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For My Cousin Barb

Hi everyone!  This blog is in response to my cousin's request for information about weight lifting.  So sorry if I'm covering the basics that most of you already know. 

Why Weight Training?

Despite what some people will tell you, weight training is GREAT if you are trying to lose weight.  Now just stick with me here..I know you are probably thinking, "HEY WAIT A MINUTE!  How is building muscle going to make me LOSE weight?  That doesn't make any sense!"

If you look at it that way, it doesn't make sense.  Muscle does weigh more than fat.  And you won't burn as many calories as you will doing cardio. 

However, the important fact is that..muscle burns calories.  The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn..even while you are at rest.even while you are sleeping.

Also, a good strength training in the morning will keep your caloric burn up all day.  While the rate of caloric burn from cardio will drop off quickly an hour after you stop.

What do I base this off of?  I keep a pretty close eye on my caloric burn while wearing my Body Bugg. 

So how does one get started lifting weights?  You could just walk into the gym and ask for help but you will get so much information that's all new to you that you aren't likely to remember it.  Best that you walk in with a plan.


Rep - Short for 'repetition', this is typically the round trip of lifting once.  Lift up, down.that's one rep. 

Set - Reps are grouped together into sets of 12, 10, 8, whatever.  "I did a set of 12 reps at 25 pounds"..I lifted 25 pounds 12 times, then rested.  There is usually a tiny rest period between sets to allow the muscle to recover.

Group or Muscle Group - The chest, triceps, biceps, etc. 

Free weights - Weights that are not part of a machine. 

Pre-workout Prep

Before I got up this morning, I knew what I was going to lift today.  I know what I'll lift later this week.  I keep a record of it all.and you should to.  I don't use this anymore but for beginners I always recommend downloading the Body For Life workout sheets.  Use these to keep track of what you are going to do.  Don't just show up at the gym without a plan.  You need to have a record.so you know what to do. 

Body For Life Workout Schedule (Excel format)

If you don't have Microsoft Excel on your computer, you can download the free viewer.  It won't allow you to make changes, but you can view and print the schedule.

Excel Viewer from Microsoft Site (Free)

Here is an example from the worksheet of one group (chest).


The first thing I'd do is to pick two exercises that target the chest and fill this part out like so..


I've chosen 'Inclined bench press' and 'Flat bench press'.  These both target the chest, and while they look similar, they work the muscle differently because of the different angles.

Next I fill in what weight I plan on lifting.  There is some rules I use to determine these amounts, but for now I just want you to see how to fill it in.


Here's how I get these weights..

1. The first two sets (the 12 rep and the 10 rep) are simply warm up sets.  I can do them without too much effort.  They are just to get the blood flowing and prep the muscle for something actually heavy.  My rule of thumb is that the '12 rep set' is about half the weight of the '6 rep set'.  It doesn't always work out like that, but most of the time it is a good place to start.

2. The third set (the 8 rep) should be something I can feel.  I know I'm lifting a weight, but I'm not burning myself out doing it.

3.  The fourth set (the 6 rep) should be a weight that is all I can do.  In fact if I FAIL and only do 5 reps, I know I'm at the right level.  If I can lift the fourth set 8 times, then it is too light.  I'll make a note to increase the amount the next time I do this group.

4. The fifth group ALWAYS is the same weight as the third group.  The idea is that the very heavy forth group gets the muscle prep'ed as much as it can, then its time to go the distance. 

5. The sixth group is what is called a 'super set'.  Unlike all the other sets where you get a minute or two rest between them, you don't with a super set.  You do the fifth group then straight to the sixth group.no rest.  Again, if you fail at around 10 or 11 reps, you have the weight correct.  If you can finish it easy, you need to increase the weight next week.

Keeping all that in mind, you might be wondering, "But won't I have to actually start lifting before I can know what I'm able to lift?"  Yeah, you would be correct.  My first week on the plan is usually me trying to find my limits.  But I also keep a list of all the workouts I've done before, so if I return to this exercise again at a later date, I have a record of how much I lifted the last time. 

Once you've completed this group, you move on to the next group.  And keep doing that until you completed your plan.  Then you hit the showers.

So taking a mile high look at the plan, you work each group once a week, splitting the groups up into three days.  So it looks like this.


  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Back


  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Abs


  • Triceps
  • Biceps

The Body for Life sheet would have you doing Chest, Shoulders, Back, Triceps, Biceps all on the same day and do that twice a week.  You can do it that way but I'm a big fan of only working each group once a week.  Doing it my way, your workouts will be sorter and you are less likely to work your muscles past their point of exhaustion.  In fact you can move the groups around how ever you like.  For example, I'll do chest and triceps on the same day because most chest exercises also work the triceps.  So I can skip the first two sets of the triceps because the muscle is already prep'ed for lifting.   

What exercises should I do? 

There are basically two types of exercises that you can do, compound and isolated.  Isolated means that it hits the targeted muscle without involving anything else while compound means that other muscle groups will be hit as well (but to a lesser extent).  Body for Life will tell you that you should use isolated exercise for the first five sets and a compound exercise for the sixth set (the super set), but I don't do this.  First I find it is too hard to balance a workout routine if you do that, and second if I'm only doing each muscle group once a week, I don't care if my compound exercises hit other groups.  I'm not very likely to overdue it.  It might be a different story if I was doing full body workouts. 

If you are doing your workouts from home, you probably have some manuals that come with your home gym that will give you ideas on what exercises to do.  My home gym consists of a Bowflex Ultimate.

Bowflex Ultimate XTLU Home Gym [Discontinued]

.a set of Bowflex Selectechs.

Bowflex� SelectTech� 552 Dumbbells

.and a Bowflex adjustable bench.

Bowflex� SelectTech� 5.1 Series Bench

The manuals have lots of exercises that I can chose from but I don't limit myself with that and neither should you.  One of the best sites for helping you put together your routines is BodyBuilding.com.


The only thing I don't like about it is that they have SO much stuff on the site, if you don't know where the list of exercises is located, it can be hard to navigate.  Use the link above to go straight to the exercise list.  You just click on the group you want to work and it will give you a huge list of things to try.  And finally some of my exercise come out of magazines. 

If you are going to a gym instead of working out at home, I recommend that you print out a copy of each of the exercises that you are going to be doing and keeping them with your workout routine.  So if you forget the proper form, you can check your notes to see what you should be doing.  You might be the only person at the gym with a clipboard, but don't be self conscience about it.  I used to do it all the time and no one ever laughed at me.  They did look.and a few offered suggestions.  But that's good too.

Why so many different exercises?

One of the big pitfalls of weight lifting the people get stuck on is they put the time into creating a routine and then they never change it.  The human body is an amazing machine.  It is very adaptive.  After SIX WEEKS of doing the same routine your body will adapt to it.  This is great but you don't really get the same benefit out of a routine once you adapt.  If you want to change your body, you've got to change your routine.  I swap everything out every six to eight weeks.

Between sets

You might be asking yourself, "What do I do in the minute or two between sets?"  That's really up to you.  As long as you don't lift with the targeted group, you can do whatever you like.

1. At the gym, I've seen (and have done this too) people run from the weight area to any cardio machine and just do cardio while waiting.

2. Some will run in place.

3. Since I workout at home, I'll actually do some housework.  Do a set.vacuum three stair.do a set.vacuum three stair.do a set.

4. Most people just rest.  That's normally when you can catch them watching you.  It isn't you, they are just looking for something interesting while they wait on their muscle recovery.

5. I'm actually writing part of this blog while between sets.

6. Update your workout sheet.

I won't get into the science of what's happening but think of it this way.  Say I'm doing curls and I'm just starting with my set of 12 reps.  My muscle is cold and not prep'ed.  So I can't lift as much.  So I do a set and while I rest, my body sends nutrient enriched blood to my biceps to fuel the activity.  By the time I get to my fifth and sixth sets, my biceps are as strong as my body can make them.  That's when I lift the most.so I can really blast them.

Why would I want to BLAST my muscles?  That doesn't sound good

No.it doesn't sound good.  And what's really happening sounds worse.  When you lift in this manner, you are causing tiny micro fractures in your muscles.  Make no mistake, you ARE damaging them.  But that's the whole point.

Damage the muscle (like this) and your body will respond by building BETTER muscle.  This is how muscle growth happens.  So as long as you don't pull or tear your muscle, you will be fine.  And you will prevent pull/tear by following good form for every exercise that you do. 

Proper form is VERY important.  I've talked to people at the gym and watched them (when I'm between sets).  Here's an example.

Guy doing barbell presses is on his last set.  He's doing a weight that is new for him and just a bit beyond his range.  So instead of dropping back and going with a lighter weight, he twists.and squirms.wraps his legs around the legs of the bench.shifting around so he can incorporate other muscles into helping him.  All because he wants to be lifting a weight he's not ready for yet.  Ego trumps safety.and at the risk of all kinds of injury.

If you can't lift a weight, stop.and drop to a lighter weight.  You can try it again next week if you want.  And if that's not enough to convince you, then remember this.  You aren't going to lift ANYTHING if you hurt yourself.

While I'm on the subject of form.  Another common mistake that people will make is that of speed.  I've seen people pick up a dumbbell and knock out a bunch of reps at top speed.  BAM BAM BAM.yeah.

If you want to get the most out of your lifting, you need to take your time.  A slow lift will give you that sweet sweet stress that you are after.  It isn't about how many reps you can do or how much weight you can lift.  Its about hitting that muscle stress that encourages muscle growth.  And remember each rep is a lift up.and a lift down.  Don't relax on the down part.  Put it down slowly.in a controlled fashion.  Is it hard doing it that way?  You bet it is.  And that's what you want! 

Lastly.don't EVER hold your breath while lifting.  This can spell disaster.  Just don't do it.  BREATHE! 

Okay..one more.  Eventually, you are going to come across an exercise that just doesn't work for you.  Either you can't hold the position or it inflames an old injury or whatever.  I knew a woman at the gym.tip top shape.  But because of a rotator cuff injury, she couldn't do most exercises that involved her shoulders.  You do what you can.and see your doctor if there is any question. 

That covers the workout.  Let's move to the post workout.

Post workout

"Hey this one should be easy.  I hit the showers and that's that."

And it really can be that simple if you want it to be.  Weight lifting is one of those things that can be a serious or as light as you want.  You don't have to follow it all.  Put a weight in your hand and lift it with good form while breathing.  That much you have to do.  Everything else is optional.  It really depends on how serious you want to be. 

One thing you can do to increase your results is to take a bit of protein after you lift.  "OH NO!  He's going to tell us to use those weird powdered drinks!"  You bet I am!  What you want post workout is a protein that your system can munch on and helps to suppress your desire to totally binge eat everything you see.  You can pick whatever you want but what I use is a called Matrix 5.0

Matrix 5.0

Out of all the protein mixes I've tried, this one works the best for me.mostly because of the taste.  If you buy a mix that you won't drink because you dread it.then it doesn't do you ANY GOOD!  Out of the flavors that Matrix does, I've tried two.and they are tasty.  I started out with just the plain vanilla and dropped in a banana for extra flavor..pretty good.  But then I accidentally ordered their 'cookies and cream' flavor.  Oh.its like drinking an Oreo shake.  It is just that good.  I haven't tried the chocolate yet.  I'm not a big fan of chocolate mixes.  I've yet to have one that delivered on its promise of taste.

So that's the basics.  Kind of a long post but I wanted to give my cousin a good start.  I'm sure I've left out some stuff and my good friends at SparkPeople.com will probably let me know.  But for now.here's a fun zombie video.