“New year, new you” is a saying that’s often repeated. While the effectiveness of making annual resolutions is debatable, millions of people attempt to eat better and exercise more with each passing year. For some, that means a few slight tweaks to their current regimen. But for others, it entails starting from scratch and attempting a new discipline for the first time — or the first time in a long time.
That commendable effort requires a foundational plan to get up and moving, complete with expert advice and beginner-friendly exercises that help you stick with your new goal. We’ve got all that right here, with a focus on strength training for those who are new to the activity.
Before starting a strength-training regimen, consider why you want to begin. “Strength training can be difficult for anyone,” says Jennifer Romanelli, NASM-certified personal trainer at Trooper Fitness, an NYC-based gym that also offers virtual strength and HIIT classes for its clients. Starting anything new can feel challenging because you may struggle or not see results right away, so focus on why you want to do this.
“What is going to keep you mentally engaged and tough when you want to quit?” asks Romanelli. “Keep practicing that mantra in your mind.” Is it to get into better shape and boost your confidence? Improve your health and longevity so you can spend more time with your loved ones? Look better in the mirror? All are viable answers, so find your personal motivation.
TAKE IT SLOW
Romanelli’s first rule: “Do not ramp up too quickly!” Instead, take it slow and build a well-rounded program. “Most injuries occur from pushing the body when it is compromised,” she adds. “It isn’t about how much weight you are lifting; it is about the effort you are putting in.” On that note, try not to compare yourself to anyone at the gym or within your circle because everyone is on their own fitness journey.
“You will feel defeated if you throw too much on the rack, attempt to squat and then blow your back out because you read about something on Instagram,” says Romanelli. If you’re working out on your own, try your best to seek high-quality sources of information. And if you’re able to make the investment, hiring a coach is a great way to build a safe and effective program.
SET A SCHEDULE
Once you’ve committed to strength-training, you need to make it a habit. Romanelli suggests starting with three days each week. As you advance and notice improvements in strength and stamina, you can move to 5–6 days each week.
“I would start with a variation of a split routine,” she says, meaning that Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for example, would focus on different muscle groups. Monday you could do upper body, followed by lower body on Wednesday and then a combo day on Friday that also includes core exercises. “As you get comfortable with that, splitting your week up into specific body parts will give your body time to rest and recover, which in turn leads you to build muscle faster,” she adds.
MASTER BODYWEIGHT MOVES FIRST
Skip the heavy weights and fancy machines if you’re new to working out. You don’t need bars, power racks and pulleys — at least not yet.
“Master bodyweight strength training before throwing yourself under barbells and machines,” advises Romanelli, noting perfect form rather than equipment is what gets you the best results. Practice exercises like pushups, air squats and triceps dips to build body awareness. Once you feel confident in your ability to manage your own bodyweight, you can add dumbbells, kettlebells and bands to your movements.
Romanelli offers this sample strength progression from bodyweight to weighted exercises. Once you’re proficient in the former, you can move on to the latter.
BODYWEIGHT SQUATS, 4 sets x 20 reps
Eventually, progress to 4 sets x 12 reps of weighted squats holding two dumbbells.
PUSHUPS, 4 sets x 10-12 reps
Eventually, progress to 4 sets x 10 reps of dumbbell chest presses on a bench.
BENCH OR CHAIR DIPS, 3 sets x 12 reps
Eventually, progress to dumbbell skull crushers or dips with your feet elevated.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Getting stronger doesn’t happen overnight, but with some time and effort, you’ll begin to see noticeable changes in how you move, feel and look. You may be starting from zero, but everyone does at some point. The most important detail is you’ve decided to invest in your health and fitness.
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.