Weight training for beginners can be a bit unnerving, especially if you are walking into a room filled with equipment you have never seen or used. This article is meant to help you step into that world with more confidence.
The same muscle group can be worked on three forms of equipment with both advantages and disadvantages.
I will use weight training movements called 'flies' as an example. Flies are intended to work the chest (pectoral) muscles.
There is a degree of risk when you’re handling free weights – like dropping one on your foot or someone else’s.
First of all, never lift a free weight that you can't handle! I also recommend wearing gloves that give both padding and grip.
Free weights are great for neuromuscular connections because they require control and balance. They also makes the demand equally on each side -- no cheating allowed!
When doing flies, you can work the muscles at different angles by raising or lowering the bench.
Machines are great as weight training for beginners and advanced weight lifters. When I am lifting heavier weights, I look for a weight machine rather than free weights. This is particularly true when I am working out alone without a 'spotter' (see Weight Training Terminology below).
Weight machines are fairly safe and give you the ability to release the weight in an emergency without harming yourself or others.
Another benefit is that many weight machines are designed to keep your body in the correct position during the movements, so there is less chance of injury or using other muscles to move the weight (cheating).
Be sure you are properly positioned on the machine. If you don't know how to adjust the machine for your body, ask a trainer at the gym to show you. Most gyms should have someone on staff who knows how to properly use the equipment. If you are not properly aligned, you could injure yourself.
Try to use newer equipment, if possible. Unfortunately, there are still some poorly designed machines out there.
As an example, I suggest you avoid any leg press machine that places unnecessary compression on the spine. If the machine places the load on your shoulders as you push with your feet, seek an alternative. A better leg press will allow you to angle your body so that the force is mostly between your hips and feet.
Unless you are a power lifter wearing a weight training belt, do not allow your spine to rest between two powerful, opposing forces.
I love pulleys because they require similar directional control that you must incorporate when using free weights. They offer the added benefit of safety and range of motion that certain machines are designed to provide.
Pulleys are safer than free weights because, in an emergency, you can let go without the risk of a weight falling on you or someone nearby.
A pulley allows you to work the muscle at varying angles without having to stop to change the bench position or the risk of straining the muscle because you have lost control of the angle.
Pulleys offer the great benefit of full-range motion, which works the entire muscle. Sometimes, people perform a limited part of the movement; and guess which part that is -- where the muscle is strongest.
Don't do this, unless you are tweaking a muscle for a body-building competition or your sports coach has a particular performance-related reason.
In the real world of movement, we need functional strength with full range of motion.
Weight Training Terminology For Beginners
I would be remiss to not include a bit of a jargon when writing an article about weight training for beginners. You will not only hear it, you will find yourself using it in no time at all.
A rep (short for repetition) is one execution of a movement.
A set is a completed repetition phase.
Muscle failure is the point when an additional rep is no longer possible using strict form.
Overtraining is a point at which the muscle stops making gains in strength and building mass. It can also cause a loss of gains already made, negatively impact athletic performance, and increase the risk of injury.
A spotter is someone who is there to assist you with a movement.
Don't interrupt or talk to someone who is in the middle of their set.
Return weights to the stacks after use.
If you are waiting, or if someone else is waiting, to use the same piece of equipment, you can offer or request that you alternate sets with that person. This is particularly useful if the weight room is crowded and equipment is heavily occupied.