Updated: May 16, 2022
If you've decided that you want to start weight training in the gym (which you should be proud of if you have), you're undoubtedly going to have questions and concerns about weight training.
We've all felt that same way when we first began.
If this is the case for you, you've come to the right place.
In this post, we'll be running you through a fully complete beginner's guide to weight training, with absolutely EVERYTHING you need to know.
Keep on reading for a headstart in your fitness journey!
First of All: What Is Weight Training?
Weight training is a type of strength training that utilizes external and specially created weights for resistance.
Weight training is usually done with the goals of increasing muscular strength, size and endurance in mind.
It's done by lifting external weights (such as dumbbells and barbells) through certain ranges of motion to create stress and stimulate growth in the muscles that are working.
For example, the man in the image above is doing weight training because he is lifting a dumbbell and taking it through an active range of motion whilst resisting the weight.
Pretty much whenever you're lifting an external object (doesn't have to be literal weights) against gravity, you're weight training.
How Does Weight Training Compare to Calisthenics?
While weight training is the most popular form of strength training, there are other kinds as well.
Perhaps the next most popular and well known one is going to be calisthenics, or bodyweight training.
The goals looking to be achieved by training with these two styles are usually very similar.
People train with these styles to build muscular strength and muscular size, or a combination of the two.
Now how do these two compare?
Well, it's important to note that each training style does have its own advantages over the other.
We recommend having a quick read through of our full blog article on this, where we completely break down the calisthenics vs. weightlifting debate.
However, we'll still give you a quick run through of each one's advantages,
The Advantages of Weight Training:
Easier muscle isolation
More straightforward progressions
Better for lower body development
Could be more beginner friendly
Better for raw strength gain
Slightly better for optimal muscle development
The Advantages of Calisthenics:
Minimal equipment required
More core engagement
Can be more fun
Could help burn more calories
More training flexibility
Each training style has its own benefits over the other, and it's just up to you to decide the one that you're going to train with for your fitness journey!
Neither of the two is inherently 'better' than the other, and you're just going to have to weight everything in order to make the best choice for yourself and your progress in the future!
If you've had a read through everything and have decided that you would like to continue learning about weight training, great!
Keep on reading.
However, if you've changed your mind and have decided that you'd rather learn more about calisthenics and bodyweight training, you can click here to read our beginner's guide on that too.
The Benefits of Weight Training
Before you begin any exercise program or regime, it's always good to know the benefits and the things that you're going to get out of your time that you invest.
We've got an article that fully breaks down the top 11 benefits of regular exercise that you should read, and we'll just give you a brief summary of them down below.
Improvements in mood
Increases in sleep quality
More control over your bodyweight
Strengthening of the bones and the muscles
Reduction in the risk of chronic diseases
Improvements in brain health
Heightened energy levels
Potential to live longer
Boost in your self-confidence
Improvements in your sex life
We highly recommend you check out the blog post we linked to for a breakdown of each benefit and an explanation as to why it's helpful to you!
And it's important for you to note that there are many more benefits to weight training than just these 11 that we listed.
These were just the ones that we thought would be the most relevant to most people and were the best ones to include.
There is a bit of basic terminology that you should know before you begin your weight training program.
These terms are going to be words and phrases that you hear being used all the time whether you’re training in the gym or reading through a workout-related blog post like this one.
We do have a blog article that breaks down the 65 most important gym and fitness terms which you can read here, but we'll go over the few that we think are the most crucial to know here.
Let’s get into them!
An exercise is a specific movement that you can perform through an additive range of motion that’s going to place stress on your muscles.
It’s the literal movement that you’re performing.
For example, the barbell bench press is an exercise.
The pull up is an exercise.
It’s important that you understand this as you’re going to hear this work used A TON throughout your fitness journey, from start to finish.
This is another fundamental term that every lifter in the gym should really understand.
Contrary to what many people understand and believe, a workout is different to an exercise.
Many people will use these two terms interchangeably when describing a certain movement, when really they mean completely different things.
Exercise would be the correct term in the example above.
A workout on the other hand, is the entire sequence of movements that a trainee goes through during their training session.
It’s the routine itself.
It’s the plan for what you’re going to do during your training session, including everything such as exercises, reps, sets and rest periods.
Remember not to confuse exercises with workouts.
A repetition is one single completion of an exercise or movement.
For example, take the barbell bench press.
The full and active range of motion involves you lowering the bar down to your chest and then presiding it back up and locking your elbows out.
Every time you get the bar down and then press it back up fully, you complete one rep or repetition.
The same goes for any given exercise and lift.
You’ll hear this term being used when you’re programming your workouts or hear others talking about their results in previous workouts.
A set is a group of repetitions done consecutively without taking any real break in between each one.
For example, if you were to do a set of 8 on the bench press, that means you would do 8 bench press repetitions without taking a break before putting the bar back on the rack.
Sets can come in many different sizes depending on your goals and what you’re trying to achieve.
Those looking to build/test maximal strength will sometimes go as low as one repetition per set, and those that want to build more muscular endurance will go as high as 30 or more reps in a set.
And of course, there are rep ranges in between, which is where most people actually spend the majority of their time training in.
Again, the term ‘set’ is extremely important for you to grasp the concept of and understand.
You’re going to hear it a lot.
A rest period is a break that you take in between sets to regain the lost energy and prepare to work hard again in your next set.
During this period it's common to do completely nothing and just sit on a bench and scroll through your phone.
That is completely fine.
However some people do like to do some stretching during these rest periods to help loosen up and tight muscles and further help them prepare for the following set.
Generally, rest periods are anywhere between 90 seconds and 3-4 minutes.
However some people with specific goals in mind will dip both below and above this.
Remember, there are lots more terms that you really should learn and know, but these are just the absolute basics.
The Basic Weight Training Exercises
When it comes to building strength and muscle mass through weight training, there are some primary exercises that you should know and try to master as soon as possible.
These are going to be your primary compound lifts, and are really the only exercises that you would need to build a well-rounded body in terms of both strength and athleticism.
We've got 6 exercises for you, plus a bonus one that you can choose to add in if you like (although it is highly recommended).
You'll notice that these are all barbell and dumbbell exercises, and that's because free weight training allows you to work your stabilizing muscles more and helps you get more bang for your buck across the body.
You can choose to do them on machines or do variations/alternatives of them if you like, but they just won't help you develop as much overall strength and muscle mass.
If we were to pick a list of just 7 exercises to do, this would be it:
Barbell bench press
Standing dumbbell overhead press
Bent over barbell row
Incline dumbbell bench press
We happen to have a blog post that covers this in more detail as well, but we'll briefly go over each one here and show you why they're such important exercises.
This exercise is often regarded to be the king of all exercises, as it works the most muscles in the body out of any singular lift and is also generally your strongest free weight exercise.
The deadlift works the entire posterior chain (back of the body), as well as some of the muscles in the front of your body to help bring the weight up.
It's primarily going to work the back and legs, and is probably the exercise that gives you the most bang for your buck in terms of time efficiency for a single lift.
Here's how to do it:
Start with the bar on the ground.
Place your feet slightly less than shoulder width apart at the center of the bar and make sure they're pointing straight forwards.
Have your arms hanging straight down under your shoulders.
Bend down towards the bar by pushing your hips back, with knees slightly bent.
Once you can't reach down any further, bend at the knees for the rest of the distance until you can grab onto the bar with a strong, comfortable grip.
Keep a neutral (straight) spine.
Take a big breath in a hold it, bracing your core to prepare for the lift.
Keeping the neutral spine, drive your feet into the ground hard, and push your hips forward until you're standing straight up. That's your finished lockout position.
Lower the bar back down onto the ground with slight guidance from your hands (drop it, but keep the bar in your hands).
See the great demonstration video underneath by Rogue Fitness!
Barbell Bench Press
Next up on the list we've got the barbell bench press.
This is your primary upper body pushing movement, and is going to heavily and effectively work the muscles of the chest, shoulders and triceps all at the same time.
It's very similar to the push up in terms of the movement pattern, and is definitely one of the primary exercises you can choose to do when it comes to weight training.
If you were to pick just one upper body pressing movement to do, this would likely be it for most people.
Here's how to do it:
Ensure you have an experienced spotter with you if you're going heavy, or if this is your first time.
Lay down on the bench, back completely flat. You should be completely relaxed to start with.
Grab the bar with a strong grip just outside of shoulder width. Wrap your thumb around the bar to enclose and help secure your grip.
Arch your back slightly to create a small gap between your spine and the bench.
Place your feet firmly on the ground.
Lift the bar off the rack, and bring it to just over your collarbone.
Lower the bar until it gently touches your lower chest area (sternum).
Press back up by drive your elbows forward, and lock them out at the top.
Keep your head and glutes on the bench, as well as feet on the ground at all times.
Check out this video by CrossFit® below to see what it looks like!
The squat is the next lower body exercise on this list.
The barbell back squat (and any other variation of it) is going to be great for working the muscles of the lower body, and developing both strength and size.
Pair this with some kind of a deadlift or a hip hinging movement, and you've got yourself some solid lower body training!
To do the barbell squat:
Set the squat rack to shoulder height.
Make sure you have a spotter with you.
Step under the back, and either place it on your upper traps for a high bar squat (slightly more quad dominant and less posterior chain), or place it between your shoulder blades for a low bar squat (more glute, hamstring and hip focused).
Walk the bar out slowly with one foot at a time.
Breathe in and hold your breath for the lift.
Brace your core and lower yourself until your thighs reach parallel with the ground. (Preferable but don't attempt if it causes pain or discomfort).
Maintain a strong and neutral spine throughout the entire lift.
Push back up by driving your feet hard into the ground.
Drive your knees out towards your small toes on the way up to avoid knee valgus. This will protect your joints.
See Scott Herman's video below for a demonstration!
Dumbbell Overhead Press
Aside from just the bench press, you're going to want to do some vertical pressing over your head to ensure that you develop your shoulders and don't end up looking disproportionate.
Whether you choose to do these seated or standing is completely up to you.
We recommend that you do these with dumbbells as it's going to activate the middle head of the deltoids (shoulders) more, which can often fall behind if you only do compound movements such as the barbell bench press.
It's going to help you round out your shoulders and keep them as healthy and looking as proportionate as possible.
To do the dumbbell overhead press:
Grab a pair of dumbbells and swing them up until they're resting in your hands at your collarbone level.
Push your chest up and press the dumbbells up over your head.
Try to keep your joints stacked on top of each other.
Lock the elbows out at the top.
Lower the dumbbells back down to your collarbone level with control.
Buff Dudes Workouts has a great video which we've included for you below.
Bent Over Barbell Row
This is an exercise that's great for building up the muscles specifically in your back and your biceps.
It's one of your foundational upper body pulling movements, and is going to be great for developing overall strength and muscle mass for a bigger and stronger body.
Pair this with the next back exercise on our list, and you've got everything you need to look absolutely great.
To do the bent over barbell row:
Start with the barbell on the ground.
Take an approximately shoulder width and overhand grip.
Keeping your spine neutral, deadlift the weight up and stay in the lockout position.
Bend the knees slightly and push your hips back until your hamstrings feel a stretch.
Keep the spine neutral and allow the weight to drop down.
Drive the weight up into your sternum area, keeping your elbows flared at a 45 degree angle.
Squeeze the shoulder blades hard for a second.
Lower the weight with control.
See STACK's video on YouTube to see what this looks like!
There are two general movement patterns when it comes to back training.
We've got the horizontal pull and the vertical pull. Both of which are important to incorporate into our training.
We already covered the first movement type with the barbell row, and we'll finish off the back exercises with the pull up.
This exercise also requires a lot of back and arm strength, as well as lots of core strength to keep stable and in a strong position to pull ourselves up.
Many people actually consider the pull up to be the king of all back exercises over anything else.
To do a pull up:
Hang on a pull up bar with a double overhand grip, just outside of shoulder width.
Draw the shoulder blades down and back. You should immediately feel tension in your back.
Pull yourself up by thinking about drawing your elbows down and together, into the side of your hips.
Pull yourself up until your chest reaches just below the bar.
Try to not kick with your legs or generate any momentum to cheat.
Lower yourself back down with control.
To see a demonstration of the pull up, watch the video below by CrossFit®!
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
The incline dumbbell bench press is one of the best exercises you can do to further develop strength and size in your upper body pressing muscles.
The inclined position of the bench is going to cause you to target your upper chest a little more, which is important to build up if you want to have a full looking torso and want to be strong in your compound pressing movements.
Of the 7 exercises, this is the one that we'd say it's the least important.
That's not to say that it ISN'T important, but it's not as important as the others.
This is because, we've already covered the muscles that the incline bench press targets with the flat barbell bench press.
Plus, the shoulder or overhead press also brings in the upper chest fibers a little bit, whether you choose to do them with dumbbells or a barbell.
Still, it is highly recommended that you incorporate this exercise into your training program.
Here's how to do the incline dumbbell bench press:
Grab a pair of moderately heavy dumbbells
Try to have a spotter with you for added safety.
Set the bench angle to anywhere between 15-30 degrees.
Lie on the bench, and keep your three points of contact the same (head, glutes and feet).
Kick the dumbbells up into your start position, which is with the dumbbells sitting in your hands next to your chest. (Bottom position)
Arch your back to create that gap between you and the bench.
Press the weight up, and squeeze the chest hard at the top.
Bring the dumbbells a little closer together for a better contraction.
Lower the weight back down with control until the dumbbells reach your chest level.
See the awesome video below by Scott Herman to see what this looks like!
To start weight training, it should be pretty obvious that you're going to need some weights.
Whether you choose to go to a gym for this or you choose to start your fitness journey at home is completely up to you.
However ideally you'd pay for a gym as it's going to be the cheaper option to start with, and you'll have instant access to everything that you need.
Plus, you won't have to commit as much money upfront.
This is a great bonus to have if you're still sitting on the fence and deciding whether or not you want to get into weight training.
It's not for everyone, and we'd hate for you to spend a ton of money on home dumbbells and home weight benches and then decide you don't actually enjoy weight training.
At the very basic level, you would want to have access to a weight bench and a barbell with a little bit of weight that you can add onto it.
Maybe up to 30-45kg so that you have a little room to grow.
However at a gym you're going to be able to access barbells, dumbbells in large weight ranges, machines (very useful), and more.
With this basic equipment you're going to be able to build up your foundational strength and muscle mass in weight training, and give yourself a strong base to build on.
The Best Type of Weight to Lift
In case you're wondering about the type of weight that you should be lifting (e.g. barbells, dumbbells or machines), we decided it would be a good idea to include a section on that in this post.
Really, there is no solid answer.
No kind of weight is going to be completely superior over the others.
Each one had its advantages or strong points, and it's all up to personal needs and preferences when determining the best type of weight for you to be lifting.
We'll briefly run you through the advantages of each one so that you can get a grasp of the idea.
Best for building total body strength
Engages stabilizing muscles to a large degree
Direct applications to weightlifting competitions
Engages the stabilizing muscles the most
Usually the longest range of motion
Good at fixing muscle imbalances
Best for muscular hypertrophy
Can lift the most weight
Good for isolating muscle groups
As you can see each type of weight does have its own benefits and advantages, and the 'best' one for you to be doing is going to be different to someone else's.
Take a look at the advantages of each one and use that to determine the one you should primarily be lifting with.
However, really, you should incorporate all three weight types into your training.
You want to reap the benefits of them all, and the best way to do that is simply to use them all.
Doesn't have to be in the same workout, but just try to do some lifting with each one here and there.
Getting Your Workout Plan Sorted
When you start with weight training, there's no doubt that you're going to want to have a workout plan of some sort.
You never want to head into the gym without a plan, as it's going to cause you to waste time and have a negative impact on the overall quality and satisfaction of your workout.
Whether you choose to find randomly one off the internet, try to create your own or get someone to make one specifically for you is completely your choice.
The last option is highly recommended as it's going to result in you running a workout program that actually suits you and your needs, and not the goals/needs of thousands of other people at the same time.
If you know how to create your own and you're sure it's going to be the most effective program for you possible, that's great.
You can skip this section and move onto the next.
However if you're a little unsure and you would simply like a specialized team to create one for you, we do offer that service here at Gympulsive too.
Click here to check that out.
Going in with a good plan is extremely crucial if you're serious about reaching your goals in fitness and really want to make a change in your life.
It's also important for you to note that within creating workout programs or plans, you're going to have to create workout routines.
We do cover the difference between these two terms in the article linked above, so go check that out now and learn more.
You would go about sorting out a training routine the same way you would go about sorting out your program.
You can either find one off the internet (not recommended), create your own (only recommended if you're sure you know how to do it properly) or get one made for you.
You can click here to check out our ultimate guide on creating your own workout routine if that's something you're wanting to learn how to do.
Once you've got all your workout routines and your workout program sorted, you're almost ready to go!
Things to Know Before You Begin
Before you begin your journey in weight training, here are a couple of things that we have to stress to keep you safe and training as efficiently as possible.
We'll list each one and then provide a brief explanation.
There Are 'Secrets' People Won't Tell You
When you first start weight training, there are lots of things that you really should know, but people will avoid telling you for one reason reason or another.
That girls don't care that much about your muscles
That in order to see results, you have to train hard
That you likely need less volume than you think
That access to a gym is not completely necessary in the first place
That chances are, no one is judging you
That you can't possibly spot reduce fat
That working out burns calories, not fat
For a full breakdown of each point and an explanation as to how these points impact you, click here to read our blog article.
Safety Always Comes First
No matter what you're doing, no matter the goals you're chasing, your safety should always come first as a priority.
We've said this before, and we'll continue to say it because people seem to find it very hard to understand.
It doesn't matter how much weight you're lifting or how hard you think you're working.
One bad injury is enough to set you back days, weeks, months or even for the rest of your life in some extreme cases.
Always, always make sure that whatever you're doing is safe, and that you're not going to end up hurting yourself.
You're Not Going to See Linear Progress
It's important for you to know that progress in fitness never comes linearly.
You're not just going to keep on seeing more and more gains.
Some months you're going to see great progress in terms of getting stronger and your body in the mirror, and other months you're going to feel weak and not see nearly as much progress.
This is completely normal, and it's expected even.
Nobody sees continuous results, and you're bound to experience many highs and lows throughout your career.
Take Advantage of Your Newbie Gains
When we first start exercising regularly, our bodies experience a phenomenon known as 'newbie gains'.
This is a period of time at the beginning of our fitness journey in which our bodies pack on strength and size extremely quickly.
Likely the quickest they ever will (unless you decide to hop on some kind of PEDs).
However, this phenomenon is only said to last about 6 months or less, and it's completely up to you to make the most of it.
You should try to learn as much as you can about training optimally and try to become the most proficient athlete you can be so that you can take full advantage of these newbie gains.
Train hard, train smart and take your workouts very seriously.
This is definitely something that we wish we'd known sooner in our fitness journeys!
Training Harder Isn't Always Going to Be Better
It's a common misconception among gym newbies that training as hard as possible all the time is going to lead to the best results.
And while this definitely does make sense and we can see they they would think this, there's more to it that you have to understand.
Whenever you train, there are recovery costs that your body has to pay in order to be able to train efficiently again in subsequent sessions.
Constantly taking your body to complete failure and training as hard as possible is going to result in your recovery costs being far too high to handle.
You're going to severely limit your ability to perform well in subsequent sessions, and likely even subsequent sets in the same workout!
The gains that you get and the progress that you see are influenced the most by how hard you train and your performance in the gym.
However, if you're constantly pushing your body to its limits and not giving it enough time to recover in between workouts, then your workout performance is going to take a big hit and you'll actually end up making less progress than you otherwise would have if you had just left a little bit in the tank.
The difference in recovery cost between going to absolute failure and leaving 2-3 reps in the take is quite large.
And by taking your sets close to (within 3 reps of) failure, you're going to get the most out of the work that you do, without causing your performance in future sets to suffer.
Really, the main point is to train hard most of the time, but not too hard.
You shouldn't notice your performance during your workouts suffering and dropping too much in between sets or sessions.
Learn more: 6 ways to be more productive on your rest days.
There are a couple more tips that you should really know before you begin your journey in the weight room or at home.
We've written a blog post covering the top 9 vital fitness tips that all beginners should know, which you should really have a read of if you're serious about becoming the best athlete you can be.
And after that, you've just got a couple more steps before you're ready to begin your journey!
What About Diet?
Your diet is just as important as your weight training itself when it comes to making the progress that you're hoping to see.
If you're not eating the right amount of food and giving your body the right fuel that it needs to perform and grow, you're going to end up wasting a lot of time, money and effort without much return at all.
Depending on your goals, the amount of calories that you should be eating each day is going to differ greatly.
For example, if you're looking to build some strength and muscle mass, you're going to want to eat in a caloric surplus.
However, if you're wanting to lose weight as your primary goal, then you're going to have to be eating in a calorie deficit in order to achieve this. Otherwise you won't make ANY progress towards your goals.
Click the link above to learn all you need to know about calories and picking the right range for you and your goals!
And once you're done reading through that post, you can click here to learn all about creating your own diet plan and get on top of your nutrition as well.
Or, you can hire someone to create a professional nutrition plan for you.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing this post Gympulsive does not offer this service.
Weight training is a great way to get into fitness and is an absolutely fantastic way to spend your time productively.
It's great for pretty much any fitness goal, whether you're trying to lose weight, gain strength or build muscle.
No matter what you're wanting to achieve, you can alter your weight training workouts and programs to suit them perfectly.
Done in conjunction with cardiovascular exercise, you've got all you need to become a solid athlete.
If you liked this post remember to share it with your friends on social media so we can reach more people!
We wish you the best of luck with your weight training journey.
Are you planning on starting weight training? Or do you already do it consistently?
Let us know down in the comments section below!