In today’s article, I want to share 10 lifting tips for lifters who want to build more muscle and strength while improving performance and preventing injury.
1) Learn good movement patterns before adding tons of weight
If you’re new to the gym or have been lifting for years, you should start with the basics.
Much like riding a bike, you wouldn’t jump straight on to a 2-wheeler if you’ve never ridden before (unless you’re super daring).
You’d instead start with training wheels to get the hang of things.
That’s what it should be like when you first start out in the gym. You’ve got to learn the basics before you can start loading everything up.
A quick example would be this squat progression:
Assisted Bodyweight Squat>Bodyweight Squat to Bench>Bodweight Squat (free squat)>Goblet Squat to Bench> Goblet Squat (free squat)>Barbell Front Squat/Back Squat to box>Barbell Front/Back Squat (no bench)
There are obviously more squatting variations but the idea should be to begin with the easiest one and then progress through as you become more comfortable with the movement pattern.
There’s no set amount of time you should stick with one variation or another, it really comes down to your needs.
If you have to do assisted squats for a month or two, that’s completely fine. The key is to ‘master’ the movement before adding load or difficulty.
2) Build Off These 4 Core Movements
Building on the first point, beginners need lots of exposure to certain exercises/movement patterns in order to truly learn and progress. And for those people who have already been training, these 4 movements should be staples in your training programs.
I think regardless of whether the goal is to become as strong as humanly possible, or to look good on the beach, it’s important to learn and practice these 4 movements:
If you can learn these movements when you’re just starting out, you’ll have a solid foundation to build and branch out from.
We already covered a good squat progression so let’s discuss the other three now.
A hinge is where you control most of the movement through the hips, the knees don’t bend a lot, and your torso ‘folds’ over but remains rigid and flat the entire time.
There are lots of hinge movements that I could cover, but for the sake of keeping it simple here’s a beginner’s progression:
Bodyweight/wall assisted romanian deadlift>KB/DB at chest RDL>DB RDL>Barbell RDL
Again, you should always start light or with bodyweight to practice the movement before adding an external load.
The most basic, and probably most beneficial exercise for a new lifter to master is the push-up. It’s important to create the proper body tension while doing push-ups, as well as starting at an appropriate level.
A great progress for the push-up would be:
Hands elevated push-up (hands on bar or bench)>push-up from the floor> 1 leg elevated push-up>weighted/band resisted push-up
To help you nail your push-up technique from the start, use the hands elevated variation to master your technique. Below is a quick demo.
Don’t waste time with push-ups from the knees. By elevating your hands, you’ll be able to perform real push-ups but at a level that is appropriate for your strength. One thing to note–you can lower your hands to make them more difficult. Before going immediately to ground-based pushups you’ll want to continue lowering the bar closer and closer to the ground until you’re strong enough to perform them from the floor.
Rows and pull-ups are two of the best pulling exercises you can do, especially as a new lifter.
The inverted row is great because like the hands elevated push-up, you can change the difficult simply by raising or lowering the bar.
Pull-ups are also a prime pulling movement. I recommend starting with the assisted pull-up machine like in the video below:
3) Practice and Be Patient
You’ll probably have the urge to want to make progress as fast as possible which is good and bad. It’s good that you’re eager to get better, but bad because you need to be patient if you want to stay injury free as you gain strength.
It’s important to keep in mind that it’s better to practice the lifts and new exercises with lighter weights until you’ve really gotten the hang of them.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should be goblet squatting exclusively for years, but if you’re just starting out, it may be several months or more before you’ve progressed to a more difficult variation.
The strongest, fittest, and most in shape people didn’t get there over night. It will take lots of time and tons of practice. You have to be patient but at the same time consistent.
If you want to get better and stronger you should probably be willing to strength train at least 2-3 times per week. If you only practice your exercises once per week, you’ll have forgotten most of the technique the following workout.
Practice consistency and patience and you’ll be off to a great start in your lifting career.
4) Don’t Worry What Others Are Doing
As a new lifter in the gym, it’s easy to worry about what others are doing. You might see someone doing a weird cable glute kick in some awkward position and think “should I be doing that?”
When you’re a beginner you have to be a little bit selfish. Not in a rude way, but you need to focus on making your technique better, practicing the exercises you need to practice, and improving a little every time you step foot into the gym.
Don’t waste time worrying what other people are doing. There will be lots of people doing things wrong and some doing stuff right.
The best thing you can do is to focus on making each and every rep as good as you can and to work hard at the same time.
5) Technique, Technique, Technique
Besides being consistent and working hard, it’s really important that you’re paying attention to using good technique.
The cool thing as a beginner is that you can learn the proper way to lift from the get-go. Consider working with an in-person trainer or online coach to make sure your form is on point.
Lifting with good technique serves a few purposes:
- it keeps you safe and lowers your risk of injury
- it allows you to progress faster
- it helps you build more muscle and strength because your technique is more efficient
If you lift like a bonehead you’re likely to get hurt. And if you get hurt, well then you won’t be able to train for your goals and you’ll be left watching re-runs of Fresh Prince.
So emphasize using good technique and a full range of motion (or as best as your mobility allows) all the time and you’ll make better gains in strength, muscle, and performance.
6) Build Strength with Volume
As I’ve touched on a bit already, for new lifters (important for seasoned lifters, too) it’s important not to get caught up in the weight you’re lifting. While you should be making consistent increases in weight, you can and should get stronger in the beginning stages by increasing your volume.
By using lighter weights early on, you’ll establish better control of the movements and really learn how to brace, flex, squeeze and exert effort as the weights become more challenging.
You can gain strength by doing more reps and total sets, which means more overall volume. Instead of using a weight that would crush you on a squat, for example, use a weight that allows you to get 8-12 challenging but do-able reps.
The biggest key to doing more reps is making sure they are good quality reps. If you’re doing a set of 10, you want all 10 reps to look the same. Don’t let your form fall off after the first couple reps.
7) Total Body Workouts are Great
In the beginning stages of lifting, it’s a good idea to do full body workouts each time you’re in the gym. If that’s 2-3 times per week starting out, make sure you are training your entire body every session.
This allows you to practice the movements more often and helps you get in more volume (work) throughout the week, while still being able to recover in between sessions.
When you train 2-3x per week, body-part splits aren’t going to be best because you’ll get less exposure to certain muscles/movements.
Instead, you could follow something like this if you train 2 times per week:
A1) Squat variation 3 sets 8-12 reps
A2) Row Variation 3 sets 8-15 reps
B1) Hinge variation 3 sets 8-12 reps
B2) Push-up variation 3 sets 8-15 reps
C1) 4 point-plank 3 sets of 3 (8 second holds)
Take 1-2 days in between workouts
A1) Hinge Variation 3 sets of 8-12 reps
A2) Push variation (can be push-up or overhead press variation) 3 sets of 8-15 reps
B1) Squat variation 3 sets of 8-12 reps
B2) Pull-up variation 3 sets of 8-15 reps
C1) Reverse Crunch 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Obviously, this is just a rough template, but it should give you a good idea of how to properly structure your training based on 2 sessions per week. You’d likely add 1 more set to every exercise, while adding slightly more weight, and keeping the reps in the same range for 3-4 weeks at a time.
If you have any questions about a beginner workout structure or how to set up your own program feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to point you in the right direction.
8) Use Video (A lot)
Video review has gotten more popular over the last several years, but it really can be hugely beneficial.
With the exception of becoming too overly obsessive about your technique, using video can be handy if you want to see how you’re executing a movement or exercise.
Sometimes it’s hard to perform an exercise even if you know how it should look. That’s where videos come in handy. As a new lifter, get into the habit of recording yourself performing your main exercises so that you can go back after the session and see what you did well and to see what you could improve on.
I encourage all of my online coaching clients to send me lifting videos so we can keep improving technique.
Video review can be a great learning experience for new lifters, and really handy for seasoned gym goers as well.
9) Avoid Silly Workouts or Exercises
Unfortunately, some newer lifters get their workouts straight out of magazines or from popular Instagram models.
While these people might have great physiques, it doesn’t mean you should be doing what they’re doing.
It all comes back to being patient and trusting the process. You’ve got to crawl before you can run.
Make sure you stick with the basic exercises like we’ve talked about and you’ll do great. If though, you get caught up in following an IG model’s ‘glute’ workout with 26 cable kickback variations, you’re unlikely to make a lot of progress and worse, you could get injured.
Avoid doing silly exercises you might see popular Instagram models or bodybuilders doing and stick with progressive overload on fundamental exercises that have gotten people in great shape for decades.
10) Keep at It
Sometimes, new lifters get discouraged if they’re strength isn’t shooting up as fast as they would like, or their body fat isn’t melting off like the infomercials tell them.
The best piece of advice I can is to just stick with it. Whether you’re brand new to the gym or you’ve been lifting for 5, 10, or 15 years, you just have to keep going.
There will be times when progress is going very well. And, there will also be times when you might feel you can’t catch a break.
The real magic to all of this lifting stuff is to just keep at it. Don’t quit, don’t stop working hard, and don’t stop learning.
Once you realize how rewarding the gym can be, not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well, you’ll learn to love the entire process that much more.
Track your workouts, take progress pictures, and look back in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, and 10 years from when you first started and you’ll be amazed at how much progress you’ve actually made.