So, you’ve decided that you’re ready to take your fitness to the next level and make weightlifting part of your home workout routine…Great decision, btw!…But, now the questions arise:
How do I get started?
How much weight should I lift?
How many reps and sets should I do?
How many days a week should I lift, and for how long?
What type of workout should I do?
Do I need to go out and buy a ton of expensive equipment?
And…Is training at home REALLY as effective as training at the gym?
As with all fitness endeavors, the first thing you need to do is establish a goal to drive your new hobby. More than likely, if you’ve decided to start lifting weights, you already know WHY…You either want to burn fat, build lean muscle, increase strength, improve/preserve your mobility, better your health, improve your overall quality of life, or a combination of these…Whatever the reason, or reasons, your initial goal is what gets you started.
When I started lifting in 2016, I did so because I wanted to improve my muscle tone and strength, as well as try to boost my self-confidence. I had just finished up radiation for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (I had finished Chemo the previous October), and I was skinny and weak. I had been reading about the benefits of weightlifting (You can find a comprehensive list of those in my blog Redefining “Strong”: The Benefits of Weightlifting For Women…It’s a pretty good read, too! Hint! Hint!…Nudge! Nudge!), and I decided to give it a try…Long story short, it has been the best decision I’ve ever made…
Determining Training Loads: How much should you lift?
When just starting out, I highly recommend starting with your own body weight, and focusing more on learning the proper technique for each exercise. Form is everything! If your form is off, it will jeopardize your results and increase your potential for injury. As a general rule, if you can’t perform movements correctly under your own body weight, you definitely won’t be able to handle any sort of added resistance.
Start with simple body weight exercises like Squats, Lunges, Pushups, Planks, Walking Planks, Mountain Climbers, Jump Squats, Tricep Dips, etc. Go through the range of motion of other exercises, like various Bicep Curls, Shoulder Presses, Lateral Raises, Front Raises, Deadlifts, Overhead Extensions, Kickbacks, etc. Learn HOW to do the movements before you ever even pick up a dumbbell. Remember to use a slow, controlled technique to increase tension. Even bodyweight Bicep Curls will be taxing when performed correctly under the slightest tension. You don’t have to do this forever. Try it for a week or two, just to let you tendons and joints get used to these new movements.
When you are ready to pick up a weight for the first time, start light, and progress SLOWLY. Gains in strength, muscle tone, and endurance are most effectively built on the concept of Progressive Overload.. It is true that in order to gain strength, muscle size, and/or endurance, you must place greater resistance on your muscles than what they’re used to, however, doing so too quickly CAN, and most likely WILL, lead to injury and/or permanent damage. Instead of trying to go balls to the wall all at once, start small and focus on overloading progressively by:
• Adding reps to your sets (i.e. Instead of 8 bicep curls, do 10).
• Increasing your resistance (weight) and doing the same number of reps (i.e. Do the same 10 reps, but increase the resistance from 5# to 10#).
• Adding more sets of “work” to a specific muscle group (i.e. adding an additional set or two, while keeping reps and resistance the same…Instead of doing 3 sets of 10 reps at 10#, do 4 sets of 10 reps at 10#).
Trust me, progressing at a slow and steady pace will really pay off in the end.
Reps and Sets:
In regards to reps and sets, when you’re just getting started, and still using bodyweight and very light resistance, go for 2-3 sets of 12-20+ reps. This will help boost your endurance and improve joint mobility, while strengthening your tendons and ligaments, preparing you for heavier loads and more complex movements later on. Once you’ve made some headway, you can use the following guidelines to help determine your sets and reps based on your specific goal(s):
• Endurance – 12 or more reps for 2-3 sets, using a very light resistance (55%-65% of the most you can lift for the given reps).
• Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth) – 6-12 reps for 3-6 sets, using a moderately heavy resistance (75% of the most you can lift for the given reps).
• Strength – 6 or less reps for 2-6 sets, using a heavy resistance (85%-95% of the most you can lift for the given reps).
• Power – 1-2 reps for 3-5 sets, using pretty much your max (95%-100% of what you can lift for the given reps).
Ok, now that you know how to begin, I’m going to give you some guidelines for choosing the appropriate weight when it’s time to progress:..You’ll know it’s time to up your resistance when the weight you’ve been working with starts to feel “light”, and you feel you can easily perform more and more reps per set.
NOTE:The amount of weight you lift should fatigue your muscles within your planned number of reps. For example, if you plan to perform 15 reps, your muscles should start to fatigue somewhere between 12 to 15…Put simply, rep 12 should feel like you can’t make it to rep 15, but the resistance should still be light enough for you to get there…Remember, “heavy” is a relative term, and everyone’s version of “heavy” is different. “Lifting heavy” simply means that you couldn’t have lifted that same weight many more times after completing the recommended reps in one set. If you could have done 2-3 more reps, increase the weight your next set. However, if you couldn’t quite finish the set, that’s OK, just decrease the weight for the next set…It’s that simple!
Guidelines for Determining Training Loads:
• Pick a specific weight.
• Perform a selected exercise, for a given number of reps.
• If you could have done 2-3 more reps, increase the weight your next set.
• If you couldn’t finish the set, decrease the weight for the next set.
• Decrease and increase in increments of 5# at a time.
• The amount of resistance you’re able to move will increase over time.
• It is very much ok to use different amounts of resistance for different exercises in the same routine.
How Often and How Long to workout:
Generally, in the beginning, it’s best to start with 2-3 days of weight training per week, for 25-35 minutes at a time. Training time does tend to increase as progression occurs, and training for up to an hour is not unheard of. The key is finding a program that fits your personal schedule, and choosing exercises that hit more than one muscle at a time (compound exercises), to help accomplish more in less time.
The Type of Workout:
Since the beginning is meant to be a learning period, it’s a good idea to start off with total body circuit style workouts, meaning you will perform a variety of exercises for a given number of reps, back to back, with little to no rest rest between exercises. Once you’ve gone through all the exercises, you’ve completed 1 round. You will rest and repeat the circuit for a given number of rounds (usually 3-5).
Here’s a great little beginners circuit to try:
(Exercise x Reps)
⁃ Squats x 15
⁃ Shoulder Press x 15
⁃ Alternating Lunges x 15
⁃ Pushups x 15
⁃ Squats x 15
⁃ Biceps Curl x 15
⁃ Alternating Lunges x 15
⁃ 30 Sec Plank Hold
Go through all exercises 1x, rest 60-90 seconds, and repeat for 3 rounds.
Once you’ve built up some endurance, and start to increase your strength, you can switch to a split schedule of training for 5 days a week, or so. A split schedule is where you focus on specific muscle groups each training session.
⁃ Monday/Friday: Biceps & Triceps
⁃ Tuesday/Thursday: Legs & Glutes
⁃ Wednesday: Shoulders & Back
⁃ Saturday/Sunday: Rest
A good approach here is to train using straight sets, meaning you’ll do all the given reps for one exercise (that’s ONE set), rest, repeat the given reps for that same exercise, rest, and repeat until you’ve completed all the sets for that exercise. Then, you’ll move on to the next exercises…For example, if a program says 3 sets of 15 reps of squats, you’ll do 15 squats, rest, 15 squats, rest, 15 squats, rest, then move on to the next exercise…Again, that simple!
Keep in mind, it is very important to change up your routine every six weeks or so, to keep your muscles from getting bored and plateauing. You want to keep workouts from becoming stagnant, so the training effect, i.e. progress, can continue.
You don’t have to go out and buy a ton of expensive equipment to get an efficient and effective weight session at home. In fact, all you REALLY need are a few dumbbells of various sizes. Trust me, an inexpensive set of dumbbells will take you further than you could ever imagine, and one set of adjustable dumbbells can save you in both money and space!…In the beginning, you can get by with using items you have in your home. For example, gallon jugs filled with water or sand are a GREAT alternative to dumbbells. When full, they weight about 5#, and the exercise possibilities are endless. Chairs, ottomans, and stools are also great alternatives to weight benches. You can use them for a variety of things, such as Dips, Step-ups, Bent DB Rows, Hip Thrusts, Seated ‘Anythings’…the list goes on!
Use your imagination! Think of the equipment at the gym, how it’s used, and use things that you have in your home to mimic that. A little ingenuity goes a long way!
Other inexpensive pieces of equipment that you can to add to your home gym, which will add resistance to exercises, include ankle weights, weighted vests, resistance bands and tubes, stability balls, kettlebells, and medicine balls. The sky really is the limit here.
Home vs. Gym:
Now, its time to address the elephant in the room with the BIG question…
Is training at home really as effective as training at the gym?
Everyone has their own opinion on this, and it IS true that gyms do offer more variety in equipment, and some even offer different fitness classes, on sight trainers, various pre and post workout therapies, swimming pools, saunas, tanning beds, etc.,
The answer to the above question is, YES, working out at home IS just as effective as working out in the gym.
As I mentioned earlier, you will have to purchase a few inexpensive pieces of equipment (i.e. dumbbells), but you CAN do virtually ANYTHING at home that you can do in the gym…You can burn fat, improve muscle tone, increase strength and power, improve endurance…whatever your goal, you can achieve it at home just as good as you can in a gym. Neither option is better (or worse) than the other. In the end, it all comes down to YOU and your personal situation/preference.
For me, working out at home has always been the best option, because I am unable to drive due to visual impairment. Getting to the gym everyday just isn’t a possibility, never has been, so I turned my home into my own personal gym by adding various pieces o equipment a little bit at a time. In the beginning, all I had were a set of 5# dumbbells, a stability ball, a goal of improving muscle tone and strength, a little motivation and determination, and a whole lot of imagination…. No matter your situation, make it work! Set goals, and start crushing them. Take things one rep, one workout, and one day at a time!
At-Home Alternatives For Popular Gym Exercise:
Here are several common gym exercises that can easily be performed at home.
⁃ Lateral raise machine – Lateral raises
⁃ Face pulls – Bent-over reverse flys
⁃ Leg extension machine – Stationary lunges
⁃ Leg press – Squats
⁃ Smith machine narrow squats – Narrow squats with stability ball behind back
⁃ Lat Pulldown – Bent over straight-arm lat pull
⁃ Straight-arm lat pulldown – Bent over straight-arm lat pull
⁃ Underhand close-grip pulldown – Bands or bent-over underhand row
⁃ Row machine – Bent-over row with palms facing in
⁃ Seated calf raises – Standing calf raises
⁃ Incline dumbbell curls – Use a stability ball to put your body at an incline
⁃ Preacher curl machine – Use a stability ball to rest your triceps on and use as a preacher bench
⁃ Lying leg curl machine – Stability ball leg curl
⁃ Straight-leg glute cable kickback – Weighted donkey kicks
⁃ Roman chair bent leg raises – Lying leg raises
⁃ Roman chair oblique bent leg raises – Lying diagonal leg raises (using obliques)
⁃ Landmine press – Single-arm front press (elbow in front of body)
⁃ Standing Smith machine overhead press – Standing dumbbell overhead press
⁃ Rear delt pull down – Bent-over reverse fly
⁃ Hack squat machine, feet touching – Stability ball wall squats, feet touching
⁃ Leg extension machine – Stationary lunges
⁃ Landmine row – Bent-over two arm row, palms in, elbows close to body
⁃ Single-arm cable row, standing – Single-arm dumbbell row
⁃ Smith machine overhand row – Bent-over wide row, elbows straight out from shoulders
⁃ Wide pulldown- Use bands or bent-over underhand row
⁃ Assisted pull-ups – Bent-over straight arm lat pull
⁃ Incline chest press machine – Stability ball incline bench press
⁃ Overhead press machine, seated backwards – dumbbell overhead press
⁃ Reverse fly machine – bent-over reverse fly
⁃ Leg extension, toes pointed slightly out – stationary lunge
⁃ Reverse hack squat, feet shoulder width apart, toes slightly out – stability ball wall squats, feet shoulder width apart, toes slightly out OR stability ball wall squats, feet touching
⁃ Sumo leg press – sumo squat
⁃ Cable row – bent-over neutral grip row (palms facing in)
⁃ Narrow grip lat pulldown – band lat pulldown OR bent over straight-arm pulldown
⁃ Wide lat pulldown, overhand – band lat pulldown OR single arm row with elbow out
⁃ Straight-arm lat pulldown – bent over straight-arm pulldown
⁃ Front press machine, elbows forward – front press (elbows in front of your shoulders)
⁃ Single arm cable lateral raises – lateral raises
⁃ Cable reverse flys – bent-over reverse fly
⁃ Cable triceps kickbacks – dumbbell triceps kickbacks
⁃ Cable curls w/straight bar – dumbbell curls
⁃ Cable pushdowns – overhead triceps extension with dumbbell
⁃ Lying leg curl machine – stability ball leg curl
⁃ Single-leg leg press, foot high, push through heel – stationary lunge with weights forward, toe elevated
⁃ Weighted hip thrusts, Smith machine – single-leg bridges
⁃ Weighted crunch machine – stability ball crunches with weight
⁃ Oblique twist machine – Russian twists with weight
Finally, REMEMBER, change does not happen overnight, or in a month, or even in two to three months. Whether you’re at home or in the gym, significant physical change takes months of persistence and patience. Truthfully, you’ll feel a change way before you see one. You’ll feel it in your mood, your energy levels, and your self-esteem. Your overall health and fitness level will improve. You’ll find yourself being able to do more without becoming fatigued. You’ll sleep better at night, and you’ll wake feeling more rested and ready for each day. Your overall quality of life will improve, and that is, by far, worth each and every rep you’ll perform, as well as every drop of sweat you’ll shed along the way