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Beginner's Guide to Weight Training

New to the world of lifting weights? Here's what you need to know.

Entering a gym full of free weights, weight machines, mirrors, and fit bodies can be an intimidating experience if you're a newbie, but don't let your lack of confidence keep you from the weight room.

Strength training is an important part of a balanced exercise routine. Lifting weights builds muscle, increases strength, and adds bone mass. The stronger you are, the easier everyday activities become, the more balance you have, the more calories you burn throughout the day, and the better shape you'll be in. Strength training also decreases your risk of osteoporosis, reduces blood pressure, improves low back pain, and helps control blood sugar.

Learn the following weight room etiquette, lingo, and rules before your first weight-training session and you won't feel so much like an outsider.

No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training...what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. - Socrates


The world of weight training has a few understood rules of etiquette. First, stay on the good side of your fellow lifters by keeping your sweat to yourself by using a clean towel to wipe off equipment, machines, and benches when you're done.

After using dumbbells or barbell weights, return them to their designated places on the rack. Don't assume the next person wants to use the same weights you did or toss them on the floor and walk off, as leaving weights on the floor is an accident waiting to happen.

While resting between sets, don't sit on a machine or bench someone is waiting to use. Be courteous and don't hog a certain piece of equipment for longer than necessary.


The gym has its own list of vocabulary. Know what people are talking about when you hear the following terms:

  • Resistance training, also known as strength training or weight training, refers to exercises that work against a resistance (weights, machines, your own body weight, or exercise bands) to build muscle.
  • A rep, short for repetition, is one complete exercise (i.e. a single bicep curl).
  • A set is the number of reps in a group (i.e. one set of 10 reps).
  • Free weights include dumbbells (a weight on either end of a short metal bar held with your hand) and weight plates (weights that go on either end of a barbell-a long metal bar).
  • To spot means to stand guard when someone's doing a set with heavy weights.
  • Nicknames are given to certain muscles: core = abdominal and back muscles; pecs = chest pectoral muscles, glutes = the gluteus maximus (buttocks muscles); lats = latissimus dorsi back muscles; guns, pipes, pythons = bicep upper arm muscles; and six pack = defined abdominal muscles.

General Guidelines

There are a few things to know about lifting weights. First, it's important to spend 5 to 10 minutes warming up before lifting. Some low-intensity cardio works well to get your muscles warmed up.

Be instructed by your trainer on proper lifting technique. Using proper form will improve your results while wrong form can lead to injury. Be sure to breath during each movement. Exhale as you exert yourself, inhale as you relax. You should also start out with an amount of weight you can lift comfortably and as your strength increases, increase the amount of weight.

It’s also important to rest 30 to 60 seconds between sets, and if a certain movement causes pain, stop your workout and try again a few days later. And while you may want to hit every muscle every day, your muscles need rest between weight training sessions to heal, so either plan to workout every other day or alternate the muscle groups you work each day.