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You Asked: How to Start Strength Training

Hi Fit!
I love going to the gym for cardio and I usually do about 40 minutes of the elliptical and bike. However, I'm ashamed to say I've only twice visited the weight room . . . and both those times I was too nervous and too clueless to stay for very long. The truth is, all of these weights and machines look great, but I don't know where to start! How can I finally enjoy the weight room and see some strength-training results?
Looking to Lift

Great job on doing regular cardio. I think it's great that you are looking to get over your fear of the weight room and start strength training. To learn my advice,


If you want to use weight machines, the best place to start is with a session with a trainer from your gym. Many gyms offer one free session with a personal trainer to help gym members learn how to safely use the weight machines. Ask at the front desk next time you're at the gym. If they are not free, check out the price for one session so someone knowledgeable can teach you how to use the machines. You can also skip the machines and start learning strength-training moves with free weights like dumbbells or ones that require no equipment at all. There are many moves you can do in the comfort of your own home to build your confidence and strength before heading to the weight room. But let's not get ahead of ourselves; first let's take a moment to go over the basic concepts.


It is recommended that healthy adults do eight to 10 strength-training exercises using the major muscle groups on two non-consecutive days a week. To maximize strength development, added weight should be used for eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise, resulting in muscular fatigue. Doing two to three sets of eight to 12 reps will work your muscles even more. Strength training three times a week will also enhance your efforts even more.

In terms of major muscle groups, think of them this way: lower body (butt, front of legs, back of legs, calves, hips, and thighs), upper body (biceps, shoulders, back, chest, and back of arms), and abs (sides, upper, and lower). And do know that over time you will need to increase the amount of weight you work with to keep challenging yourself. Plus, every month to two months you should change your strength-training routine to keep your muscles guessing.

Here are two full-body circuit workouts that you should try: the FitSugar Circuit Workout (no props required) and the FitSugar Full-Body Circuit Workout (with dumbbells). Read through these posts explaining how to use gym equipment and machines.

Good luck!

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Join The Conversation
Eric-Kenyon-RKC Eric-Kenyon-RKC 6 years
While I can not claim the exalted title of "Future Exercise Physiologist," I have been in this business for a long time. Also I am not anonymous, you are seeing my real name, and anyone who wants to verify what I write can come visit me in person, come to my group classes, interview my students, etc, or better yet read articles by and take courses from my teachers in the RKC. There is plenty wrong with exercise machines, unless you find forcing the limbs into unnatural motions, along with the damage and distortion to joint structures resulting, to be acceptable. You would also have to not mind your much beloved core and small stabiliizer muscles being disconnected form your movement patterning as well. So if you are fine with all that, than indeed, "there is nothing wrong with machines." Not everything in that article is true, and the ACSM is not any kind of source of useful info. In fact the ACSM and many organizations like them are part of reason Americans are so weak, injured and unhealthy. The idea of limiting women to 3 pound dumbbells is so far out, it is not even right enough to be called wrong. I have female students who can deadlift 132 pounds one handed, do Turkish get ups with a 62 pound kettlebell, and many other feats of strength regularly. Go to my facebook page and let me know if you think these women look feminine enough. I direct you to the writings of RKC's Lauren Brooks, Neghar Fonooni, Yoana snideman, and Master RKC Andrea Ducane, for understanding on this subject.. Trying to work "accessory muscles" in isolation is futile. Your body does not operate that way. In fact concentrating on muscles is backwards. Do natural , correct movement, let the muscles do what they do, strength and health are the result. I have to wonder about this comment: "Do exercises where the whole body is engaged." being written immediately after: "focus on working out your accessory muscles." While it is true that "You don;t have to be a body builder to follow strength training guidelines," why mention that? Is that not obvious? Especially since body builders do not do strength training, they do body building, a whole different thing. "This is what they mean by doing exercises that engage both major muscle groups." What is "This"? Who is "they"? What are the names and constitution of "both" muscle groups? Tracy Anderson is fairly cute and somewhat popular, but has no standing or relevance at all in the professional community. She appeals to some women's unfortunate fear, ignorance and desperation, to sell product.
Eric-Kenyon-RKC Eric-Kenyon-RKC 7 years
I recommend you do not use a trainer at a commercial gym. These tend to be extremely clueless individuals, bootcamps are just as bad. I hate to have to say that because I am a trainer and a lot of my clients are trainers. The classes offered at community colleges are equally poor. Also do not use machines. The movements are not natural and the small stabilizer muscles and muscles of the core are not engaged. If you mention strength training as your goal and your trainer brings you to a machine, stop the session right there. Maximized strength training is 1 to 5 reps per set. 8 to 12 is bodybuilding. Anything over 5 reps will lower the force produced making the strength effect less, and bring up the fatigue factor which causes muscles to grow maximally in size. Intensity being equal, if you want big muscles 8 to 12 reps is excellent, but you will be nowhere near as strong as if you did 1 to 5. "In terms of muscle groups..." don't think of muscle groups. Think of movements, like lifting things off the ground (deadlift) pushing with your legs (squat) lifting things overhead (military press) breaking the body up into individual muscles or muscle groups is a dead end. Your body is not a bag full of disconnected muscles, rather your life is made of movement. There is no need to do ten exercises. That idea comes from people who have no idea what strength training is from an athletic or pure health standpoint. One lift is plenty if it is one that engages the entire body. Deadlifts are ideal. Barbell snatch or clean and press are excellent. For real strength training expertise see the book or video "Power to the People" by Pavel Tsatsouline. for free guidance read any article or watch any youtube video by coach Dan John, or Dr Krista Scott-Dixon to start.
syako syako 7 years
Yes, you can do both. And it really should just be more about your personal preference about the order.
Newsjunkie80 Newsjunkie80 7 years
But can/should you do cardio on the same day as you weight train? I've heard it's best to lift first, and do cardio second...but all my guy friends say you shouldn't do any cardio on days you lift.
syako syako 7 years
Glowing has a good suggestion. If a trainer costs too much, take a boot camp class or a strength training class and learn to do some moves sans machines. That will get you used to proper form and give you some experience using dumbbells, body bars, resistance bands, and just using your body weight as resistance. Or, do you have a friend that knows the ropes? That's what I did, I had my hubby come with me to the gym and he just walked around with me and showed me how to use the machines. It was less intimidating because I was with someone I knew and trusted and we were just playing around.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 7 years
I recommend taking a muscle conditioning class. I think these classes may be offered by local community colleges. These classes do take more time than a training session, but I think they're a good investment of one's time (and money). Also, one learns about the muscles, too, and how they respond to weight training. Really good knowledge, in my opinion.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 7 years
A personal training session is so perfect for learning how to use the machines. You find out how to adjust them for your body and the correct form, and it usually only takes one session.
cg130 cg130 7 years
My personal trainer helped me out sooo much! I used to be so confused and intimidated by the weight room, but now I frequent it 3x/week!
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