Whether you want to gain muscle mass, lose weight, look better, or feel better, it is wise to consider adding weight lifting to any workout you are currently doing. Or begin the foundation of any long term exercise routine with a few months spent in a gym getting stronger overall.
The benefits to weight lifting are numerous:
- You will have a much easier time performing everyday tasks such as lifting or moving objects of any size, dimension, or weight.
- You will increase your metabolism, and with a higher resting metabolic rate you will burn more calories per day by doing the same things you have always done.
- You can’t get rid of fat just in certain areas (such as your love handles). The only way to get rid of fat is to use it up as energy at an overall rate. Having extra muscle mass will help you burn more fat and calories overall, especially with intensive exercise.
- You will look better because you will be more “toned“. People will notice the difference.
- You will feel better. Mainly because everything, even walking to your car or carrying groceries, will be easier for you. Also because of little things called endorphins and the numerous other small benefits you gain that add up to a lot by working out.
Now on to the weight lifting routine I will give you…
The best way to form any weight lifting routine is to plan each workout based on the major muscle groups. For this routine we will mainly focus on three major muscle groups: legs, chest and triceps, back and biceps.
One can understand why legs are a group of there own, but let me explain further why chest and tricep exercises are grouped together, and why back and bicep exercises are grouped together.
To begin with, your legs basically have two motions, much like the rest of the body, they can move up or down, forward or back. It is easy to do an exercise that emphasizes each of these movements in a single day’s workout.
Chest and tricep exercises are grouped together because these muscles all work together to push things away from the body. Likewise, back and bicep exercises all work together to pull things toward the body.
Let me explain why this works after I show you a basic routine anyone can use and modify to start a weight lifting program.
- Squats – This is the foundational leg workout and many weight lifters focus primarily on this workout. I even recommend doing bodyweight only squats in my daily morning exercise routine. To do them properly one should either use a squat machine, a rack and bar with a spotter, or dumbbells or kettle balls. For most beginners I would recommend starting with dumbbells and working up from there.
The key to this exercise and all the following exercises is that proper form is more important how much weight you are actually lifting. You may want to watch youtube videos on all the exercises I list here, but I will do my best to explain them in writing.
For our dumbbell users you will start in the squatted with the weights besides you on the floor, for everyone else you will start in the standing position and move the weight backward off the rack or machine. Follow the following tips and you should be fine… You should have your chest up, shoulders back, elbows back, looking forward, toes pointing outward at about 30 degrees, feet about shoulder width or slightly further apart. Go slow down, fast up.
To find out how much weight you should be working with you should start by finding out your max lift. (And in fact, this is one exercise that can certainly be practiced with just body weight first.) To do this grab a weight that seems reasonable (maybe two 25 pound dumbbells or less to begin) and try to do one squat with it. If you can’t get off the ground do less weight. If that seems too easy add more weight. To find out your true max weight you should really be struggling to lift that amount of weight once.
Once you discover your max weight you can form an exercise routine based off that. For instance if your max weight is 60 pounds you will want to do a number of reps with weights below that much. I would start out by doing a set of 8 reps with 30 pounds, a set of 6 reps with 40 pounds, and a set of 4 reps with 50 pounds. As you get comfortable with that you can increase your reps to 10,8, and 6 respectively for the same amounts of weight. Once you get comfortable with that you can increase the weight another 5-10 pounds. Whatever makes sense to you. By doing a progressive program like this you will continually get stronger and gain more muscle.
- Lunges – Lunges are another great leg workout because they will help you to work on you forward and backward motions, instead of your up and down motions. I recommend using dumbbells for both beginners and advanced people, but I do see many people still using a bar.
Lunges can be done with about the same weight as squats. Most likely you will use less weight on lunges because it is much harder to maintain your balance. The same rules as above apply here too. Find the amount of weight you are comfortable with. Start with a 8-6-4 routine, work up to a 10-8-6 routine, then increase your weight.
To do a lunge start with your feet shoulder width, take a step forward so as to make your front foot and back foot anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 feet apart depending on your height. (The taller you are the further you have to step.) In this position your front foot should be flat on the ground and your back foot should be on the toes. Now when you lower yourself into the lunge your back knew should aim straight to the floor, and your front knee should not go past your toes. In other words, there should be no more forward motion. Your back knee should not touch the floor. You should start your upward motion before your back knee has a chance to touch. Finish by bringing your feet together again at shoulder width apart. (if you are confined by space you can also do a backward lunge although most people wouldn’t recommend doing these)
- Leg Presses and/or Hack Squats – If you are lucky enough to have these machines in your gym you should consider using them. Unlike Squats and Lunges they will not use all the stabilizer muscles, but they are great for isolating the quads and hamstrings.
Again, the same number of sets and reps to weight ratio that we mentioned above can be used here. However, I often like to get a good “burn” workout on these machines. To do this you pick a weight that you would normally do 10 reps with pretty easy. Then you do 3 sets of 20 reps with this weight as quickly as you can while at the same time keeping good form. (Reminder good form trumps more weight)
Good form on these machines means doing the full range of motion. This means you will move from your legs being straight (Do NOT lock your knees) to your legs moving at least into a 90 degree angle and possibly a little further. As with all these exercises, start with a lower weight, and work your way up. Just because it is a machine exercise doesn’t mean you can cheat. The more you cheat on these exercises, the more you waste your time, and cheat yourself.
- Leg Curls & Leg Extensions – These are also common machines in a gym and I would recommend following the directions I used on leg presses above. The most important thing to remember is that, with machines, proper form means doing the full range of motion. If you move the bar 3 inches you are not doing the exercise. Fully extend your legs to straight, and fully curl your legs to your butt.
- Calf Raises – These can be done using dumbbells or the bar/machine you used for squats. You can use practically the same weight as well, but it is good to start lower and work your way up. A lot of people use a block so they can lower their calves down lower but it is not necessary. Like you will see with shoulder shrugs later, you simply need to raise your calves as high as they can go, then slowly let them back down. Do 3 sets of 20.
Chest and Tricep Workouts
- Bench Press – This is your bread and butter. Don’t neglect it. Proper form and ever increasing weight are key. Extend your arms out directly in front of you (yes, do it now). Your chest and shoulder muscles are keeping your arm raised, your triceps keep your arms extended. You can make this same movement below you, directly in front of you, or above you. The progression goes from decline press, standard bench press, incline press, to shoulder press (military press). Beginners should focus on the standard bench press and the shoulder press, while more advanced people can try the other ones.
You should always have a spotter for a bench press, for most exercises in fact. Even if you can handle the weights yourself they serve at least three purposes. To help you lift the highest weight possible, to help you work on your form, and as an extra safety measure. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most gyms are filled with great people who love to help each other when they get a chance. I personally love talking about workouts with random strangers in between sets. It’s great fun!
Proper form still rests in the 90 degree angle. After you lift the weight off the rack you will bring it down to at least a 90 degree angle (the angle formed with your elbow) and possibly a little further. To get maximum results you should move slowly down, and fast up. You hands should be about shoulder width apart or slightly further. Your sets and reps will still follow the above routine (8-6-4 reps at around 60-70-80% of max weight —-> 10-8-6 reps —-> increase weight and start over at 8-6-4). Your personal goal here should to eventually be able to bench your weight.
- Dumbbell Press – Same as above except with dumbbells, except much more useful when you don’t have a spotter. Although you still may want to use one up near your max weight.
- Shoulder Press/Military press – This is one of my favorite exercises. Technically this is an isolation workout for the shoulders, but certainly helps the triceps as well so I like to include it with this group. This also can follow the same general rules of the bench press. Same sets and reps, and also lowering the bar to a 90 degree angle in your elbows. This can also be done on a machine (more isolation) or bar (more use of stabilizer muscles)
- Tricep Pull Downs – You need a cable system to do these. Attack a V-handle or rope to one side of the cable system and set the cable pulley to the top position so the bar/rope is hanging in front of you. Once again, find your max weight by doing one rep with an ever increasing weight until you find the weight you can’t do and move back down one.
Because you are isolating the triceps more in this exercise it is once again beneficial to do higher reps at a weight thats manageable. For this we will go back to our 3 sets of 20 reps strategy. If you start feeling like you can do more than 20 reps for each of the 3 sets increase the weight.
Proper form here requires you to once again do the full range of motion. Stand shoulder width apart, grab the bar/rope (it should be roughly in front or slightly below your face), pull straight down until your arms are fully extended (do NOT lock your elbows).
- Cable Crossovers – Another great workout when you can actually have use of the full cable system at the gym. Believe me, the cable system is a hot commodity because of all the varied exercises you can do on it. These can be done in the high rep manner (3 x 20) or with higher weights (3 sets of 8-6-4 reps). I’d say it is your personal preference, but I would lean toward doing higher reps because this is another isolation exercise.
- Chest Dip – I almost didn’t mention because it is a body weight exercise, but it is still useful and can be modified a lot of different ways. Preferably your gym or something you can rig at home allows you to lift yourself up on bars and dip low enough so you don’t touch the ground. Might be useful to look this up on youtube. You can also have your heels on the floor and perform this between two benches, two chairs, or simply with your arms behind you on a single bench. Each way has it’s advantages so experiment with them.
Back and Biceps
- Row Machine – Once again, if you have it, use it. A row machine allows you to be in a seated position with your feet firmly rested on a metal platform and it allows you to pull a large amount of weight on a cable system. I love this exercise because I really love working my back out. It is a huge muscle group and can take a lot of abuse before it gives out.
Once again, find your max weight, and work on your 8-6-4’s until you can hit your 10-8-6’s, then increase your weight and go back to 8-6-4 reps again. Simply as pie!
Proper form consists of firmly planted feet, slightly bent knees (remember never lock them), and a movement that goes from fully extended (don’t lock those elbows), to fully upright. Make sure you are doing the full movement. Pull the bar to your waist while straightening your lower back. Pull your shoulders back and push your chest forward while arching your back. Return until your arms are extended, your shoulders are stretched forward, and your lower back is flexed forward.
- Bent Over Rows – I like these even more because they don’t require a machine, use only dumbbells and can be done anywhere. This is considered more of a full muscle group movement even though it seems like you might be isolating the muscles so use the 8-6-4 and 10-8-6 method.
Proper Form requires you to place your left knee and hand on a bench while reaching down to pick up the dumbbell with your right hand. Bring the dumbbell up to your chest in a fast motion while lowering it back down to the ground in a slow motion. Repeat with the opposite hand.
- Deadlift – This is another weightlifter bread and butter exercise. However, because it is an exercise that requires very good form that is hard to learn, and because it is easy to get injured doing this exercise, I will not include it here except to mention it. I recommend all advanced weightlifters incorporate this into their routine though because it is one of the best full body workouts you can do.
If you insist on including this exercise in your routine, watch a whole bunch of videos, and get a personal trainer or someone knowledgeable to assist you. Practice perfect form first with little to no weight. Use the lightest bar you can find, and very slowly increase your weight. Trust me, this is one exercise you can not afford to have poor form on, especially with a lot of weight. In fact, all the big muscle group exercises (squats, bench press, deadlifts, clean & press, etc. require awesome form and a trainer/spotter to help you perform them at the highest level you can). This is where a personal trainer is worth their hourly weight if you are interested in getting really good.
For the rest of us, I recommend getting a workout ball to practice all your core exercises, including your back. This will be sufficient for just about everyone out there.
- Cable Pull Down – One of my favorites (can you tell I love back exercises?), and the best exercise to get great looking lats. The muscles that are on the sides of your body that wrap around to the spine.
These exercises should follow the 8-6-4 and 10-8-6 reps method. Again find your max weight and go from there. Proper form again requires you to go fast on the down movement, and slow on the up movement for maximum effect. Once again, a full motion means you should pull the bar down to at least a 90 degree angle in your elbow, preferably all the way to your upper chest. Also remember that the bar goes in front of your head, not behind, to prevent injury.
- Bicep Curls – While not my favorite exercise, these round out the pulling exercises. A machine is good here for isolation, but you could probably use a bar or dumbbells while resting your arm on a bench as well. Remember form is still key here. You should extend all the way, (without locking your elbows out) and pull in as close to your chest as you can. This is best used with higher weights with a 10-8-6 rep routine.
- Shoulder Shrugs – Last but not least we have shoulder shrugs. These ones just feel good to do at the end of your workout to get a final “burn” in. Since they are a burn exercise you should do 3 sets of 20, then increase your weight appropriately from there. To do them simply hold whatever weight you think is appropriate (again by testing your one rep max) and elevate your shoulders as high as you can. It’s that simply.
What’s left? Abs & Forearms…
- Ab Workouts – I recommend doing these everyday. You can do the usual situps or crunches. But if you want some more ab workouts I can recommend knee raises where you hang from a bar and raise your knees to your chest. You can do these straight, or work the obliques more by raising the legs to the left or right side. Also if you have access to a decline bench you can lock your feet in and get some serious decline situps and/or crunches in. Again you can work the obliques as well by twisting so your elbow meets your knee. For example, you left elbow goes to your right knee, and your right elbow goes to your left knee. No reps or sets needed here. Simply go to fatigue and do as many as you can.
- Forearm workouts – Grab a pair of dumbbells or a bar. Put your palms to the sky and curl your wrist in. Switch up by facing your palms to the ground and curling your wrist backward. It’s best to rest your arm on a bench and let your hands hang off the side while you are doing these. Also you can tie a weight to a rope that is attached to a bar. Hold the bar in the air and twist it until you wind the rope up and the weight touches the bar while you are holding the bar straight out in front of you. Twist it up and then down at roughly the same rate. Like ab workouts you go to fatigue. Reps and sets don’t help you here as much as your intuition
Wow, I didn’t expect this to be that long. Here is the summary of everything…
Schedule of Routine
- Day 1 = Squats, Lunges (8-6-4 to 10-8-6 reps, then increase weight and go back to 8-6-4 reps), Hack Squat, Leg Press, Leg Extensions, Leg Curls, Calf Raises. (3 sets of 20 reps near 50% max and increasing when comfortable) If you still have energy left you can work in abs, forearms, core work, and/or cardio.
- Day 2 = Bench Press, Dumbbell press, Shoulder Press (8-6-4 to 10-8-6 reps, then increase weight and go back to 8-6-4 reps), Tricep Pull Down, Cable Crossovers (3 sets of 20 reps near 50% max and increasing when comfortable), Chest Dips (To Fatigue) If you still have energy left you can work in abs, forearms, core work, and/or cardio.
- Day 3 = Machine Rows, Bent Over Rows, Deadlift, Cable Pull Downs, Bicep Curls (8-6-4 to 10-8-6 reps, then increase weight and go back to 8-6-4 reps), Shoulder Shrugs (3 sets of 20 reps near 50% max and increasing when comfortable). If you still have energy left you can work in abs, forearms, core work, and/or cardio.
Now you can make this into a 3 day a week routine or a 6 day a week routine. Either way you need to include one day of rest in your week to help you recover and build muscle. Remember muscle gets built in your sleep as your body repairs itself, not when you are working out. If you choose a 3 day week remember that you can fit in cross training activities such as running, yoga, sport specific training, etc. into your days off. A lot of people build a hybrid workout program this way.
Here are some final tips to really get into your brain…
- Proper form is always more important then lifting more weight. If you are doing it right at the correct weight you will get the maximum workout.
- For maximum strength and muscle gain you should make sure you rest enough between sets. Less rest between sets equals more endurance rather then strength or muscle gain training.
- A good weight workout tends to use up at least as much water as cardio training if not more, remember to drink plenty of water.
- Start with low weight and work your way up. Consider getting a trainer, at least in the beginning. The quickest way to end a good routine is by getting injured. Don’t let it happen to you. Even better, find a partner to motivate you and help you stick with proper form.
- This is a well rounded routine and the best foundation you can build on. Once you gain more experience and knowledge start adding more exercises to your workout to change things up a bit. Confusing your body and getting out of your comfort zone is the best way to keep the gains coming.
- The general rule will always be to move fast against the weight, and slow with it. And to make sure you make the full range of motion in any exercise. When all of this is combined along with proper form you will be getting the most reward out of your time and effort spent in the gym. Don’t cheat, and don’t take shortcuts, because they simply won’t work.
- Finally, HAVE FUN! It feels great to flex your muscles, get in shape, and let those endorphins flow. The rewards are well worth the effort in the long run. Just keep reminding yourself why you are doing this in the first place and you will do just fine! 😉
4 Day Split Workout (Good site if you want a 4 day a week routine or if you want to watch the little “gif videos” they have.
Best Morning Exercise Routine (Great if you need something simpler that does not require a gym, only your own body weight. Good maintenance and overall exercise routine.)
P.S. This is the 200th post on Insight Writer. This is a major milestone, and I thank you all for your continued reading, especially for reading the best weight lifting routine ever, which also happens to be my longest post ever. I hope you get a lot out of it. Cheers, Jeremy 😉