Look Better Naked With The Ultimate Noob’s Weight Lifting Guide

by Mindy Fischer on March 14, 2019

Get Ready to Sculpt, Tone, or Build a Whole New You with Weight Lifting!

So you're thinking about starting a weight lifting program, but you're not quite sure where to begin.

Well, I've got you covered noobies.

I have given you a complete guide with everything that you need to know before you hit the gym.

Stick around until the end because I am going to give you two killer workouts that will teach you exactly what to do on week one.

Now you might notice that these beginner workouts use both machines and dumbbells.

The machines are an excellent place to start because they sort of force you to use correct form. Adding dumbbells can be challenging when you're first starting, so don't be afraid to ask a trainer if you're doing the exercise correctly.

What I can promise you is that doing your weight lifting exercises will make you look better naked.

Yes, I said that. It's true. And it's awesome.

But it's about so much more than that.

You won't just look better. You will also feel a lot better, both mentally and physically.

Know what's even better than that? You will also be healthier and stronger.

Pretty great, right?

So what are you waiting for my friends? Let's get after it!

Let's Start with Your Goals

So you're ready to get in shape, and you want to start a weight lifting program. Awesome!

Now let's talk about what it is that you're hoping to achieve.

Weight lifting can do many things for your body.

Ask yourself:

Are you hoping to add mass? Do you want to get stronger? Maybe you want to lose weight. Or perhaps you want to tone up and get healthier. Do you want to train your muscles to get better at a particular sport? Do you want stronger bones?

Well, good news!

Weight lifting can do all of those things.

But it's important to state your goals because you will train differently depending on what you're trying to accomplish.

woman lifting a pole

Image: by Ichigo121212 via Pixabay

The general rule is:

if you want to build bigger muscles, then you use heavy weights and low reps. On the flip side, if you're hoping to lose size and tone and tighten up, then you will use lighter weights and higher reps.

"Focus on form, not weight. Align your body correctly and move smoothly through each exercise. Poor form can prompt injuries and slow gains. When learning a strength training routine, many experts suggest starting with no weight, or very light weight. Concentrate on slow, smooth lifts and equally controlled descents while isolating a muscle group." -Harvard Medical School

Overall fitness and toning

Weight lifting is essential for overall fitness and toning.

Now, I just told you that for toning you should use lighter weight and higher reps.

However, that does not mean that your workout is going to be wimpy. You still have to use enough weight that you challenge your muscles. If you go too light, you won't notice much change in your body.

Let's say that you're on the leg press machine, for example, if you can easily do 20 reps without much effort, then you're going way too light. On the other hand, if you can't get through at least 12 reps with correct form, then you've gone too heavy.

What you're looking for is the sweet spot.

It should take a real effort to complete the reps, and by the last couple, it should be very challenging.

For beginners at weight lifting, you will be starting with one set of each exercise. As you get stronger, you will work up to three sets.

If you're looking for overall fitness and toning then you're aiming for 12 to 15 reps of every exercise, be sure that you do at least 12.

an athlete attempting  to lift a barbell

Image: by Victor Freitas via Pexels

Building muscle and strength

Many men do weight lifting because they want to create more muscle mass. As we've been discussing, that means training with heavier weight and lower reps.

You are looking for the same feeling that I just talked about with toning. That is, by the last couple of reps, the movement should be very tough.

But you will only be doing six to eight reps for most exercises. That means that your weight has to be heavy enough that you couldn't do 10 or more reps.

Another thing that is essential to building mass:

Your diet. But not like you may be thinking: Make sure that you are consuming enough calories every day, especially lean protein.

Now, let me speak to the women for a minute.

One thing I hear all the time from my female clients is that they are scared to do weight lifting because they don't want to build big bulky muscles.

Hear me on this ladies.

You do not need to be afraid to lift heavy weight. It is extremely tough for women to build bulk like men can because they simply don't have enough testosterone.

You can sculpt your body with heavy weights, but you will never look like a man. You have my word on that.

What is Muscular Balance?

Have you ever seen one of those guys at the gym who kills himself pumping heavy weights for his upper body but never works his legs? They end up with massive upper bodies and skinny little chicken legs.

We've all seen people like that.

It's a look, but it's not a good look.

Or maybe you've seen one of those women in the gym who works like crazy on her legs and butt, but never works her upper body. It's an imbalance that you can see right away.

Those are both examples of what not to do.

Muscular balance is what you want. That means that if you work the upper body, you also work the lower body. If you work on the right side, you also work on the left side. When you work the front of your arm, you must also work the back of your arm.

Make sense?

One of the ways that I like to train people is by following each exercise with another one for balance. For example, after a chest exercise, I do one for the back. Or I follow bicep curls with tricep pushdowns.

Here's why:

Not only does training for balance make you stronger and healthier. It also gives you an ideal symmetrical shape.

The Bennies

"Inactive adults experience a 3% to 8% loss of muscle mass per decade, accompanied by resting metabolic rate reduction and fat accumulation. Ten weeks of resistance training may increase lean weight by 1.4 kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8 kg." -National Institutes of Health

Check this out!

  • 1
    Lean muscle burns more calories, even at rest
  • 2
    Weight loss
  • 3
    Loss of body fat
  • 4
    Makes you look and feel better
  • 5
    Enhances performance in endurance sports
  • 6
    Improves coordination
  • 7
    Makes you stronger
  • 8
    Increases bone density
  • 9
    Creates additional nervous system connections
  • 10
    Increased brain activity
  • 11
    Prevents diseases like diabetes
  • 12
    Burns fat
  • 13
    Boosts VO2 max
  • 14
    Greatly beneficial to the elderly
  • 15
    Helps to avoid the loss of joint flexibility
  • 16
    Improves focus, stability, and balance
  • 17
    Relieves stress
  • 18
    Injury prevention
  • 19
    Healthier heart

How often do I need to work out?

For overall health and fitness, you should do some weight-bearing exercise for every muscle in your body at least once a week.

That's the bare minimum.

Here's what I've found:

If you want to change your body, whether it's with toning or bodybuilding, you have to work on each muscle group twice a week.

If you're doing full body workouts, then you can bump it up to three times per week. But it is essential that you give your muscles at least 48 hours before you work them again.

The thing I love about a split routine, meaning that you work upper body one day and lower body on a separate day, is that you can do them back to back. While you're working your upper body, your lower body gets a rest day.

man doing a bench press

Image: by Bruce Mars via Pexels

When you can start, and when you're too old to weight lift

"Lean muscle mass naturally decreases with age. If you don't do anything to replace the muscle loss, it'll be replaced with fat. But weight training can help you reverse the trend — at any age.

As your muscle mass increases, you'll be able to lift weights more easily and for longer periods of time. You'll also help to maintain your bone density, better manage your weight and improve your body's metabolism. So don't wait. Get started today." -Mayo Clinic

It's never too late to start a weight lifting program.

The fact is, the older that you get, the more critical resistance training becomes.

But it's not just for seniors.

In fact, weight lifting is appropriate starting at around age 16.

Children under the age of 16 should still be doing muscle strengthening exercises, but they should only use their body weight for resistance.

So, now you know it's time for you to start lifting, let's answer your next question:

So How Do You Put It All Together?

Beginner's Weight Lifting Schedule for Building and Strengthening

Day 1:

Upper Body Training

Day 2:

Lower Body Training

Day 3:

Cardio, 20-45 minutes

Day 4:

Upper Body Training

Day 5:

Lower Body Training

Day 6:

Cardio, 30-60 minutes

Day 7:


*Repeat this schedule for 3-6 weeks, then slowly increase your weight and sets for each exercise.

Beginner's Weight Lifting Schedule for Toning and Weight Loss

Day 1:

Upper Body Training, followed by 15-30 minutes of cardio

Day 2:

Lower Body Training, followed by 20-40 minutes of cardio

Day 3:


Day 4:

Upper Body Training, followed by 15-30 minutes of cardio

Day 5:

Lower Body Training, followed by 20-40 minutes of cardio

Day 6:


Day 7:

Rest or 20-30 minutes of light cardio

*Repeat this schedule for 5-6 weeks, and then gradually increase the weight and sets that you do for each exercise.

Manners, People!

    Weight Lifting Etiquette 101

  • Always bring a small towel! Be sure to wipe your sweat off each machine and bench when you finish. I'm happy to share a workout with you, but I don't want to lay in your sweat, dude.
  • Be sure always to rerack your weights when you finish with them. Your mama's not here to pick up after you.
  • Don't sit and rest for long periods on a machine that someone else is waiting to use. Most people will be happy to work in between sets with you. So while you're catching your breath, hop off the machine and let others work in with you.
  • Leave your cell phone in your car or locker. Nothing is worse than some rude guy hanging out on the machines yapping on the phone.

Don't Forget About Cardio!

By now you're starting to understand the importance of weight lifting.

But here's something else you need to know.

You can do your weight lifting workout religiously, but you will never see definition in your muscles if you have a layer of body fat covering it up.

It sucks, but it's true.

So how do you get rid of that body fat?

Well, for one thing, you need to keep doing your weight lifting routine because the more lean muscle you have, the more efficiently your body will burn fat. But if you want to get rid of fat, you also have to burn it off with cardio.

The not so secret trick to that:

For overall health and fitness, you should do at least 20 minutes of cardio at least three times per week.

But if you want to change your body, you will need to do a bit more.

Can Weight Lifting Make Me Gain Weight?

Yes, weight lifting can make you weigh more, especially when you're first starting.

Okay, everybody take a deep breath before you freak out.

Let me explain.

The fact is, muscle weighs more than fat.

As you replace fat with lean muscle, it is very likely that you will see the scale going up.

Don't panic.

I know this is difficult for people who regularly monitor their weight on the scale. But while you're starting, I want you to ignore it.

Yes, you heard me right. Ignore the scale.

Instead, I want you to pay attention to how your clothes fit. Weight lifting is going to tighten your body up and sculpt your shape. And you will see that your clothes are fitting looser, even if the scale goes up a bit.

You Want Tips? Oh, We've Got Tips!

"Do supersets and hybrids. A superset involves doing two or more exercises that target the same muscle group, back to back with minimal rest in between. For example, doing a set of 12 heavy squats followed by a set of 12 heavy lunges is a superset. A hybrid involves combining two or more movements into one movement. Combining a squat with a shoulder press or a lunge with a squat followed by a lunge are examples of hybrid exercises. Incorporating these into your weight-training workouts can increase the intensity of your training, which is ideal for losing weight." -American Council on Exercise

Water! Water! Water!

Stay hydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. When I say plenty, I mean at least 8 to 10 glasses every day.

On days that you workout you should drink more, including while you're weight lifting.

You are what you eat

If you want to change your body, you have to do more than weight lifting. You also have to eat healthily.

I recommend eating a small balanced meal 30 to 60 minutes before your workout.

Balanced means eating equal portions of lean protein and complex carbohydrates.

Then you should eat again after your workout. If you can eat within 45 minutes of finishing your weight lifting, you can take advantage of your sped up metabolism from your workout. Everything that you eat right after you work out will burn off almost immediately.

How great is that?

The best time to do cardio

The best time to do cardio is after your weight lifting, not before.

You can also do your cardio workouts on a different day than your weight training.

Track your progress

Keep track of your workouts. And keep track of your progress.

The best way to do that is to take pictures.

As we've already discussed, you can't depend on the scale to show you your muscle gains. How your clothes fit is a better indication.

And pictures don't lie.

So go ahead and take that selfie before you start weight lifting. Take another one after six weeks, and another after 12 weeks. You won't believe the difference.

muscle woman doing an exercise on a gym

Image: by Sabel Blanco via Pexels

Start with the Compound Exercises

A compound exercise in weight lifting is a movement that works on several muscle groups at the same time.

You don't want to have to spend hours in the gym every day, do you?

Of course, you don't. Nobody does.

As I always tell my clients, it's not about working longer; it's about working smarter.

Compound exercises give you the same workout in a fraction of the time. That's what I'd call smart!

Here's the tradeoff:

Because they work on many muscle groups at once, they are more difficult. So we always do them first in the workout.

Now let's get to the workouts!

Beginner Weight Lifting Workout for Upper Body

Beginner Weight Lifting Workout for Upper Body

  • 1
    10-minute cardio warm-up
  • 2
    1 to 2 sets of push-ups, 12-15 reps per set
  • 3
    1 set of lat pulldowns 8-15 reps
  • 4
    1 set of dumbbell flys, 8-15 reps
  • 5
    1 set of standing bicep curls with dumbbells, 8-12 reps
  • 6
    1 set of tricep pushdowns with the rope, 8 to 12 reps
  • 7
    1 set of lateral raises with dumbbells, 8-12 reps
  • 8
    1 set on the ab crunch machine, 15-25 reps

*Beginners should repeat this workout 1-2 times per week for 3-6 weeks. Then increase to 2 sets of each exercise for 3-4 weeks. After that you should increase to 3 sets of each exercise.*

1. Warm-up

Before you start any weight lifting, it is essential that you warm up.

The goal is to get your heart rate up and warm up the muscles before you add weights.

It may be tempting to skip the warm up, but stop yourself right there. If you want an effective workout and if you're going to avoid injury, you must warm up. Period.

Do this first, every time:

Start with 10 minutes of cardio for your warm up, that can be anything that gets your blood pumping.

One of my favorite ways to warm up the entire body is with the rowing machine. If you've never tried it, you really should.

Other things you can do before you start weight lifting include walking, jogging, riding the bike, the elliptical machine, jumping rope, shadow boxing, or even jumping on the trampoline.

2. Push-ups

Hands down, the best exercise that you can do for your entire upper body is push-ups. I like to start with them on upper body day. They get your chest, back, shoulders, arms, and core ready for weight lifting.

Don't forget this:

Be sure that you do them with perfect form, even if that means you can only do a few. The video below will show you the proper technique.

You may not love doing push-ups, most people don't. But if you want to tone, sculpt, or build your upper body, you need to do them.

There's no whining in weight lifting!

You only have to do one set. They'll be over before you know it.

I want you to try to do 12 to 15 push-ups. If you can't quite do them all, that's okay. Do as many as you can. And rest assured that as you get stronger, you will be able to do more of them.

Insert Video
Insert Video
Insert Video

3. Wide-grip Lat Pulldown

Just like the push-ups, the wide-grip lat pulldown is a compound exercise, which means that it works on more than one muscle group at the same time. They are excellent for your back. And they also work your shoulders and arms.

There's more:

You can do a variation of this weight lifting exercise with a narrower underhanded grip. Regardless of which grip you use you should focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull the bar down.

I want you to keep this movement slow and controlled. Be careful not to use momentum to do the motion. If you're using momentum, you're not using your muscles. It's cheating, and you won't get any benefit from it.

Cheaters never win, and winners never cheat. 

4. Dumbbell Flys on the Flat Bench

Remember what I said about muscle balance?

We just finished working your back, so now we will follow with working the chest.

Dumbbell flys are also a compound exercise because they not only work your chest muscles, they also work your shoulders and arms.

If you're brand new to weight lifting, it can be a bit tricky to use dumbbells. The video below will teach you the proper form.

Don't worry if you aren't getting it right away:

If you find using the dumbbells makes it difficult for you to control the movement, then you can switch to using the butterfly machine for this exercise.

The machine will assure that you're in the right position. If you feel unsure, use it first, then go to the weights.

Here's another way:

To vary this weight lifting exercise, do it on an inclined bench. The incline will put more of the workload into your upper chest. The flat bench works more of your middle chest.

Fun fact:

Working your chest with exercises like push-ups and flys is the best way for women to get a natural boob lift. Now, how great is that?

5. Standing Bicep Curls

Okay, now that we've done the compound exercises it's time to zone in on the individual smaller arm muscles.

First, you're going to work the biceps or the front of your arms.

Because we've already worked the biceps in the previous exercises, they should be starting to get fatigued. You may have to lower your weight a little if you can't do at least six reps.

But don't wimp out on me.

Keep challenging your muscles.

If you're trying to build bigger arms, you should do six to eight reps, barely able to finish the last one. If you're trying to tone your arms, then you will do 12 to 15. Still, be sure that your weight is heavy enough that you struggle with the last rep.

6. Tricep Pushdowns with the Rope

We just worked the front of the arm. You know what that means.

Yep. It's time to work the back of the arms or your triceps.

Do the undersides of your arms jiggle when you wave goodbye? Don't fret. We can fix that!

This weight lifting exercise will tighten that jiggle right up.

We already did the compound exercises, so it's essential that you isolate your tricep with this movement.


Be careful that you keep your elbows glued to your sides so that you don't allow your shoulders to take over and cheat your triceps.

If you find it difficult to use the rope, you can also do this exercise with a straight bar. Just change the attachment on the cable. The movement is the same whether you use the rope or bar.

7. Lateral Raises

Now it's time to work those shoulders.

You're doing great. We're almost there.

The video below will walk you through the correct form. If you have any trouble using the dumbbells, you can also do this exercise on a machine.

Just like I said with the bicep curls and the tricep pushdowns, we want to isolate the shoulder muscles. Be careful not to let momentum take over.

Slow and controlled is the name of the game, my friends.

Now finish strong and use a full range of motion.

Fun Fact:

Developing and strengthening your shoulders not only makes your arms look better. It also makes your waist look smaller. Pretty great, right?

8. Ab Crunch Machine

Look at you! You just did an upper body weight lifting workout.

But you're not quite done yet.

At the end of every workout, you need to finish with your abs.

You can do regular crunches on the floor. Or you can use the ab crunch machine, which is more intense.

Whether you're doing weight lifting to add mass or you're just toning, you will do high reps for your abs.

If you're using the machine, I want you to do at least 15 reps. Bonus points if you can do 25.

A Beginner Weight Lifting Workout for Lower Body

  • 1
    10-minute cardio warm-up
  • 2
    1 set of squats with weights, 8-15 reps
  • 3
    1 set of deadlifts with a barbell, 8-15 reps
  • 4
    1 set of leg press, 8-15 reps
  • 5
    1 set of lying leg curls, 8-12 reps
  • 6
    1 set of leg extensions, 8-12 reps
  • 7
    1 set of calf raises on leg sled, 12-20 reps
  • 8
    1 set of 3 planks, holding each one for 20-30 seconds

*Beginners should do this leg workout 1-2 times per week for 3-6 weeks. Then increase to 2 sets per exercise for 3-4 weeks. After that increase to 3 sets for all exercises.*

woman stretching

Image: by skeeze via Pixabay

1. Warm-up

Just like with your upper body workout, before you start weight lifting on leg day, you must warm up.

Remember, the idea is to get your heart rate up and prepare your body for weight lifting.

You can do any cardio that you like. And you need to do it for 10 minutes.

I like to put my clients on the stationary bike for their warm-up on leg days. It not only gets your blood pumping. The bike also does an excellent job of warming up your leg muscles. Another great choice on leg day is the rowing machine.

squat shadow character

Image: by kropekk_pl via Pixabay

2. Squats

Remember what I said about push-ups being the best compound exercise for your entire upper body? Well, what push-ups are for your upper body, squats are for your lower body.

It's a practical exercise that works your core, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.

It is essential that you do squats with the correct form. The video below will walk you through it.

As a beginner, I want you to start without additional weight on this exercise. Just using your body weight for resistance is enough. As you get stronger, you can add dumbbells.

One of the things that I love about squats for any fitness level is that they give you great shape to your butt.

Basically, with this movement, you want to allow your hips to go back as you sit down in an imaginary chair.

Here's a tip for you:

As you stand up from the squat position, push through your heels and squeeze your butt. Pretend that you had a penny between your butt cheeks.

You have to squeeze that booty so that you don't lose that penny.

It's silly, I know. But trust me on this, the tighter you squeeze that penny, the more amazing your butt is going to look.

If you don't squeeze your butt, nobody else will either.

3. Dead Lifts

Now that you're nice and warmed up, we're going to move on to the next compound weight lifting exercise:


Deadlifts are going to work your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. The video below will walk you through the correct technique.

I want you to use light weights with this exercise. But if you feel any pain in your lower back, drop the weights and use just your body weight for resistance.

It's essential that you keep your core strong with this movement. You should also be careful not to hunch your back. Instead, I want you to keep your spine nice and long and straight.

When you bend down, you should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. As you stand back up you should again squeeze that penny between your butt cheeks.

4. Leg Press

The next weight lifting exercise we're going to do on leg day is the seated leg press.

When you're first starting, use this machine without any additional weight plates.

The machine itself is weighted enough for beginners. As you get stronger, you will add weight.

The seated leg press is another compound exercise that works your entire lower body.

To protect your knees place your feet toward the top of the sled. You never want to let your knees bend beyond 90 degrees or go forward of your toes.

Keep this in mind:

If you want to target your butt, concentrate on pushing through your heels.

The video below will walk you through the correct form. But I also recommend that you ask a trainer at the gym to help you with your first set if you feel unsure of the movement.

I want you to get accustomed to this machine. We're going to come back to it in a minute.

5. Lying Leg Curls

Okay, now that we finished the compound weight lifting exercises we're going to target just your hamstrings.

The leg curl machine is excellent for the back of your thighs, but make sure that you watch the video below to learn the proper form.


One mistake that I often see on this exercise is people lifting their hips off the pad to assist the hamstrings with the full range of motion. Usually, that means that the weight is too heavy.

I want you to use a weight that is heavy enough that you feel a good burn by the last few reps. But don't make it so heavy that you can't complete your set or sacrifice your form.

6. Leg extensions

So we just worked the back of the thigh. For muscle balance, you know what that means.

Yep. Now we work the front of the thighs.

Leg extensions not only define and sculpt your quads, but they also strengthen all of the muscles around your knees. That will make you a lot less likely to injure them.

However, it's also possible to hurt your knees on this equipment. So it is essential that use the correct form and that you set the machine to the right position before you begin.

Set the machine properly, great for the knees. Set it up wrong, and all bets are off.

The video below will walk you through it. But it's also a good idea to check with a trainer to make sure that you set the machine up correctly.

Stop the exercise immediately if you feel pain in your knees because you are doing something wrong.

On the other hand, if you feel a significant burning in the front of your thighs, you're doing something oh so right!

7. Calf Raises on Leg Sled

I told you we would be coming back to the leg press machine. And here we are.

But this time we are only going to work your calves.

Now your calves are a little different than the other muscles in your lower body.

Here's why:

Your calves are an endurance muscle. That means that you can do more reps on your calves. Incidentally, another endurance muscle in your body is your abs. That's also why we work abs in every workout. If you wanted to, you could do the same for your calves.

I want you to aim for 20 reps. Bonus points if you can get to 25.

You don't need to add weight plates for this weight lifting exercise. The machine itself is heavy enough.

8. Planks

You're doing great, just one more thing.

It's time to finish strong and burn those abs.

Planks are one of the best exercises that you can do for your core.

Unlike the other weight lifting exercises that we just did, we don't do planks for reps; we do them for time.

The most important thing is that you have the form correct. After that, I want you to try to hold your plank for 10 seconds. Take a rest. Do your second plank for 20 seconds. Then try to maintain the final plank for 30 seconds.

If that is too difficult, hold it for as long as you can.

Guidelines for Your Weight Lifting Workouts

  • Use heavy enough weight that you can barely complete a full set.
  • Don't sacrifice your form! If you can't complete a set using the correct technique, then you need to lower your weight. It's better to do fewer reps with perfect form than doing all of them with sloppy technique.
  • Rest for 30 to 60 seconds in between sets. Don't rest for longer than 90 seconds.
  • Do both of these workouts twice a week.
  • Rest one to two minutes in between exercises.

One Last Thing

Well, there you have it noobies. I think you're ready to hit the gym now.

But just one word of caution.

When you're first starting with any new workout program, you should consult your doctor. You should also know that you will likely be sore after your workout.

That's perfectly normal.

It's also possible that you could get sore a couple of days after your weight lifting. That's called Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. One thing that you can do to relieve some of the soreness is to do cardio. That will help flush out some of the lactic acid buildups.

One question that I frequently get from my clients is should they lift weights if they are still sore from their last workout.

man and a woman doing a 1 hand push up

Image: 5132824 via Pixabay

The answer is: it depends on how sore you are.

If you are super sore, then you should give yourself at least a full day of rest. If you find that you're still in a lot of pain the next day, then that means that you need to take another day off.

Now, if you're just a little sore, or moderately sore, then you have no excuses.

Weight lifting when you're a little sore will help alleviate the pain.

So get after it!

We'd love to hear from you about your experience with weight lifting. Let us know in the comments section below how you're doing. And tell us what you think about our beginner's workout.

And don't forget to squeeze that penny!

Insert Video

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: