Hey all, I've seen a lot of threads on here seeking advice about fitness, exercise, and weight lifting as both a tool to improve their lives as well as an outlet for stress relief without turning to pornography. This will be my attempt to centralize these questions and those seeking advice into a single thread. My aim for this thread is to provide a good foundation of basic knowledge for those wanting to get into weight lifting but are not sure what to do or how to achieve their fitness goals. I would love to get other experienced weight lifters in on this project and help build a helpful and positive environment to help others get started on their journeys. Disclaimer: I am not a licensed fitness trainer or nutritionist. I simply enjoy researching these topics and have experience within this domain. Weight Lifting What is weight lifting? Weight lifting is an activity that involves lifting heavy objects in a certain motion that causes a muscle, or group of muscles, to contract in a certain way. Factors such as: amount of resistance/weight, amount of repetitions and sets, and the range of motion can all affect the contraction and contribute to the increase of strength, endurance, and size of the targeted muscle/s. Thus certain single lifts, such as the bench press, can be slightly altered so that either a certain part of that muscle or a certain group of muscles can be isolated and worked to a greater extent. This is why some lifts can have several variations. Such variations are typically achieved through the width or type of your grip, or some other modification. Reps and Sets Repetitions (reps) and sets, along with the weight you are using, are your main tools to achieve your fitness goals. So it is important to understand what a repetition and a set mean. Repetition: A single completion of the exercise motion with weight/resistance. Set: A fixed number of completed repetitions. Max: The heaviest weight you can lift to successfully complete one repetition of the exercise while still using proper form. There are typically 3 archetypal groups of reps and sets that achieve certain fitness goals; these are: strength, muscle gain, and muscle endurance. These archetypal groups dictate the weight, the amount of reps, and to some extent the number of sets you will want to do to maximize gains in those areas. Strength: Training for strength focuses on being able to lift heavier weights. While muscle gains will occur during this training, the focus is to obtain the strength to lift more weight. These exercises include heavy weight and a low amount of reps with a very long rest period between sets. Typically reps are within the 1-6 range and the weight should be close to your max. If you're unsure of what your max is, you can simply keep increasing the weight until the last repetition or two require great effort to complete. Muscular Hypertrophy: This type of training typically focuses on maximizing muscle mass development through a combination of heavy weight and medium amount of reps. Strength will also occur here, but just not as optimally as training for strength. Typically reps are within the 8-12 range, once again, the last couple of reps should require effort to complete. Muscular Endurance: This type of training typically focuses on maximizing muscle endurance, or rather the number of times a muscle can be used before exhaustion sets in. This type of training is often used to turn weight lifting into a more aerobic form of exercise. Typically reps are withing the 15-25 range with light weight, effort should come from being tired rather than having the strength to complete the repetition. Myth: Women should avoid muscular hypertrophy and strength training if they want to avoid being too muscular. - This is untrue, females do not have the same amount of testosterone in their bodies to build the same amount of muscle mass as males do in the same amount of time. There are multiple articles and scientific journal/peer-reviewed work done that have discounted this myth. So... how many sets then?: In terms of sets, this is more flexible and can be tuned to your tastes. I typically do 4 sets of 8 reps, but I'll also do 3 sets of 10 reps for certain exercises like the front squat. Also, do not be afraid to incorporate different types of archetypal training sets into your routine. For instance, I'll regularly rotate exercises like the dead lift into a strength focused format (i.e. 5 sets of 5 repetitions). Compound and Isolation Lifts Compound Lift: An exercise in which multiple joints and muscle groups are required in order to complete the range of motion of the exercise. Isolation Lift: An exercise in which only a particular muscle group is required in order to complete the range of motion of the exercise; typically only one joint is also used in these lifts. Most lifts that you are familiar with are most likely compound lifts. Lifts such as the squat, bench press, shoulder press, and deadlift are compound lifts. Compound lifts are great to get the most out of your time in the gym if time is limited, since they activate multiple muscle groups to complete the lift. Isolation lifts are great when focusing on working out a single muscle or muscle group, which require them to work harder in order to complete the exercise. Exercises such as the bicep curl and seated leg extensions are examples of isolation lifts. So is either strictly better than the other? I wouldn't say so, they are both equally important and should be used. However if you're just beginning in your weight lifting journey, compound lifts will be naturally more dominant in terms of the composition of your workout. Especially if you're starting out on a full body workout routine. When progressing to split training, more isolation lifts will most likely be added as you will have more time to focus on certain muscle groups along with the relevant compound lifts. Free Weights vs Exercise Machines Free Weight Exercise: A lift in which the resistance (i.e. a dumbbell) is moved about freely to complete the range of motion of the exercise. This movement is not restricted or predefined outside of the range of motion of the joint/s involved. Exercise Machine: A machine in which the range of motion of an exercise is predefined. This restricts the movement to a certain range, typically to that which is required to successfully complete the exercise. Both of these types of exercises serve a purpose, so I don't think either is strictly better than the other. Both compound and isolation exercises can be performed on both exercise machines and using free weights. Exercise machines are a great way to get used to a new lift and the proper form since their range of motion is limited to that of the lift. Machines also typically come with instructions somewhere on the machine, which is nice. They are also great if you have joint issues, as the stress of the resistance is not all placed onto your joints. However, free weights are more versatile in that you can perform variations of a particular lift; something that a machine might not allow. Free weights also place all of the resistance (weight) on you through the entire lift, whereas some of the resistance is naturally distributed among the cable and pulleys as you are doing the lift. Cable machines are a bit of a hybrid, in that they are typically attached to just a single pulley and the range of motion on these machines are greater than that of a regular exercise machine. Both are great and should be used! They also grant you flexibility in that you can do either the machine or free weight version of an exercise if the gym is crowded and a bench/machine/weight is not available for your to use. Split Training Split training is essentially how you compose your workout routine. There are many different ways to do this, ranging from full body workouts to training only a very specific group of muscles. If you are starting out I would highly recommend starting out with full body workouts and then progressing to split training. The primary benefit of split training is that you can more thoroughly workout specific muscle groups. This will allow you to increase the number of exercises that you can complete in a day and thus allow you to see more progress in your fitness goals more quickly. For instance, I follow a common split training called: Push/Pull/Legs. This split training is done by grouping muscle groups that contract/function in a certain way together in the workout; usually back/biceps, shoulders/chest/triceps, and legs (I also include core on leg day). Plateaus Plateau: A plateau is a period in which no progression, or even regression, occurs which in turn inhibit continued muscle and/or strength growth despite continued training. The dreaded plateau, we all hit it eventually, and they can be certainly frustrating! There are a multitude of different factors that can contribute to a plateau but two of the most common factors I have found to be are either overtraining and/or your body has adapted to your routine. If you are trying but have not been able to increase the weight on any of your lifts for several consecutive weeks, then it might be time to switch things up. I will discuss several ways to breakout of a plateau. Please note that there are many different methods that can help you out of a plateau, but I will be focusing on the more simple concepts that can help without having to go into more advanced topics like super-sets/drop sets, or failure overload training. Rest: This is especially true if you're overtraining. But taking a 4-7 day break to rest and recover periodically can help give your body more time to heal. Even two days of rest won't allow your body to full recover from training. Change the Set and Reps: If you're doing 4 sets of 8, do 3 sets of 12, or 4 sets of 10; adjust the weight as necessary to avoid injury and to maintain proper form. Changing the sets and reps will help "confuse" your body and force it to re-adapt. Modify your lift: Many lifts have variations or simple modifications to them that typically shifts the part of the muscle/s that are most heavily activated when performing the lift. For instance, using a wide grip while doing a barbell bicep curl will primarily activate the short head of the biceps brachii (inner bicep), while using a narrow grip will primarily activate the long head bicep brachii (outer bicep). Use a different lift: There are plenty of different exercises that work the same muscle group/s, don't be afraid to change things up and use a new lift that you've never done before! Just be sure you understand the proper form and technique of the new lift. This is also a great way to keep yourself engaged in your workouts, and you might find a new exercise in the process! Doing these simple changes can help you break out of that plateau and back onto the road of your fitness goals! Also one last thing, be sure that you are consistently giving it your all in every workout, it might not be a plateau, but rather you are not consistently trying to increase the weight of your workouts. Even if you can't complete a set with heavier weight, do as many as you can until failure, or right up to failure. Eventually you will be able to do all your sets with that weight, but it requires you to go get it, not to wait for it. Workout Routines This section will contain a few workout routines, please note that there are almost a limitless amount of ways you can compose a workout, so don't be afraid to tailor a workout routine to your wants and needs! Also, for the beginner workouts, I'm using the dumbbell variation of certain lifts, such as the bench press, for several reasons. Firstly, using dumbbells are a bit more user friendly, especially when going heavy as you do not need a spotter if you hit failure during a repetition. Secondly, dumbbells also allow for a bit finer grain in terms of resistance, you can more easily go up and down in weight without having to search for the right plates that may send you on a scavenging hunt around the gym. Full Body (Beginner) Dumbbell Bench Press 4x8 (4 sets of 8 reps) Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 4x8 Seated Triceps Extensions 3x10 Note: Exercise caution on this lift, if you feel as though you cannot complete another repetition then don't attempt it, you don't want to have the weight hitting you in the head, it hurts! Seated Alternate Dumbbell Curls 3x10 Barbell Back Squat 4x8 Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown 3x10 One-Arm Dumbbell Rows 4x8 Trap Bar Deadlift 5x6 Note: The classic deadlift can be performed instead, the difference is that the classic dead lift activates the gluteal and lower/mid back muscles more intensely. If time is an issue, you can alternate between the dumbbell rows and lat pulldowns as well as the trap bar deadlifts and back squats between each session of your workout days. Rest should be about 90 seconds between each set, but it's perfectly fine if you need more or less time. The rest should be long enough for you to recover adequately enough to complete the next set. General AdviceProper Form: For the love of God, please ensure you execute a lift using the proper form and technique. This is vitally important so that you can avoid injury, possibly serious injury, while performing the exercise. Rounding the back while deadlifting 280 lbs is at best gonna leave you with a very sore back and at worst herniate a disc. Be sure to know the proper way to do the exercise. Bad form can also impede in achieving your fitness goals. If you're not sure how to do an exercise, ask someone. Whether that is an employee/trainer at your gym or a guy/girl who seem to know what they are doing. Trust me, most of us would love to help you out rather than watch you hurt yourself or do the exercise improperly. Don't Neglect the Negative Phase: The range of motion of a lift/exercise can be broadly divided into two phases, the positive and negative phase. The positive phase is when your muscle/s are contracting to move the weight. The negative phase is when your muscle/s begin to elongate back to their at rest position after, or before, the contraction; such as the lowering of the bar towards your chest during the bench press. Believe it or not, you are actually stronger in the negative phase of a lift, this phase is also where most of micro-trauma occurs. If you are wanting to add muscle mass and get the most out of a lift, don't neglect the negative phase of an exercise! Be in control as you enter the negative phase of the exercise. Go Light in the Beginning: For the first few weeks I highly recommend that you go light on the weight and give your body time to adjust to weight lifting. Even if you feel good and can go heavier, I wouldn't recommend it. I've done this before when first lifting and I literally woke up in the middle of the night with my limbs locked into place from stiffness and I had to stretch them to get them to functionally properly which hurt like hell. Drink Water: Water is vitally important, not just to life, but to exercise as well. Proper hydration will allow your body to recover more quickly during your rest days as well as help prevents muscle cramps. To be continued... I'm tired right now, but I will continue to flesh this post out through the week, if anybody has any more tips/advice/questions, feel free to comment below!