• Alyssa Piperis

The Beginner's Guide to Weight Training: Advice, Workouts, Pictures & Videos


I’m really excited about this post, because it contains a detailed beginner’s gym workout guide (with helpful pictures and videos-- I gotchu!) that I’ve worked hard to create for myself and for you. Whether you consider yourself a total newbie to weight training and/or the fitness world, a generally healthy person looking to spice up your exercise routine, or an ex-athlete looking to get back on the right workout track, this post can help you get started with weights so you don’t feel completely lost. Until recently, I was a total slacker about working out regularly. And I knew it. I grew up playing sports and staying active pretty much year-round (with the exception of the first few years after my parents’ separation) but lost my exercise momentum after moving out to Los Angeles at 18 and not having school sports to keep me in shape. I had a lot of trouble finding and sticking to a gym or program that felt right for me, and I wanted to get into weight training but felt lost and intimidated in the weights/lifting section of the gym with the “meatheads” and sports bra babes. So, I stuck to cardio machines and sporadic attempts at lifting here and there that weren’t helping me. Does that sound familiar to any of you? I want you to know that I’ve been in that all-too-common state of, “I want to better myself, but I don’t know where to begin.” I stayed there for longer than I should have, but I’m genuinely proud to be out of that phase of my life. After four years of living on my own in L.A., testing out different gyms, using an old roommate’s Insanity DVDs, and going through various phases of trying to get on the right path to fitness, I’ve finally found a gym where I feel comfortable exploring and trying new things. I’m now confident in my journey, and I proudly walk into my gym knowing what I’m doing each day. It’s so, SO nice to be past the days of going from “I’ve got this” to, “Dang, just kidding. It’s too crowded and overwhelming, so I’ll just hop on the treadmill or elliptical.” I’m at a place where I feel empowered, am doing my research, and am creating workout plans for myself that I know are challenging me and my body. And I would love to help you get to that same place if you’re ready to just go for it. That is why I put together this beginner’s guide: to help you get started just like I did. I’m admittedly no expert or personal trainer, and I’m sure I’ll learn things as I go that will send me back to this post to make edits. But, I’ve done enough research (thank you, Bodybuilding.com, my savior) to know a good starting point. And once you get going, I hope you’ll feel confident enough to do more of your own research and find workouts that challenge and empower you. No two bodies are the same, and once you finally get going, you’ll come to learn what does and doesn’t work for you. You just have to start.

PART II: THE FACTS ON WEIGHT TRAINING, STRETCHING & ACTIVE REST DAYS Alright, let me start with a few important facts: 1.) It is a myth that weight training will make you look bulky like a bodybuilder.

That kind of body takes years of extremely intense training to achieve. So, don’t think you have to stick solely with cardio in order to look “feminine” and “toned.” Weight training is a very important component of a solid workout routine and will play a huge role in getting you where you want to be. 2.) Weight training, unlike cardio, actually pushes your body to burn calories and fat AFTER you’re done working out.

“While cardio burns calories and fat when you're performing it, high intensity strength training allows for Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) to occur. This term refers to how long your metabolism is elevated after exercise, enabling you to burn fat long after finishing your workout” (source: http://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/workout-tips/lift-heavy-lose-more-fat). *This fact is huge for me, because I know I get bored after a while on the treadmill. Weight training can take less time AND get you more results. Win-win! 3.) Never underestimate the importance of stretching/warming up before and after a workout.

It’s easy to want to jump right in, but that can very quickly lead to injury and set you back. I won’t get into that in this post, but I’d recommend full body stretching and any one, or combination, of the following: - Foam rolling - Jogging - Jumping jacks - Body weight squats - Jumping rope. One of the worst things to do is walk into the gym and head right over to start lifting weights. Do some research on this if you need to, but always warm your body up and stretch it out! 4.) Stretching as a part of your warm-up does not replace warm-up sets.

Once you complete a full-body stretch/warm-up, it’s still crucial to begin your weight training sessions with warm-up sets using lighter weight than your actual sets that come afterward (discussed below). 5.) Rest days are crucial!

Some of you may love that fact, while others may try to tell yourself, “Nah, I go hard. Suck it, rest days!” To anyone that has that mindset: Slow your roll, ya goon. Your muscles need to rest. If you think you’re too good for rest days, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of them later on when you end up injured. “If you don’t recover well, you won’t experience the strength, power, or endurance adaptations you’re in the gym for” (source: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/make-the-most-of-your-rest-days.html). That being said, rest days aren’t “do nothing” days. I like to think of them as active rest days— days to put down the weights and do some cardio, keeping it on the lighter side. For instance: - Run on a treadmill or outside - Go for a walk - Do laps in a pool - Do yoga - Jump Rope - Get in a HIIT workout. Use your active rest days to mix it up with other kinds of workouts like these, and spend some time getting your mind right with something personal and creative, like: - Meditation - Reading - Writing/journaling

- Volunteering. Just leave the weights alone. They’ll be there waiting for you tomorrow or the next day. PART III: IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER BEFORE AND AFTER YOU BEGIN I’m about to (finally) get to the actual workouts, I promise! But first, here are some important pieces of advice to take note of and keep in mind as you move forward… 1.) Trial and Error.

Because I’m new to lifting regularly and figuring out what’s right for my body, trial and error is huge right now, and will continue to be huge. As it should be. As I work through my first couple months of regular exercise and weight training, I’m sticking to a general program that I’ve created (below). As of right now, I’ve chosen to set aside three days a week to focus on specific muscle groups: - Arms and Shoulders - Chest and Back - Legs and Butt. I work each group, or combination of groups, three nonconsecutive days a week, and I incorporate ab workouts three days out of a seven-day week. On the days I’m not weight training, I do other kinds of cardio at the gym or elsewhere (or simply go to work, because I move around a lot at my job). I know my routine will change and evolve as I build strength and get more comfortable trying new things, but right now it’s all about that good ole trial and error, for me and for you. 2.) Switch it up!

Don’t think your workout schedule has to be exactly the same every week. If you have a set schedule that you need to stick to, do what you have to do to get your workouts in. But, if your routine permits, it’s actually better to switch things up from week to week. For instance: Week 1: Monday - Chest, Back & Abs Tuesday - Active Rest Day Wednesday - Arms & Abs Thursday - Active Rest Day Friday - Active Rest Day Saturday - Legs, Butt & Abs Sunday - Active Rest Day Week 2: Monday - Arms & Abs Tuesday - Chest & Back Wednesday - Active Rest Day Thursday - Active Rest Day & Abs Friday - Active Rest Day Saturday - Legs, Butt & Abs Sunday - Active Rest Day 3.) Proper Rest.

Make sure you give your muscles enough time to rest. That being said, give each muscle group you've just worked at least 48-72 hours of rest. If you’re new to training, at least 72 hours is the safest bet. “Beginner lifters or those starting a brand new lifting routine will experience more muscle soreness and damage, so you may need to incorporate more rest days at the beginning of a brand new program” (source: http://www.fitnessrxwomen.com/training/perfect-form-with-jessie-h/guide-to-rest-days/).


* Note: Take this how you need it for now— as a strict guide or a loose guide. The pounds and reps listed are based on my current schedule and strength for the most part. Some days I’m able to handle more than other days. Find what’s right for you— nothing too easy or torturously heavy. You should be putting in work and working up a sweat but not underworking or overworking your muscles. And, always do some warm-up sets with less weight (touched upon below) before you get into your actual sets. It's important that you remember to be open to changes in terms of how much weight you’re using, how many reps you’re doing, and the specific workouts you’re completing. As time goes on, you’ll get to know your body better and what it needs to grow and get where you want it to be.

Okay, heeeeere we go!

PRE-WEIGHT TRAINING CARDIO WARM-UP (for before I head over to the weights):

  • Full-body stretching

  • 5 to 10 minutes on the treadmill jogging at a 6.4 speed

  • Optional: One or two interval sessions (within the 5 to 10 minutes) of 30-seconds-on-30-seconds-off sprints-- i.e. sprint for 30 seconds at 9.0, then fast walk between at around 4.2 for 30 seconds)

This cardio warm-up is what I normally like to do when I first walk into the gym. On days when I don’t have as much time, I’ll just do a 5-minute jog or skip this step altogether and head right over to the weights. But, I always make room for a full body stretch! WARM-UP SETS (for when I head over to the weights)

  • 2 or 3 sets of everything listed, just with less weight.

So, if your actual set calls for a 10-pound dumbbell, use a 5-pounder for your warm-up set. If your actual set calls for a barbell with an added 20 pounds, use a regular barbell with no added weight for your warm-up. The point of this is to warm up and target the muscles you’ll be working, but not fatigue yourself. When you warm up, focus on having proper form so you’re ready to take on heavier weights with that same proper form.


Lat Pulldown - 4 sets, 15 reps

A good starting weight is somewhere between 40 and 55 pounds. Feel it out for yourself, and increase or decrease where you need to.

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/wide-grip-lat-pulldown

GIANT SET ft. Dumbbells

3 sets of all the listed moves in a row with a 30- to 60-second rest between each move (depending on your ability) and a 60-second rest between each full set. Start with a 60-second rest between each move if you need that much time, and try to go down to 30 seconds as you increase strength.

Side Lateral Raises - 5 lbs., 10 reps

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/side-lateral-raise

Alternating Bicep Curls - 10 lbs., 10 reps each side

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/dumbbell-alternate-bicep-curl

GIANT SET ft. Barbell

3 sets of all the listed moves in a row with a 30- to 60-second rest between each move (depending on your ability) and a 60-second rest between each full set. Start with a 60-second rest between each move if you need that much time, and try to go down to 30 seconds as you increase strength.

* Note: For beginners, use a barbell with either no added weight OR 20 lbs., depending on your capability. Reverse Bicep Curl - 15 reps

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/reverse-barbell-curl

Standing Overhead Triceps Extension - 15 reps

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/standing-overhead-barbell-triceps-extension

Upright Row - 15 reps

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/upright-barbell-row

GIANT SET ft. Plate

3 sets of all the listed moves in a row with a 30- to 60-second rest between each move (depending on your ability) and a 60-second rest between each full set. Start with a 60-second rest between each move if you need that much time, and try to go down to 30 seconds as you increase strength.

How-To Video for ALL moves in this set: https://youtu.be/hm2mMLX6JaM?t=3m46s

Plate Hammer Curl - 20 reps

Plate Overhead Triceps Extension - 20 reps

Plate Front Raises - 15 reps

More arm workout #fitspo can be found here: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/katie-chung-huas-sexy-arms-workout.html



Flat Barbell Bench Press -

Barbell with no added weight OR an added 20 lbs. (depending on your capability) - 12, 10, 10, 8, 8

30- to 60-second rest between between each of the 5 sets

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/barbell-bench-press-medium-grip

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press - 10 lbs. each side - 12, 10, 8, 8

30- to 60-second rest between between each of the 4 sets

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/incline-dumbbell-press

Flat Dumbbell Bench Fly - 10 lbs. each side - 12, 10, 8, 8

30- to 60-second rest between between each of the 4 sets

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/dumbbell-flyes

Back: Traditional Barbell Deadlift -

No added weight OR 20 lbs. (depending on your capability) - 10, 10, 10, 10

30- to 60-second rest between between each of the 4 sets

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/barbell-deadlift

One Arm Dumbbell Rows -

10 lbs. at a time each side - 15, 12, 10, 8,

30- to 60-second rest between between each of the 4 sets

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/one-arm-dumbbell-row

Hyperextensions - 12, 10, 8

Optional: Hold 10-pound plate to chest

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/hyperextensions-back-extensions


Leg Press - 20, 15, 12, 10, 8

Find a weight that's right for you-- not too easy and not too heavy. You should feel like you're putting in work and effort to complete each move, but it shouldn't be so difficult that you're in pain or can't uphold proper form.

* NOTE: I don't use the leg press on every leg day. Sometimes I don't have time and/or the gym is too crowded to wait for one to open up, so I'll just go right from my cardio warm-up to my giant set (below).

How-To Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZxyjW7MPJQ


3 sets of all the listed moves in a row with a 30- to 60-second rest between each move (depending on your ability) and a 60-second rest between each full set. Start with a 60-second rest between each move if you need that much time, and try to go down to 30 seconds as you increase strength.

Glute Kickback - 10 each side

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/glute-kickback

Barbell Glute Bridge - Barbell with added 20 lbs. - 20 reps

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/barbell-glute-bridge

Dumbbell Rear Lunges - 10lbs. in each hand - 10 reps each side

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/dumbbell-rear-lunge

Barbell Squat - Barbell with no added weight OR added 20 lbs. (depending on capability) - 5-10 reps (start with more and lessen as you go)

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/barbell-squat

Jump Squats - 15 reps

How-To Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LGJZqKfpXs


3 sets of all the listed moves in a row with a 30-second rest between each move and a 30- to 60-second rest between each full set. If you're able to, go from move to move with no rests and take a 60-second rest between each set.

Toe Touches - 20 reps

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/toe-touchers

Leg Raises - 20 reps

How-To Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JB2oyawG9KI

Flutter Kicks - 30 reps (1 rep is hitting both sides)

How-To Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEG9uXjx4vQ

Plank - 1 minute

How-To Video: http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/plank

Russian Twist with Plate - 15 each side (1 rep is hitting both sides)

How-To Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pz1H4uhLMJ0


Now you can be all, "Let's do lunch after I'm all finished up with leg day. Yeah, leg day. No biggie. Just livin' my best life."

I really hope this inspires you to move forward so you're not feeling stuck like I was for so long. Wherever you are on your journey, I wholeheartedly wish you happiness and confidence. I may or may not not know you personally, but I know what it's like on both sides of the spectrum. I know what it's like to feel lost, unproductive, and yearning for that push that finally gets you going. On the same token, I know what it's like to feel the push and follow it. I'm following it, moving forward, and some days I give into my laziness. But, every time I'm in the gym crushing a workout or enjoying a beautiful day at my favorite park, I realize how far I've come and how proud I am of myself. And I refuse to lose that. That's what I want for you. If I can be a part of that in some way with this post, awesome! That makes me so happy. If not, I sincerely hope you find what you need. You deserve it! Either way, I'll be sending good energy out into the universe every single day, and I have a good feeling it'll find you. :)

Links to other helpful articles with more workouts and information:

Tons of info and workouts for beginners:


Info and workouts by specific muscle group:


The Tush:





Re: The Importance of Rest Days


How Much Weight to Lift:


Unique Moves to Switch Things Up:



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