Lifting – The Basics

I’m almost 10 weeks into my first cycle of lifting. It’s not easy and, as I begin leaning out, I am sore, tired, and hungry every day. I’m also two weeks away from taking my ACSM Certified Personal Training exam. My days are consumed with the gym, meal planning/prepping, and studying. This is not the life I plan to lead forever but I’m very happy I gave myself 3 months to give it my all. The changes (mental, physical, and emotional) have been more than I ever dreamed. And I’m going to take my new knowledge and strength into my next cycle with the aim to be more balanced so I can still have meals out, sweet treats, and look amazing.

Photo Credit: Tumblr
So that leads me to how I plan to design a lifting program. Is it the only way? No. Is it the best way for everyone? No. But it’s a great place to start and learn what works for you so you can build your own programs that maximize your results.
Phase 1: Endurance/Strength
Everyone wants to jump right into lifting hard and heavy. But that’s when you end up so sore you can’t walk or, even worse, injured. Next thing you know you’re skipping the next workout or two to recover and all your hard work is slipping away.
The only way to avoid this pitfall is to start slowly (note: I didn’t say EASY). Building endurance starts with higher reps. I like to use 3 sets of 12 repetitions for each exercise for the first 2 weeks. It’s right on the line between pure endurance lifting and strength building so it sets you up for maximum growth in the next portion. I also like to start with only 4 days of lifting so my body has plenty of time to recover between workouts.
There are several general ‘target areas’ that need to be strengthened each week. These are your chest, back legs, shoulders, arms, and abs. Obviously, you can’t dedicate a day to each group or you won’t hit them all in a four day split. A common split, sometimes referred to as the ‘Brogram’, is chest/triceps, back/biceps, legs, and shoulders/abs. This gives you four workouts per week and makes sure you get all of your muscles ready for growth.
After two weeks of lifting like this, I move onto a five day split. The fifth day is simply a second day of working out my weakest body part. For this first cycle that meant legs for me. I chose them because I love to run but I also want a butt and strong legs. Next cycle I think this will be my back as it is definitely my weakest link and prevents me from squatting as heavy as I’d like and I still can’t do a pull-up. You have to decide what your weakness is and hit it the hardest so that it becomes your strength!
August 31, 2014 to January 13, 2015
Grow booty, grow!
Phase 2: Muscle Growth (Hypertrophy)
As an adult you can’t actually add muscle. You have all the muscle fibers you ever will. But you can make them BIGGER. This is known as hypertrophy. So how do you do this? The answer is to get a little heavier in the weights, add a few more sets, and keep your reps in the 8-12 range (I prefer 8-10). I also add supersets (grouping two lifts together before resting). Lastly, I added a 6th day of lifting. In this phase, my program consisted of the following days: back, chest/abs, legs, arms/abs, shoulders, legs. I also added more cardio to increase my calorie burn and keep my in running shape. I usually aimed for 30-40 minutes with a day or two of 60+ minutes. The longer cardio days were simply to keep my running up and not related to my lifting goals.
I love my arms and shoulders now!
Phase 3: Leaning Out/Fat Loss
Once you’ve gained the muscle you have to shed fat so you can show it off! The last portion of a lifting cycle will be losing some of the fluff. This really focuses on diet (which I will talk about in another post) but I also tweaked my workouts.
I kept a 6 day lifting split (5 days with cardio) and added higher volume lifting. This means more sets (usually 4) with higher reps (usually 15-20). I obviously am lifting lighter weights to be able to nearly double the reps I do of each exercise but the ‘burn’ is killer. I have kept supersets as a big part of my programming and added active rest as well. I usually rested 60-90 seconds between sets in the first two phases. This phase the rest periods are filled with jump rope, mountain climbers, burpees, and tuck jumps. Keeping my heart rate up keeps my calorie burn high.
After I finish my lifting workout I do 30-40 minutes of HIIT (high intensity interval training) cardio. This can be intervals/speed work on the treadmill, a spin workout, plyometrics, or even rowing. I just try to keep my heart rate up and burn as many calories as I can.
For the final two weeks my lifting will be done in circuits. I will work through one set of every exercise before I rest for 3-5 minutes and then repeat the series 3-4 times total. After that I will once again perform 30-40 minutes of cardio.
Working out with Shaun T and Beachbody’s T25!
I can attest first hand to the first two phases doing exactly what I’d hoped. I’m still working on my lean out and I have 17 more days before it’s over. I hope I will love those results just as much as I loved the muscle building. After hitting a highest weight of 139.5 pounds over the holidays, I am currently sitting at 131 pounds. That is not my ‘goal’ weight but I’m more worried about not losing my hard-earned muscle than hitting an arbitrary number.
So I hope this basic overview of the last 10 weeks of my life has helped you get ready to begin or build your lifting program. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment or find me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. I’ll cover my nutrition in the next few days.
Also, please remember that I am not a certified trainer (yet). So, as always, consult your physician and listen to your body!