a bit clearer. Here is a list of things I wrote out when planning a new weight lifting program for myself, that may give you some insight on how to approach the subject.
1. Goal 1: Lose 3 kg – 5 kg of body fat and tighten up my mid-section
2. Goal 2: Improve muscle tone in chest, back, legs and arms
3. Goal 3: Increase muscular endurance for Martial Arts Training
4: Goal 4: Feel more confident in the way I look in the mirror
These were my broader and more long term goals, but gave me a strong sense of direction, and allowed me to focus my efforts into how I was going to achieve those goals through weight lifting.
The second thing I did was study the best way to structure a program to achieve the desired outcome for each goal, which I listed below.
1. Losing Body Fat
Losing body fat requires two main factors, the first being to make sure that calories or food consumed didn’t exceed the amount of energy or calories expended through physical activity. Therefore it was just as important for me to ensure my diet changed in line with my expectations from my new program, to support me in hitting my go of 3 – 5 kg fat loss.
The second part was to understand what weight lifting exercises would create the biggest energy expenditure, whilst still achieving the other goals I had set for myself.
After a little bit of research I worked out that whole body movements or ‘compound exercises’ (i.e. using multiple muscle groups in one exercise) would put more stress on the body during a workout, and consume more calories as the body tried to recover and repair the muscle tissue, so I ensured that I would build my training routine with compound movements for the majority of the exercises.
2. Improve Muscle Tone
Knowing that I wanted to improve muscle tone in my chest, back, legs and arms, I chose compound exercises that would target as many muscle groups as possible in a single exercise. For example, I knew that doing a barbell bench press would target primarily the chest, but also work the shoulders and triceps as well, so my arms could be worked at the same time. Similarly the back could be worked with a barbell bent over row, but would also include support from the biceps, therefore I could target my chest, back and arms in two simple movements.
For the legs I chose barbell squats, which work all of the muscles of the legs, including gluteus maximus, quadriceps and hamstrings, with support from the core (abdominal muscles), providing a very challenging exercise that hit my entire lower body in one go. Once I worked out these three core exercises would be the basis of my program, it was very easy to plan my workouts, which could be shorter in duration, allowing more time for specific cardiovascular exercises to speed up fat loss as well.
3. Improve Speed, Power and Flexibility
Any seasoned veteran will tell you that the three main desirable traits of a complete Martial Artist are speed, power and flexibility. Therefore when choosing a weight lifting program that would help support and not hinder my progress, it was important to understand the types of exercises that would allow me to increase my muscular endurance, without sacrificing speed or power in the process.
What I concluded was that lifting a lighter weight on each exercise for a higher number of repetitions, rather than a heavier weight for fewer repetitions would increase muscular endurance and reduce fatigue when doing long Martial Arts sessions, especially those where I did a lot of kicking, wrestling and take-downs, as these exercises that place a high demand on the strength and endurance of muscles.
I also understood that lifting heavier weight for fewer repetitions would cause more muscle hypertrophy (growth), therefore increasing body weight, and placing more demand on the heart to pump blood around the body. The other problem with larger muscle size is that it can inhibit movement and speed, therefore it was a better plan to keep the weight in a range where I could complete at least 12 – 15 repetitions per set.
4. Feel more confident
After drafting my weight program and commencing the training, I quickly started to feel better about the way I looked. Although it took more than a month to start noticing differences in the mirror muscle tone wise, I was able to notice a reduction in my waistline after only three weeks, and after two months of solid training I could definitely see increased muscularity, particularly in my chest, shoulders and arms.
The result was a much happier, more confident and healthier me, and a level of muscular endurance that meant I could train harder and last longer during my grueling martial arts training sessions.
So there you have it, although everyone’s goals when embarking on a weight lifting program will be different, having a clear goal and a solid plan in place is essential to the success of your program.