How to Start Weightlifting (and Why You Shouldn’t Be Embarrassed)


The word brings to mind images of beefy men with bulging and veiny muscles throwing around giant dumbbells, and barbells bending under the weight of hundreds and hundreds of pounds being aggressively squatted or bench-pressed by sweaty, glistening and testosterone-filled macho men. As an outsider looking in, the world of weightlifting can be intimidating. How on earth is someone supposed to get involved in that? Where do you start? And is it something you even want to do? What is the benefit?

I believe that everyone, regardless of overall goals or current ability, should incorporate some form of weightlifting into their fitness routine. But, where on earth do you start?

Before I talk about how to venture into the wonderful world of weight training, I’d like to take a moment to address some common misconceptions about weightlifting.

One of the most common things I overhear on the weight floor, or from people who ask me about my training routine, particularly from women is: “I don’t want to look like a body builder…I just want to tone.”

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear right now: Lifting weights will absolutely, completely, and 100% not make you “bulky”.

The bodies you see on professional bodybuilders, competitive power-lifters and figure competitors come from a strict and specific training and diet regimen that requires extreme self discipline along with years and years of dedication and work. Unless having an obviously bulky and muscular body is your goal, it won’t just “happen.” Especially not for women. Women naturally lack the testosterone necessary to accumulate that type of muscle mass.

Additionally, there’s no such thing as “toning.” So you don’t want to look muscular, but you do want to look “toned”? Do you know what creates tone? Muscle. The combination of building muscle and reducing body fat is what is going to create the lean, firm look that most men and women associate with a “toned” body.

Last, but not least, muscle does NOT weigh more than fat. One pound of muscle and one pound of fat both weigh…one pound. However, one pound of muscle takes up significantly less room than one pound of fat, since muscle tissue is significantly more dense than fat. Think of it this way: if you have one pound of cotton balls and one pound of quarters, which is going to be easier to put in your pocket? They both weigh one pound, but the quarters would take up much less space than the cotton balls. Muscle also burns more calories than fat, so the more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you’re going to burn throughout the day just by being awake.

How do you start weight lifting?

Simple: do your homework and start at home. I taught myself about weightlifting by reading articles on forums like, and advice columns of fitness professionals like Jaime Eason, Jillian Michaels and Tony Hornton. I watched countless YouTube videos to learn proper form of movements like squats, curls, triceps extensions and deltoid raises. Everything you need to know is right at your fingertips. The Internet is home to a multitude of step-by-step exercise databases, and free pre-designed training programs…all you have to do is look for them. Many popular home DVDs incorporate weight training into their routine as well. Try Jillian Michaels’ 30-Day Shred (available in the fitness section of most major superstores) for a quick, at home workout that adds elements of resistance training to a cardio workout!

Want to give it a try, but aren’t confident enough for the gym yet? Not a problem. The first resistance training exercises I ever did were in the privacy of my apartment and I used canned vegetables and textbooks as my “weights.” That was all I had, and all I was capable of lifting at first, but with time, and patience, I was soon able to use five-pound and eight-pound dumbbells (available for purchase at any superstore or sporting goods store, and the light weights are very affordable!). I grew comfortable with the motions and my ability to complete the exercises over the course of three or four months before I ever stepped foot onto the weight floor of a public gym.

Last but not least, when you start weightlifting, throw away your scale. Start monitoring your measurements, taking pictures and being aware of how your clothes fit. These are all much better indicators of your progress than the number on the scale ever will be.

Every little step counts! Go slow, enjoy the journey and remember that with every single workout you come one step closer to your goals! You’re awesome and capable. I believe in you.


About Author

Dani Russell is a freelance health and fitness lifestyle writer living in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is currently working to complete a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology and is a practicing student therapist. In her free time she can be found playing in the ocean, hiking and weightlifting. You can keep up with her daily quest to balance multiple jobs, fitness and graduate school via her tumblr.

Posts By Dani Russell