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The Beginner's Guide to Lifting Heavy Weights

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I remember the first time I picked up a barbell. I had recently started CrossFit, and knew absolutely nothing. Not how to hold it. Not how to load it. Zero clue how to actually do something crazy like lift it. Not knowing the different between a power clean and a split jerk, I was super intimidated. Roughly three months of continuous CrossFit-ing went by before I felt remotely comfortable, and I hated not being good at something that I was dedicating so much time to. Still, I kept on keeping on because of the community at my local box, and how positive the atmosphere was. These people—they wanted to see me succeed. Even if success for me, at the time, was putting weight on the bar, period.

Looking back, I knew one thing: I was committing to not just lifting, but lifting heavy. I knew I wanted to challenge myself by switching up my routine (I was a runner), and I was ready to step outside of my comfort zone. Plus, I knew that there were loads of benefits to lifting weights. Aside from the obvious aesthetic benefits and the occasional "Whoa, your arms are insane!" compliment, weight lifting's been shown to up resting metabolic rate.

Ready to lean in to lifting? Read on for six lessons I wish someone had told me when I started lifting heavy:

Focus on form.

You're not going to be able to throw up large numbers from the get-go. And sometimes, that means you won't load a barbell (read: put plates on it) at all. While it may not look as badass, I promise you'll get there. The most critical thing to do when you're just starting out is to get the movement patterns down. For instance: If you're not squatting with your weight in your heels, keeping a proud chest, and pushing your knees out, you could face some serious back pain. Master the positioning, and then when you get to the point where you're adding weight, you'll be safe. (More: How to Do Squats Correctly)

Be smart with your rep scheme.

Different rep schemes help achieve different results. When you're starting out, it's important to build muscular endurance and get comfortable moving weight, period. Begin by doing more sets at a lower weight, like 4 sets of 12 to 16 reps. After your first month or two of lifting, you can bring those numbers down. Aiming to build muscle? Shoot for 3 or 4 sets of 3 to 5 heavier reps.

Use the buddy system.

The best thing that ever happened to me was committing to CrossFit with a friend who has experience at the box. Not only was I held accountable to show up for workouts, but I was also comfortable knowing that someone had my back—literally. From squatting to throwing dumbbells overhead, knowing that I had a cheerleader on my side made me excited to keep at it.

Have a plan.

The thing about lifting weights is it's super easy to do the things that you may like most. For me, I have this weird obsession with power cleans and push presses. For others, they love a good deadlift or chest press. Whatever your poison may be, make sure it's part of a bigger plan, and schedule out your workouts over the course of the week.

Maybe every Tuesday you do strength components that involve legs, Wednesdays are for arms, Thursdays are for the booty. Whatever your schedule looks like, make sure you're waiting 48 hours after training a muscle group to hit it again, giving your muscles adequate time to recover. Remember: Recovery is just as important as reps, and if you don't give your body the rest it needs, you could be doing more damage than good.

You CAN do it all.

It's just going to take time. I remember the first time I stepped up to a barbell to snatch it overhead, I was completely dumbfounded. You mean you want me to throw this, where? I thought. But still: Just like in other scenarios, you don't know until you try. Look for guidance from a good trainer or coach. You'll be surprised what you're capable of, if you only step past your comfort zone.

Your diet is important, too.

We've all heard the saying "abs are made in the kitchen," and that's because well, it's true. Even if you're hitting all of the major muscle groups in a smart way, gains come when you match that hard work by the squat rack with diligence in the kitchen. Plus, consuming protein speeds up recovery time and can also up your strength for your next date with some dumbbells. While whole food sources are ideal (think eggs, yogurt, and lean meats) protein shakes and bars can be your BFF when you're on the go. My favorites? Peanut butter Perfect Bars and 365 Everyday Value whey protein powder.

 

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