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Everywhere from social media to your favorite tv shows you see people swole and in great shape.  If you were born that way and don’t have to work at looking buff then this is not the article for you. BUT, if you are like the others who want desperately to get in shape and are not sure where to start this beginner’s guide to weightlifting is a great place to start.

Many workout plans will tell you to choose a certain percentage of your one rep max (% of 1RM). This can be very confusing and wouldn’t even recommend a beginner to attempt to find a one rep max.


Doing an exercise for the first time can seem very awkward and you may feel like you are doing it wrong. This is perfectly normal! Even the most experienced lifters will feel awkward doing a new movement the first time. Gaining experience with a lift is key to doing it properly and effectively. So start off with many repetitions to gain that experience and get a solid movement pattern developed. This will be in the 12-15 rep range. (Rep=how many times a given weight is lifted) (Set=how many times you are doing the exercise)


Everyone has their own perspective on how difficult a certain number of reps or sets with a given weight. Start off with a good warm up. This will consist of 2-3 warm up sets with a lower weight than you will use with your working (harder sets). Pick a warm up weight and get an idea of how difficult that weight was. Ex) warm up sets with 25 pounds and difficulty of 4 out of 10. Now move on to working sets select a heavier weight. Aim for a weight that is between 6-8 of your own difficulty level of 1-10. If the weight you selected is too easy then pick a heavier weight for your next set. You are not forced in any way to keep the same weight selected! If it is too difficult then take the weight down a bit.


For a beginner I would recommend staying in the 12-15 rep range to get those movement patterns down before moving on to lower reps and heavier weight. 3-5 sets (not including warm up sets) is a good set range. You don’t always have to do warm up sets for every exercise in a workout, but it is a good idea starting out to get in at least one warm up set for each exercise selected. REMEMBER TO TAKE REST BREAKS! For beginners take at least 30-90 seconds rest between each set. If you do not take a proper rest you will feel more fatigued and less able to perform an exercise correctly. Select 4-6 different exercises for each session. A good workout time would be anywhere from 45-90 minutes total. No need to be in the gym all day but get in at least 45 minutes to develop good experience.



  • Get away from always using machines and select free weight movements (dumbbell and barbell)
  • If possible find a workout buddy (this can be anyone and of any fitness level)
  • Start off with learning new exercises
  • Do many repetitions to gain experience with different exercises
  • Stick to basic movements when first starting
  • Move on to lower reps after 4-6 weeks to build more strength (Ex. Doing more weight with less reps such as 5-8 reps with heavier weight)
  • Use resources to find new lifts/exercises/workout plans ( has many!)
  • Warm up with some simple cardio type movements (biking or run/walking on a treadmill)
  • Save actual cardio for after weight training (more energy for training using weights)
  • Focus on doing proper form of each exercise instead of focusing on how much weight you are lifting
  • Give your body a break! (try to give at least 36-48 hours rest before completing the same exercises or muscle groups worked)
  • Do not fear getting bulky! This is a common fear among women. It takes a lot of time to develop muscle. You are also way more likely to stay leaner putting on a little bit of muscle. (More muscle=greater fat loss/metabolic rate and better overall body composition)


Have fun! Find a workout plan that you enjoy and make you feel accomplished.


Ryan grew up in Richland Center, Wisconsin, and graduated from UW-Platteville, majoring in Health and Human Performance. He is a certified personal trainer, and Pro Natural Bodybuilder. In his spare time he enjoys hunting, fishing, running, and exploring historical sites and state and county parks. 

For more articles by Ryan Clark click here!


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