How To Lift Weights for Beginners (When You Have No Idea What You’re Doing.)

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Recently I posted here about joining the gym as an overweight girl and how intimidating it was. Since it didn’t kill me as expected, I kept going, and found out it I really liked it. Despite still being the biggest girl I’ve seen there, no one has laughed me out of the place yet and curiously, being surrounded by people fitter than me has been motivating. It’s amazing what a change in mindset can do – instead of seeing these fit people and despairing of how far I have to go, I think, “Look how great l will be if I keep this up! ”

Last week while I was on the floor, still desperately trying to do a pushup, a girl caught my eye. She was exactly what I want to look like. Not skinny, but solid. Not teeny tiny like my hips won’t ever allow me to be, but lean muscles, strong legs, and awesome shoulders. I watched as she walked over to the weights area, hefted some weights onto a barbell, and proceeded to bench press what I now know to be almost a hundred pounds. (More on that explanation later.) She was the only female in the area.

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I immediately thought, “That. THAT is what I want to do here.”

Here’s the thing. I’ve never really lifted a weight in my life. I have some dumbbells, but my heaviest ones are eight pounds and I struggled to use those in my at home workouts. I know how to work all of the machines, but I get bored with them. I feel like I’m just playing at working out instead of actually accomplishing anything. (Not that there is anything wrong with using the machines. There’s a very good chance it’s operator error.)

So I went home and did some research. And then I did more. I Googled beginner’s programs, I watched endless YouTube videos on proper form. And then last week, I grabbed my towel and water bottle, and walked confidently over to the weights area, ready to start.

I took this while in was standing around, pretending to stretch.

I took this while I was standing around, pretending to stretch.

Unfortunately, it was a Monday. Do you know how many people start a new exercise program on a Monday?  All of them.  So the weights area was full of all shapes and sizes of men, grunting and sweating and dropping weights on the ground after their sets, even though there are clearly posted signs stating this is unsafe. (Rebels.) It also must be noted about 75 percent of them did not appear to be following proper form, according to my research. (I firmly believe Google makes me an expert in everything. Seriously. I once fixed a car after watching a YouTube video.)

But none of my research prepared me for there literally not being room for me. So I stood around like a dolt, pretending to stretch, until one of the benches opened up. Which brings me to my first lesson.

Start with Weights Much Lower than You Think You Can Lift

Did you know the bar itself weighs 45 pounds? I sure didn’t. I thought I’d add 15 pounds to each side just to be on the safe side. Luckily, before I laid down I had to move the bar to the lower rung. (That’s probably not the right word, but you know what I mean. I hope.) When I almost dropped that on my foot, I quickly realized that if I’d added thirty pounds, I would for sure have ended up on YouTube myself as one of those gym fails entitled, “Stupid Girl Nearly Crushes Windpipe on First Bench Press.”)

Ask. For. Help. 

Seriously. The gym employees really are there to help you. The first time I did back squats, the bar just happened to be at the height I thought was good for me, which was right above my ears. The next day I was set to do them, it was about six inches above my head. I stood there debating how hard it would actually be to just do them from that height or whether I should just skip them before I screwed up my courage and went and asked one of the trainers for help. Rodrigo not only showed me how to safely move the bar down, but that the best height for me was actually just below my shoulders. Of course, then he made me do a few while he watched, during which time I prayed to everything in the universe I didn’t drop the bar or worse, fart, and he adjusted my form a little too. (I guess YouTube doesn’t know everything.)

Don’t Be a Dick. 

This isn’t gym etiquette, it’s just basic manners, but apparently it needs to be said. If you sweat all over something, wipe it up. If you’re a big strong man lifting sixty five pound dumbells, put them back in their proper spot instead of on the top shelf where twenty pound weights go so people (read, me) don’t pick them up, unsuspecting, and nearly throw out a shoulder. If it’s time for your weekly conference call, don’t conduct it while lying on a weight bench as though you’re lounging in a hammock. If you’re going to drop the weights – defiantly against the aforementioned posted signs – be sure no one is trying to navigate around you because if anyone is going to get their foot broken that way, it is me.

Most importantly, find a program that works for you, and do your research, YouTube or otherwise. I used this particular one, and checked out all of the videos on proper form on bodybuilding.com.  It does bear mentioning that this really isn’t something you should just jump into, because all joking aside, it’s easy to see how one could really get hurt if they’re not sure what to do. Despite my belief that YouTube makes me an expert, your doctor would probably disagree.

That being said, don’t let it intimidate you. Everyone had to pick up that barbell for the first time, and everyone has laid down on that bench and initially thought, “Wait, why am I doing this?” There’s no reason you can’t be one of them. Cmon, drink the Kool Aid! It’s fantastic.

**Also, you’re going to be sore. Really sore. Be ready. **

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