Day 10: strength training for total beginners

The interwebs are filled with bad information about strength training and weight lifting. You will dig through a lot of rubbish before finding gold. Sorting through all this information is exhausting and potentially disheartening. Do not be deterred. If you want this, you can do this.

In this post is the information I wish I had before I started, all put together in one place.



  1. You don’t need a gym to train strength. Body weight exercises count as lifting.
  2. If you want to train with weights, don’t be afraid: buy a gym membership and use your free personal training session to learn the big lifts: squat, deadlift, a push (e.g. bench press, overhead press), and a pull (e.g. barbell row, inverted row, bent-over 1-arm row). Then do them. Each of these lifts works most of your body; do these in combination, and you’ll work your whole body (including abs and core) in only a few moves. Way more efficient than a bunch of isolating lifts that each works only 1 muscle group (e.g. bicep curls).
  3. Muscle burns more calories than fat. Strength training builds muscle. Therefore, strength training facilitates weight loss. Cardio — which does not build muscle to the same degree as strength training — is less efficient for weight loss than strength training.
  4. Muscle isn’t built while lifting. It’s built during the rest period after lifting. Therefore, you should have a rest day between weight lifting sessions. You will continue to build muscle and your metabolism will remain elevated during this period.

  5. Form matters. Without the proper form, you won’t build muscle the way you want to, and you risk injuring yourself. Make sure your form is good before you start increasing weight. Lift in front of a mirror. Youtube is your friend.
  6. How many sets? Lift heavy weights at low reps to build strength. 4 or 5 sets of 5 reps (4×5, 5×5).
  7. How long should I wait between sets? At low weight (i.e. less difficulty for you), 60 seconds should do it. With greater weight (i.e. greater difficulty for you), consider increasing that to 120 seconds, or even more.  Take the time your body needs to recover so you can do the next set successfully.
  8. Avoid weight machines. Both bodyweight exercises and lifting free weights require you to stabilize and balance while lifting; therefore, your stability and balance will improve, and your core will get stronger. Weight machines take that away.
  9. Track your progress. You need to know how much you lifted last time so you know what you should be lifting this time. I have a notebook with me at the gym then at home I transfer data into a spreadsheet on my google drive. Fitocracy has a great website and a mobile app that lets you track all workouts, unlock achievements, work on quests, and participate in a great community that cares about health and fitness. Do what works for you.
  10. Start today. Don’t wait. Just start.

There are is so much information out there and so much of it is shit. You can’t go wrong if you stick with one of these.

Nerd Fitness: run by a nerd, for nerds. If you love Star Wars you’ll love this. (Hello, the users at this website are called Rebels!) A fabulous website filled with free complete workout programs (bodyweight- and weight-based), nutrition information, motivation, research summaries, and success stories. The forums are active, if you’re into that sort of thing. There are also several guides for purchase if you want still more.

Stronglifts: totally, 100% free. Run by a very, very strong Belgian who doesn’t have the bulky look you typically associate with bodybuilding. The 5×5 program he advocates is based on only 4 different lifts. Free videos, information, downloadable book and tracking spreadsheets.

Starting Strength: A barbell training program based on 5 lifts. Buy the book. It’s the definitive resource about barbell training.

Girls Gone Strong: all the information you could ever want about fitness — including strength training — and nutrition for women. No bullshit here. Free downloadable recipe book and strength training info book.


Fitness today
Miles to Mordor: 3.26 (c25k + 1.17 walked)
C25k: w2 d2, 2.09 miles

Food today
Snack: gr yogurt, mixed nuts
Breakfast: 2 eggs, 1 slice wh wh toast, 1/2 avocado, dollop gr yogurt, sriracha
Lunch: leftovers (baked chicken, squash/ spinach/ feta casserole, lettuce/ tomato salad with clean ranch)
Snack: apple, Gr yogurt
Dinner: chicken, roasted brussels sprouts, clean coleslaw
Snack: kind bar


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