Now that we have a good understanding of the fundamentals of nutrition, it is time to talk about the fundamentals of weight training. The next step in your fitness journey! It is very important for you to learn these fundamentals in order to know how to start weight training in the proper way. The most important thing in my opinion when it comes to starting out is laying a solid foundation, this will set you up for success and progression down the road. To me there are 3 main principles involved in laying a solid foundation, these are:
- Foundation of Mobility
- Proper Warm-Up Prior to Lifting
- Proper Usage of Weight and Technique
Foundation of Mobility:
Having a good foundation of mobility is extremely important for many things, such as injury prevention, full range of motion, executing lifts with proper form, etc. These are all tightly correlated. I like to think of mobility as a 2 pronged fork, there is joint mobility and then there is muscle flexibility (both correlated, however, they have an effect in different ways). Joint mobility will allow your joints to move to a degree capable of executing lifts with proper technique and movement patterns. Muscle flexibility has similar benefits, however, like I said they work in a different way. If poor, they restrict proper technique due to the muscle(s) being tight, and this would not be a joint related issue (unless you have a problem with both).
For example, in a squat you may have the required ankle mobility at the joint to allow your knees to end up in the proper spot, however, a tightness in your calf may prevent this from happening.
Now you are probably wondering how to see if you have sufficient mobility. There are two different pathways to this in my opinion, the first one would be to do some digging and find a good local personal trainer to help guide you through laying this solid foundation of mobility. You will also likely learn many other things from this personal trainer, which is also a huge benefit! The second pathway and the one that I used personally just out of coincidence, mainly includes starting slowly from the ground up and doing lots of self-learning from trusted resources.
I will list some of these trusted sources below (I have learnt a ton of quality information from them). From here you can use them to research mobility information and what may be restricting you, as well as proper form on the compound exercises and what is required to achieve that. The main ones include the squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press. After completing a good amount of research, I would suggest trying to perform these exercises in the gym with extremely light weights (when I say light I mean the barbell alone or less if needed). If you have difficulty performing these lifts correctly, there is a good chance you have some mobility issues.
From there I would work on addressing these issues through more research and self-learning. I would also suggest taking videos of your different lifts, this will help to notice where you are facing mobility issues and how it can relate to form breakdown. (I will list some examples below). You should start to notice progress with form once you work on these possible mobility issues.
Possible Mobility Issues & The Form Breakdown They Can Cause (For The Squat):
- Ankle Mobility (allows your knees to move past your toes): If you lack this, it can cause rounding in the lower back (butt wink) which is hard on the lumbar spine, can also make you unbalanced on your feet
- Hip Mobility (allows your hips to hinge and flex properly to help hit parallel and execute correct form): If you lack this, it can cause rounding in the lower back, can also cause you to be unbalanced on your feet
- Thoracic Spine Mobility (allows for a healthy arch in the upper mid back): If you lack this, it can cause your chest to fall forward, can also cause rounding in the lower back, can cause you to be unbalanced on your feet as well
As you can see, all 3 of these possible mobility issues can lead to similar form breakdown problems. This tells us that all 3 need to be in check if we want to have proper squat form.
It is also worth noting that there are certain stabilities you want to have to perform a squat with proper form, one of which includes knee stability. If you lack it then it could cause another form breakdown problem known as knee cave. For this and other stabilities you need for the squat, as well as mobility, I would suggest visiting Squat University as he has some great in-depth articles to give you some more information.
I also wanted to make you aware of how the purposes I mentioned for different joint mobilities such as “allows your knees to move past your toes”, shouldn’t be taken at face value for overall proper form. This is because there are different circumstances relative to the individual where you need to find what works for you.
Check out Squat University as well as the other resources I have listed a little below to get a full understanding of the form for the different movements.
There is one acceptation to the second method. If you are quite overweight or are un-athletic and do not have good coordination, this probably won’t be the best method for you. This because these would most likely be limiting factors that would need to be addressed in a different way. For this there are different solutions, however, I feel the best thing would be to talk with a reputable personal trainer as they can further guide you through your specific circumstances.
Like anything to do with weight training, especially when starting, there is always a chance of injury occurring. These are just a couple methods that I would suggest to help get you started with laying that solid foundation. For me personally, looking back on other routes I could’ve taken, these would be some of the better options.
Good sources for learning proper technique and mobility/stability information:
Proper Warm-Up Prior to Lifting:
Warm-Ups are a huge part of my lifting routine and something I do every training session. The 2 main reasons for warming up is for injury prevention and better performance. For me personally, I notice a huge positive difference in how I feel and how ready I am to lift when I execute a proper warm-up.
I like to use a 4 step warmup routine, this ranges between 15 and 20 minutes depending on the muscle group(s) I am working. As well as if there is something specific I am trying to focus on such as a certain muscle being tight. This 4 step warm-up approach goes as follows:
- Aerobic/Heart Rate Increase Exercise – Helps to get your heart rate up and the blood moving, I find this makes me more alert and ready to go, also allows for a good transition into the next portion of the warm-up
- Foam Rolling & Mobility/Stretching – Helps loosen muscles, increase mobility and overall readiness of the muscles
- Muscle Priming – Focuses specifically on the muscles that will be getting worked, primes/activates them to help with them turning on/firing properly and efficiently during exercises
- Exercise Specific “Work Up” – A gradual work-up in weight with the specific exercise you’re doing, helps muscles transition more safely and effectively as the weight increases, I personally notice a great degree of positive change in how the working sets feel when doing this
I got these warm-up guidelines from Squat University.
I personally do all of these during my warm-up every time. I typically do 5 minutes of number 1 at a moderate intensity (you can adapt this relative to you). I then move on to do about 2-3 minutes of foam rolling and about 5 minutes of primarily mobility work. However, I do sometimes include stretching if the muscle(s) I will be working are feeling tight. I then move onto muscle priming which typically takes me about 5 minutes. I am then ready to move onto the exercise specific work-up. I don’t include this in my overall warm-up time as we have already gotten our body ready to go and have moved on to the main movement. My work-up does however usually take between 5 and 10 minutes. For upper body focused movements I am usually on the lower end of these times or less than, however, for lower body focused movements I am usually on the higher end of these time frames. The times for you may vary depending on your specific needs. Here is an example warm-up that I will do for deadlift/pull day:
- 5 minutes on stationary bike
- 2-3 Minutes of foam rolling on my lower body and upper back (do not foam roll your lower back), with an emphasis on particularly tight muscle groups
- Thoracic spine, low back, and hip mobility as well as stretching certain muscle groups for a short duration if they are tight
- Priming of my scapula, low back, glutes and hamstrings
- An appropriate work-up in weight with the deadlift, this usually consists of 8-10 reps of the bar, 6-8 reps with 95lbs, 4-6 reps with 135 lbs, 2-4 reps with 155 lbs, 1-2 reps with 185 lbs, I then continue with my working sets from there.
Again, I would like to emphasize that warm-ups are largely intended to reduce the risk of injury while lifting, with that being said, like everything there is still a chance of injury. This is the specific warm-up template that I use, however, yours may differ depending on your needs. Especially so with the work-up in weight as it is dependent upon your strength levels.
Proper Use of Weights and Technique:
Now that we have covered laying a solid foundation of mobility as well as properly warming up, it is time to talk about the actual lifting part of our training. This is the part where the work will be done, thus it is important to use proper weight and technique to maximize the effectiveness of our training as well as reduce the risk of injury as much as possible.
Your technique will be dependent upon the weight that you use. When you’re starting out, if you go too heavy your form may break down as a result of loads your not used to. On the flip side, using too light of a weight for large amounts of reps may also result in form breakdown. I think the best option for starting would be to use a lighter weight for a moderate amount of reps that you are able to control throughout the whole set with the same technique and speed. With that being said, don’t get complacent with this method as this is not what will yield results. This is to help you lay a solid foundation of form, especially for the major compound lifts.
From here I would progressively increase the weight you are using to a point where it is challenging to complete the same number of reps (while maintaining perfect form). I would then suggest to continue increasing the weight, however, start to lower the reps. This will allow you to start feeling heavier weight while maintaining proper form. As far as challenging higher rep sets go, being adjusted to heavier weights should have good carry over to these types of sets as well. However, I wouldn’t suggest worrying about them for a while.
I want to make it very clear that after you lay a solid foundation of form, you want to be picking weights that are challenging. However, you should never be picking weights that prevent you from having full control over your form throughout the entirety of your sets. Don’t take the shortcut and stack a bunch of weight on the bar to benefit your ego. In the long run, as far as injury prevention and strength and size progression goes, using proper form from the beginning will be best.
Weight training and fitness as a whole is a marathon, not a race. Put it this way, picking a weight that is too heavy for you, thus forcing you to compensate and have improper form will challenge you. This will do so in an unsafe manner and will likely not be using the muscle(s) you’re trying to target to their fullest. Using a weight that may not be as much, but moving it with proper form will still yield the same difficulty level and focus more on the muscles you are trying to target, with less of a chance of injury.
I hope this article was able to help give you a fundamental understanding of how to start weight training, and I wish you luck as you progress through your fitness journey! As always, if you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to leave them below and I will be sure to reply!
Until Next Time,
Please refer to my liability disclaimer to ensure you know who is responsible for use of this information after reading.