Originally from Clonakilty, Colin Murphy is a fitness professional, workout specialist, founder of the fitness website properlybuilt.com, certified personal trainer, author and blogger. He is an Ironman, sub 3-hour marathon runner, occasional CrossFitter and all-round fitness fanatic.
Standing in front of a wall of dumbbells of all sizes can be quite daunting, even for an experienced exerciser. For someone who doesn’t have any idea which pair to pick up, the choice can be a highly frustrating mix of testing a few, struggling with a couple more, before finally giving up and walking disappointedly to the changing room. The fact that you are standing there and ready to take on the free weights section of your gym means you are prepared to take things up a notch, and shows you have the fortitude to make a good choice for your body and your goals. For a total beginner, weight machines are a great start, but if you want the best results possible then you will eventually have to progress to free weights. With a few simple guidelines you’ll be mastering your weights programme and walking around assuredly in no time!
Four guidelines for a confident weight selection:
How heavy and how many times?
This is by far the number one question that I get from my female clients. As I’ve spoken about before, the fear of bulking up is still felt by women new to weight lifting, even though, thankfully, that myth is disappearing little by little. The aim, when weight training for most women, is not to put on size but to build strength and shape. Words such as ‘leaner’ and ‘more toned’ often pop up in conversation. That wonderful shape you see from the women you admire comes from lifting a weight that is not too heavy, but is challenging all the same.
We are looking to be able to lift a weight ten times. As I’ve said, it has to be a little demanding to get that lean toned muscle we are after. Therefore, a bit of experimentation is needed. Pick a weight and try lifting it ten times, doing the exercise of your choice…let’s say shoulder press. As you go through the reps, your aim is to have rep numbers 8, 9, and 10 be difficult. Yes, you can finish to ten but it certainly isn’t a breeze! This number of reps allows us to push ourselves to develop shapelier muscle, but not to the point of coming anywhere near bulking up (If you are a beginner, then lighter weights will help you adjust to the new movements you will be doing). Aim for three sets of ten with a ninety second rest between sets.
How long have you been training? Bodies develop in a certain pattern as you train and build yourself into something new. First come the strength and neuromuscular gains and later the physical shaping begins to show on your body. A man or woman who has been active all their lives will have a pre-programmed ability to move themselves more naturally and efficiently than someone new to exercising. This is important to note, both for your own motivation and as an injury prevention measure. You most certainly will not be able to go at the same pace as your more experienced friend, and that’s OK! Don’t feel pressure to keep up with others. You are on your own individual journey that will take you to that health, strength and shape you desire. Be patient with yourself and always go at a pace that is comfortable for you, and allows you to continue lifting with correct technique and intensity.
We’ve all pushed ourselves to go to the gym when we really didn’t want to. Most of the time you quickly snap out of this funk after warming up for ten minutes, but other times you just struggle through. You are going to have off days because of tiredness, personal issues, or simply life throwing something unexpectedly at you. On these days it’s very acceptable and wise to reduce the weight you are lifting by about ten percent to give your body and mind a chance. This could happen as often as once a month, so as long as you are aware that these days are normal, you won’t beat yourself up over it. Whenever I am in no mood to train, I quickly reduce my weight and, at times, change up my routine so that I quickly get some fast wins and build up momentum. This helps me to power through the session and leave feeling like I have accomplished as much as a regular session. The more you regularly train, the more often you’ll know when to truly nurture yourself and when to push past what you’re feeling.
When you weight train for the first time, you’re going to be sore the next day. Your body will have experienced something it has never gone through before. Weight training pushes your body out of its normal state and therefore you’re going to get some push back. This comes in the form of muscle soreness. Training causes tiny micro tears in your muscle fibres. It is when your body repairs these tears that the muscle and your body get stronger. Learn to celebrate the soreness! It’s your body’s way of letting you know that it’s busy building an updated version of you. Some soreness lasts two or three days so don’t let this give you an excuse to miss a session. Unless you have injured yourself and are in some serious pain, then regular muscle soreness should not stop you from getting your next gym session in. Get back to the gym and crush your next workout. You’re learning a new skill so enjoy that initial struggle. I promise it doesn’t last too long, and in no time at all you’ll be lifting like a seasoned pro.