10 Tips for the lifting novice


If you are at the point where you feel that your current fitness routine is stagnant, and you aren’t seeing the results you want, or getting the personal satisfaction you crave, I highly recommend taking the jump and incorporating lifting into your life. Men and women can gain a great deal of improved quality of life by picking up the iron, even if it’s only a couple days a week.


 (Lou has a whole series of great books with program designs ready to use. His newest book, Strong, hits shelves in November)


I first got into heavy lifting six years ago. After a lengthy career as a fitness instructor, gym manager, and avid cardio junky, I felt like my personal physical achievements had become stagnant. I wasn’t feeling challenged and I started to mentally crave a new endeavor. I knew I wanted to further explore other areas of fitness but wasn’t sure how or what to pick. One day a trainer on my staff left a book on my desk which piqued my curiosity and encouraged me to try something new (and scary).


The book was Lou Schuler’s New Rules of LiftingLou’s voice really resonated with my views about fitness and so, feeling I could trust Lou, I decided to give serious lifting a try. It was time to pick up something heavier than a 20lb dumbbell and give my body (and physique) the change it was so innately craving.


(Little did I know at the time that I would eventually get to meet Lou and forge a professional friendship. He’s just as authentic in person as he is on paper.)


How did this new endeavor transform me?


To put it briefly, lifting transfomed me into an uber confidant woman and it has also made me a better coach. Jump ahead six years later and I cannot imagine a life without lifting in my personal or professional life. It’s my medicine, my therapy, and my soul nourishment. Lifting got me through a time in my life when I was seriously struggling. Lifting gave me the courage to forge ahead and eventually inspired me to train for my first powerlifting meet, then two more over a 6 month period. And lifting does the same for all of my real [FIT] life’rs. It seems selfish not to share our secret with all of you!


So here are my top tips for the best way to transition into a life of lifting.


1. Jump in


Many people worry about looking out of place when first lifting. I know my heart skipped a couple beats every time I walked into the gym and had to tackle an exercise I had never done before. The first time I used a squat rack was completely unnerving. Figuring out how the rack settings adjusted. Picking up a bar for the first time. Sweating it out and worrying that other people would think I looked silly or out of place. But every time I  tackled a new physical feat, and learned something new, I felt so good after! I also eventually realized that no one else at the gym cares what you are doing. Serious lifters are too busy getting their own shit done. Another thing I learned? People are pretty helpful if you just ask.


2. Use a well designed plan


Winging it at the gym is a sure fire way to lose your momentum quickly. How many times have you walked into a gym FILLED with equipment and had no clue what to do? Having a program already mapped out eliminates the guesswork when you walk through the door. You know exactly what to tackle. Once I got my feet wet, I actually started to get excited for my sessions because I knew what my short term goals would be for that day and I wanted to ace them.

Make sure your plan is created by a professional who knows what they’re doing. Program design is best left to the professionals. Books are a great place to start.  There are also fabulous online coaches who offer program designs for purchase. Make sure the program you select  is in alignment with your personal goals. If you are looking to add muscle mass and overall size, you probably don’t want a program that emphasizes fat loss. If you want to get stronger and leaner, you want the program that emphasizes fat loss.


3. Technique comes first

 (My novice squat form Week 2 of my powerlifting training in April of 2014)


Beginners often make the mistake of immediately jumping to the “advanced” exercises or picking up weight much heavier than is needed.  Even if you have lifted before, anything new that you’re trying for the first time, makes you a beginner. It always amazes my clients when I have them perform an exercise they have done on their own, but now with concise technique and real focus on muscle activation. Their immediate response is always “Wow, I’ve never done it that way before. It’s so much harder!”


It IS necessary to eventually move to heavier weight or harder variations but people usually jump to them WAY before its’ necessary and before they are truly ready. I always encourage you to set your ego aside if you’re looking for awesome results and longevity. Taking the time to do things right will give you greater visible results for physique and performance. It will also help to keep you injury free and training long term. Getting sidelined with an injury can still happen as with any fitness endeavor but the less frequently it happens, the better the results you can attain and the more enjoyable the endeavor.


4. Don’t ignore pain


And speaking of injuries, lifting isn’t supposed to hurt. Pain is NOT necessary for results. In fact, it can deter you from seeing results. At the same time, lifting is physically challenging and there is a certain level of discomfort that can accompany the tackling of new physical feats. Especially if you aren’t accustomed to the sensations that arise when pushing past your comfort zone and challenging your body in new ways. Beginners need time to be able to recognize the difference between muscular discomfort and pain. If something “hurts” and you aren’t sure which kind of hurt it is, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

That brings us to tip #5


5. Progress slowly


“Anything you do today is more than you did before” I tell my beginners this often. Any new stimuli that you expose your body to will elicit a response. You are better off progressing gradually and taking the next 24 to 48 hours to see how you feel, rather than overdoing it and being too sore to effectively perform your next workout. If something feels uncomfortable and you aren’t sure whether its pain or discomfort, perform less reps with less weight and see how you feel over the interim. If the discomfort goes away, it was likely muscular discomfort. If it persists, you could be performing an exercise incorrectly and in a manner which is hurting rather than helping.


A client will occasionally tell me an exercise is causing pain. Usually a tweak to their technique eliminates the problem. However, in certain cases, a particular exercise just isn’t the right choice for them. And that’s okay. There are always multiple exercise options which can elicit similar results. It’s never necessary or beneficial to force your body to do something that doesn’t feel right.


Allow yourself time to fully assess how your body responds to different lifts and movements so you can find what works best for you.


 My training log. November, 2014.


5. Log your training sessions


In order to make gradual and consistent progress you need to actually track your training. If you aren’t writing down what you do from week to week, you will be merely guessing your next steps. Having a tangible plan that you can look at throughout the training process helps you to better see where you started, where you’re headed, and eventually how far you’ve come. You think that you will remember what weights you lifted and for how many reps week to week, but I promise you, you won’t. And why guesstimate when you can be pinpoint accurate in your design?

I not only use my log as a way to track what exercises I did, how much weight I lifted, and for how many reps. I also make notes for myself about how I felt that day, effort level on an exercise, and settings used on racks. Be sure to celebrate any personal records with a special symbol so you can easily see them when you look back to review your progress.


6. Do not fear challenge


Your training should be performed with good technique, always. There is a learning curve for beginners which I think typically lasts 3-4 weeks for most. But once you start to get in a groove and feel you know what you are doing you must challenge yourself. Training should be doable yet also require a good deal of effort. It’s a fine line you need to walk at least 90% of the time in order to see real results.


There may be times that you will feel more comfortable pushing yourself if someone spots you. Sometimes your mental confidence needs to catch up to your bodies abilities. That’s normal. Respect your fears but find ways to gently work past them. If you let fear deter your progress for too long, you will stop seeing results and then your motivation will likely wane as well. Don’t let that happen.


7. Ask lots of questions


I encourage my new real [FIT] life’rs to ask a lot of questions. When I try a new program or exercise, I bring resources to the gym to refer to AS I’m training. These may include a how to video loaded on my phone, a photo, or a book with instructions. Really read the fine details and pay attention to be sure you aren’t missing any important pointers.


Our bodies and our minds usually cannot process and perfect everything all at once. So pick the most important thing to focus on first but keep going back and referring to your resources to see what layers may be added next as your proficiency increases. Or if you have a trainer, keep asking questions so that you deepen your knowledge and understanding of what you are seeking to accomplish short term as well as long term. If a trainer does not have the patience to teach you these things, I would recommend finding another.


 (Squatting with better form and greater confidence at my first meet in Brooklyn in October of 2014)


8. Eat, sleep, and rest


Real training requires sufficient fuel. Recovery requires sleep. And continued results will not be possible without adequate rest. Results will be impeded if you don’t allow your body days off from training. Less can be more if you are giving full effort during your sessions and utilizing progressive overload most of the time. You cannot give full effort during your training if you are underfed, undernourished, over trained, and sleep deprived.

 6 months ago

9. Let your body change


I think women grapple with this one more than men but if I’m wrong, I’d love to hear about it!


Throughout my lifting journey, my body has changed and gone through many phases. At times when I added significant new muscle to my physique, I occasionally felt “bigger”. Sometimes I was bigger (barely) and other times the feeling was more in my head than anything. It’s important to understand that in order to get stronger you have to temporarily set aside the need for ultra leanness. But this process requires an intelligent mindset and approach rather than one that is fueled by emotions, insecurity, and self loathing.


After my strength building phases, I usually go through a phase where I then rein in my diet, up my energy output, and shed some body fat. The great part is that I now have a physique underneath that is shapelier and stronger than it was before.


Furthermore, my physical achievements have awarded me so much more long term satisfaction and confidence than I ever had when I solely trained to “look a certain way”. Being able to bust out chin ups, deadlift double my body weight, and squat over 180 pounds makes me feel like a force to be reckoned with. To be able to view my body as a “capable tool ready for action” rather than just “an object for empty admiration” has shifted my whole perspective on life and how I fit into society as a productive, capable woman.


10.  Make it forever


So, you missed a week of training because you went on vacation? Congratulations! You have a life and you should. Fitness is not meant to keep you from living life. It’s intended to create a life of better quality living. If you are committed to fitness for the long haul, and you consistently train more weeks than not, missing a session here or there for other worthwhile life experiences does not serve as a reason to give up and discontinue forever. You rule your life and fitness is just a fabulous component that helps to make it better!



Jeannine Trimboli, CEO, real [FIT] life






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