By Jay Knowlton

Are you looking to lose weight? Lift weights. Looking to get strong? Lift weights. Looking to put on size? Lift weights.

It’s the new year, and you’ve made the resolution to get in better shape. What a fantastic goal to give yourself! You’ve joined a gym, perhaps for the first time, but now what? You walk in, and you see a ton of machines that look like torture contraptions. You glance over to a wall of giant dumbbells you’ve ever seen. And you look around, and everyone seems to know what they are doing and working really hard at it. Now, what do you do?

No matter your fitness goals, lifting weights or some form of resistance training is necessary to achieve any of those goals. Why is this? Building muscle makes you stronger. Building muscle can add on lean pounds. And building muscle will help your body lose weight – even better than cardio – when combined with a diet that comprises fewer calories than your body burns each day and incorporates protein in each meal. 

Where to start? 

The entire experience can be intimidating when walking into a gym for the first time. Too many choices. Not enough information on what to do or how to do it. If it’s your first time in a gym and they offer a complimentary session with a trainer, take them up on the offer. Even better if you can afford to hire a trainer for at least your first few sessions. If those aren’t an option, ask a buddy that already lifts weights if you can join them in working out. Even if they are way more advanced and lifting heavy weights, it doesn’t matter. Ask questions, watch their form, and pay attention to how they group exercises together for a workout. And understand that it is NOT about how much weight you can lift but how well you can lift a weight you’re comfortable with while you learn proper form. 

Whenever I start with a client new to lifting weights and new to getting in shape, I always start with an introduction to basic non-weighted movements for the first couple of sessions to get their body accustomed to the natural resistance of their body weight. This is definitely the time to follow the KISS maxim – keep it simple, stupid. 

It’s All About Form

This is where working out with a knowledgeable friend or a fitness trainer is helpful to get down your form. Forget “weights” as you start your learning process. Get to know your body and its mechanics first. YouTube has a plethora of great videos by all sorts of fitness trainers – just make sure you’re looking at beginner calisthenic-type workouts to start. Forget the fancy-looking advanced stuff. A time will come for that, but it’s about starting with the basics. 

Bodyweight Exercises 

When trying out these first bodyweight exercises, trust that it does not matter how many reps (or repetitions) you accomplish your first few times. Three push-ups. One pull-up. Five dips. Ten walking lunges. Whatever. The quantity does not matter. Getting your body accustomed to new ways of being stretched and moving is first and foremost. Quantity will come with repetition over time. The quality of your form is what’s most important. 

Here are some great examples of bodyweight exercises that you can do to start gaining strength: push-ups, pull-ups (assisted), bench dips, walking lunges, and crunches.

Stretching and Cardio

What else to do as you start your introduction to gym workouts? Never forget stretching and cardio. I usually like to have clients start with 5-10 minutes on the treadmill, walking with a slight incline at a brisk pace. This is not about running and overexerting yourself. It’s merely a way to warm up your cardiovascular system and muscles to prepare for your training. At the end of your workout, you can finish with 10–20 minutes of the same cardio or a different one, like an elliptical machine or stair climber, if you want some variety.  

Stretching is also essential, and one of the things first-time gym goers skip over – either because they don’t really know basic stretching and feel stupid doing it or are so anxious, they just wanna get the heck out of the gym. Don’t let that get in your way. Push through. Stretching will begin the process of making you more limber as well as help alleviate any tightness built up doing exercises for the first time. Again, start with the basics – think of the few things you remember from PE class in elementary school and do them. Watch an intro to stretching video to learn the different stretches and breathing techniques to get the most out of your time on the mat. 

Try this for the first week or two to acclimate your body to your new exercise routine. Then it will be time to continue your calisthenics and begin to use free weights (dumbbells, barbells, machines). 

Hopefully, you’ve spent the time learning from a friend or trainer how to do the basics with proper form. It will make the next steps into weight training much easier, and you’ll be far less prone to burnout and injuries.  

With over 20 years of experience, Jay Knowlton brings his training expertise to you. Jay’s pursuit of health and wellness extends beyond the gym environment, utilizing a three-pronged approach through exercise, nutrition, and mindfulness. Jay is available for one-on-one and couples training at Gravity Fitness.