Last week I talked about how bodyweight exercises can really help improve your strength and help you start your journey to increase your fitness, build lean muscle, get your metabolism firing on all cylinders, increase your bone strength to benefit you later in life and generally make you feel great! Now we are moving on to using free weights, these could be dumbbells, barbells, sandbags, kettlebells etc all these have the same benefits as bodyweight exercises but you can start increasing the load that your body is 'resisting against', which you are unable to do using just your bodyweight.
So where do you start? Well again you need to ask yourself what you want to achieve from using this kind of resistance equipment. Then you need to study form, this is really THE most important part of starting any resistance exercise. If you don’t belong to a gym and don’t employ a PT then there are Youtube videos you can watch that give you great instruction on how to perform most exercises. It is also helpful to video yourself whilst doing these exercises so again you have something to work with. My only advice if your doing this on your own is start off really light, and get the technique and movement perfect before lifting heavy. You will increase your chances of injury if you just go ‘gung-ho’ into your program, ruining your chances of progress and even worst-case scenario picking up a chronic injury.
So form looks ok, now sort out your program, to do this you need to be sure what you want to achieve. Do you want to build muscle, get stronger, get leaner, grow bigger? There is so much you can do with weights, they are also a fantastic tool for any individuals who want to train specifically for their sports. For example, my main sport is indoor rowing but I use my weight sessions to strengthen my body and muscles, this decreases the chances of me picking up an injury so it lets me train for longer. The weights also help me become stronger in different parts of rowing stroke and build lean muscle making it a little easier to stay at my competition weight, they also increase my speed making me hit PBs regularly which also keeps my motivation and enthusiasm ignited. If you run then its worth looking at a program that will benefit your lower body, strengthening your muscles around your knees and ankles, it will really help you stay training for longer and can even help improve your times much like how it helps get me faster in my rowing sessions.
Right so your program is nearly there, you’ve decided to try muscle hypertrophy this is the term for the growth and increase of the size of muscle cells. The most common type of muscular hypertrophy occurs as a result of physical exercise such as using weights. Hypertrophy builds muscle mostly although strength and athleticism overlaps, primarily it causes your muscles to grow as it increases your muscle fibres. To achieve this you have to use ‘progressive overload’ - meaning you have to lift more weights to put more tension on your muscles this will make then break-down, repair and grow. The reps and sets will be typically for a beginner 8-12 reps with around 3 sets to be performed, rest of 1-2 mins. As you get more advanced you can swap around sets, reps and rests changing intensities of sessions. As with most fitness programs good nutrition and sleep is needed to aid good recovery so please bear this in mind.
There are other strength systems you can choose to shape your resistance programs, the one I have mentioned is hypertrophy which is a popular one, the other two are to increase strength or endurance. If you choose to increase your strength then your reps and sets will be lower with your rests longer and the intensity will be much higher as the loads will be heavier - if this is what your interested I suggest you get help/advice as form is a necessity when lifting heavy. Endurance combines low weights with high sets and reps increasing your muscle endurance with shorter rests - this type of training is favoured by endurance athletes such as long distance runners.
There is so much more to learn about lifting and weights, unfortunately it is a very misunderstood exercise especially by women, you can achieve so much cosmetically, in your physiology and also give yourself a fantastic mental boost at the same time. I always find lifting to be a great de-stresser and helps me refocus, maybe because my sessions have such long rests in between so I have a bit of time to just sit and think - something I don’t get to do in a busy home with 3 kids charging around!