Weightlifting tips

So, in my current frenzy to improve my overall physical condition, I am going to begin lifting for the first time in over 20 years. I am just curious if there is any change in how sports science says we need to approach such things in the time since I last did so.

In the past, my instructor had us figure out our max capabilities on different lifts, then tone that back a bit to where we could do three sets of six reps, every other day… then check our maximum every two or three weeks and adjust upwards. Is that still advisable? Worked great back then, but if there is a better way, I’m all for it.

For the record, I’m going for strength training, not body-building. And I tested my maximums the other day… and I’ve lost more than 100 pounds off of my chest-press in the intervening decades :frowning:

I would recommend 5 sets of 6, pyramiding up each time.
So, something like 135/145/155/165/175 for 6 on bench. Failing on the last set is the goal. If you can do 6 on the last set, then you get to start at 145 next time.
Always use a spotter when doing this, because you are going to fail.

How old are you, if I may ask?
Do you have any specific benchmarks you are shooting for?

38, no specific goals, just a general improvement in strength and stamina. I’ll be interspersing cardio with my strength training (first go at using the elliptical the other day pegged my heart rate at 160-170 the whole time… definitely out of shape!)

Oh, you’re just a kid…

I forgot to mention - only work each muscle group every 3rd day. So, something like back/bis then chest/tris/shoulders then legs. You need two days of rest if you are going to failure.
I would also mix in as much body-weight exercises as you can - pullups / pushups / dips / hanging abs, etc.

Before you start a lifting routine, I would recommend you spend 4-6 weeks on general fitness to build up overall core strength. Any kind of core training program would be good, like boot camp, kick boxing, bodypump, zumba, etc. This is to get your muscles into shape to start lifting properly. Right now all your muscles, tendons, and ligaments are out of shape. If you start with weight training now, there’s a greater chance of injury. In addition, you will probably lack the core strength to maintain proper form.

For what you want to do, I would probably recommend BodyPump if your gym offers it. It’s an aerobic class where you use a weightlifting bar. It’s not really about building muscles, but it’s more about getting an aerobic workout while doing weightlifting moves. It will be a great way to get the core strength you need to do regular weightlifting. And since it’s an aerobic class, it’ll also help with your weightloss goals.

Should you train to failure?

There’s an image listing the 7 levels and exercises. Couldn’t copy/paste.

That’s an interesting read.
As I understand it, simple isolation exercises like bench press are OK to do to failure, according to the article.
It also seems to me that he is writing to an “advanced” audience.

I’m assuming this is a typo because I know you know that benching is a compound-exercise, not isolation.

Not a typo, but a mis-characterization.
In his chart, he has an exercise like bench press somewhere in the 5-6 range of CNS demand.

It’s listed at level 3

I see you are right.
I find that breakdown hard to parse…

I most definitely 2nd this recommendation. “Jumping” back in is a good way to injure yourself - and that can be very discouraging.

Along the lines of “proper form” (which is The most important aspect - more so than the amount of weight you lift) I would also recommend shelling for maybe 3 personal trainer sessions. Tell the trainer you are getting back into lifting, and you want to make sure you are doing the exercises with good form. Having someone watch you is invaluable - especially if they know what to look for.

Thanks for the tips, everybody!

I actually have my first session with a personal trainer on Tuesday. It was supposed to be this last Tuesday, but unfortunately we had a freak storm that morning, resulting in very slippery conditions, and the trainer I was scheduled with fell and broke her wrist on the way to the gym.

If you are training for strength, don’t go to failure. You do not want ever to practice missing a lift. You should finish every set feeling like you could have done one more.

For general strength, 4-6 sets of 4-6 reps (after a warmup set or two) on compound exercises. Start with a weight that is about 70-75% of your one-rep max (with perfect form). Work each muscle group 2-3 times a week.

Pick one from each grouping below and do it at each workout

  • Squats/front squats/hack squats/leg press
  • bench press/incline press/military press
  • bent rows/deadlifts
  • pulldowns/chin-ups

Do some calf raises, curls, and crunches at every workout.


I can tell you what I do: I went to a personal trainer four times a week for 6 months. She was a powerlifter who has set many state records and lectures on sports nutrition, so I felt pretty confident that she knew what she was doing. After that, she gave me the notebook she used to record all the exercises, sets, and reps I did, so I could keep doing my routines on my own, which I’m still doing.

Basically, I work one major area per day, four days a week. Sunday is chest, Monday is shoulders, Tuesday is a rest day. Wednesday is the dreaded Leg Day, and Thursday is Arm Day. Friday and Saturday are rest days.

On each of those days, I do five exercises (though I do supersets on Arm Day that consist of two movements in one exercise, so technically four, but five movements. If you follow me). Usually four sets, but just three of some exercises, and reps can vary from 6 to 20. So by the end of each day, that body part is pretty exhausted. But I don’t push to failure. That’s a recipe for injury. I squeeze in ab stuff where I can, but calves get covered on Leg Day.

And there’s a warmup before any of this, of course. And every single day, including my days off, I get in my 10,000 steps to quiet my nagging FitBit.

My best tip: don’t care what everyone else is doing, you do you. My healed-up broken shoulder can’t do everything it used to, but I just do what I can and don’t worry about it. Doing something is what’s important.

Like the monkey said on Bojack Horseman: “It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part.”

I am in a silmilar situation. I used to train years ago and have recently gotten back into it. I agree that the new paradigm for building strength is to not train to failure. There have been several studies that have proved this.

These days, with the internet, there are a lot more resources available. There are many great podcast out there too that offer not only scientific information to gaining strength but also provide great motivation.

Strength Chat, Kabuki Strength is a good starting point but there are many more.

Here’s an interesting read regarding Training To Failure:

One very important aspect of TTF is it greatly increases your chance of injury. Something worth considering.