By: Hana Burkly
Photos by: Jessica Li
Since so many of our readers enjoyed our op-ed piece on weight lifting for girls, we asked guest writer Hana Burkly to grace us once again with a some more of her fitspiration [fitness inspiration]. Here’s what she considers need-to-know info for when it comes to lifting – she even includes some illustrated moves to get your started! Check out her advice – we’ll see you in Yates for leg day.
TOP 6 TIPS FOR BEGINNER LIFTERS
- Form: Never sacrifice good form for excess weight. It’s not about how much weight you lift, it’s about technique – plus, good form will make you look like a weight room expert.
- Reps: Aim for roughly 3-4 sets of about 8-12 reps. Allow yourself to rest for 30 seconds or so in between sets. PRO TIP: If you get to the twelfth rep and you haven’t even broken a sweat, it’s too light for you. Add weight.
- Spot: If you plan to step it up and add more weight than usual, be sure to always have someone spotting you.
- Rest: Don’t overwork your muscles. You should be working them hard enough session that they’re sore the next day, but if your muscles are sore, don’t push those same muscles the following day. Instead, focus a different muscle group.
- Breathe: While you’re completing a lift, breathe in during the easier part and out during the harder part. For example, if you’re lifting something from the ground, you should breathe in as you lower the weight, and out as you use your muscles to pick it up.
- Rotate: Never feel bad about resting at a machine or bench between your sets. If you want to rest for a little longer and someone is waiting to use the equipment that you’re on, consider opting to switch on and off, with one person completing a set while the other rests.
TOP 5 MOVES FOR BEGINNER LIFTERS
1. Chest: Bench Press
If you’ve never done a bench press before, start with just the weight of the bar and have a friend there to spot you. Lie down on the bench facing up so that the bar is over your head. Find the middle of the bar, and place your hands equidistant away from the middle, making sure they are wider than shoulder length apart. Lift the bar off of its support pegs and straighten your arms, letting them reach a 90 degree angle away from your body. Bend at the elbows and bring the bar down, so it’s hovering right over your sternum. Return it to the start position, and repeat.
PRO TIP: Focus on keeping your shoulder blades close to one another. This allows you to use your arm and chest muscles, instead of your shoulders, which is the correct form when it comes to this technique. Remember to look up at the ceiling, not down at the bar.
Variations: Experiment with different hand grip widths to target different muscles in your chest. Feel free to try the incline and decline benches when doing bench presses, which can help to target lower and upper chest muscles.
2. Biceps: Curls
Pick the barbell up off the floor with your palms facing up. Stand straight and let the barbell hang down with your arms holding it in front of you. Raise the barbell up while keeping your elbows at your side, like you’re flexing. Once the barbell reaches just below the level of your chin, slowly lower it back to original position. Repeat.
PRO TIP: Don’t just let the weight drop once you’ve reached the “flex” position. Execute the entire motion slowly and smoothly, focusing on the muscles you are using to lift and lower the weight.
Variations: You can also use dumbbells for this exercise instead of a barbell, and focus more on flexing one arm at a time.
- Upper back: One-arm dumbbell rows
Place your left hand and left knee on the bench. Hold the dumbbell in your right hand and place your right foot on the ground to stabilize yourself. Let the arm with the dumbbell hang down at your side, and use the muscles in your upper back, neck, and shoulders to bring your arm up to a 90 degree position. Lower the dumbbell and repeat for a set, then switch sides.
PRO TIP: Think of the motion as if you’re starting a lawnmower. It’s a pulling-up motion. Make sure to keep your shoulders squared when doing this exercise. Don’t use your entire body to try and muscle the dumbbell up.
Variations: If you want to do both arms at once, you can lie face down on an incline bench, so that your body is at a 45-degree angle. With a dumbbell in each hand, pull upward with the same motion as above, focusing on keeping your shoulder blades together.
- Lower back: Deadlifts
Start with a barbell on the ground. Stand up straight and position your feet shoulder-width apart at an equal distance from the center of the bar. Your knees shouldn’t be locked, but instead bent slightly. Bending at the hip, lower your upper body so that you can grab the bar with your hands. Grasp the bar with your palms facing down, and space your hands further apart from each other than your legs, so that each arm brushes the outer side of each leg. Once you are in this position and have a comfortable grip, use your gluteal and lower back muscles to lift your upper body back up. Dig the heels of your feet into the ground to help you complete this movement. You should now be standing straight, with your knees slightly bent and your arms hanging down in front of you holding the bar. Squeeze your gluteal muscles in this position. Then, slowly lower the bar to the ground, pause, and repeat.
PRO TIP: Keep your lower back straight, not curved. You should only bend at the hip, and everything else should stay stable. This is very important in order to minimize your risk of injury.
Variations: If your hands are not used to lifting a heavy bar, you may find that your fingers and forearms give out before your legs and lower back do. If this is the case, try an alternating grip — instead of holding the bar with both hands facing down, flip one hand over so that the palm is facing upward. Adjust the spacing of your hands so that you are still holding the bar at an equal distance from the center, and lift as you normally would.
- Legs: Leg Press machine
Sit on the machine as shown. The machine should be in the “locked” position, which means that if you remove your feet from the press, it won’t simply fall down. To “unlock” the press, place your feet on it, evenly spaced, and extend your legs so that the press gets lifted off of its support pegs. With your legs extended, grab the handles on either side of the machine and push them away from you. Now, when you bend your legs the press will follow, and you will feel the weight of it. Bend your legs to 90 degrees, hold for a moment, and then slowly push back up to the original position. To put the machine in “locked” position, with your legs in the fully extended position, take the handles on either side of you and pull them inward to put the pegs back in place. Now, the leg press will rest on those pegs, and you can give you legs a break.
PRO TIP: Don’t fully extend your legs so that your knees lock. You should extend to an almost-locking position, but never all the way, so as to protect your joints.
Variations: You can “press” one leg at a time if you tend to favor one leg over the other and want to make sure that they become equally strong. Remember to cut the weight you usually use in half when doing this.