If your confidence plummets every time you step off the elliptical and into the weight room, it’s time to face your fear. First of all, lifting heavy weights can burn tons of calories and help you tone up in a way your treadmill just can’t. Plus, you know you’ll feel like a badass once you’ve nailed this fitness staple. We asked strength coach Lee Boyce, C.P.T., owner of Boyce Training Systems in Toronto, Canada for his tips on becoming a weight-lifting pro—you know, minus the fake tans and bulging quads.
Before you load up the barbell, learn the right form using light—or even no—weight, says Boyce. It can be a bit of trial and error, but pick a light weight (5-15 pounds) and see if you can do 10 reps. When your muscles are just about exhausted at 10 reps, that’s a good starting weight to use, says Boyce.
Ask an Expert
No idea if you’re doing a move correctly? “Nothing is going to substitute the cues of a good coach right in front of you,” says Boyce. See if your gym offers a free introductory session with a personal trainer since you may just need one hour of good instruction to get you started.
Listen to Your Body
Another great way to tell if your form is correct is by tuning in to your muscles. “You want to feel the burn in the muscles you’re targeting,” says Boyce. For instance, if your arms are aching in a barbell row that’s meant to target your upper back, you’re doing it wrong. Ditto if you’re feeling pressure on your joints. Another great tip: “The weight itself is usually going to travel on a straight line,” says Boyce. So if you feel your body leaning or curving in any way, you may be overcompensating.
Work Your Way Up
Don’t get too cozy with those 5-pounders. “Make some kind of progression each week,” says Boyce. But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean upping your weights every single week. You can make things more challenging by increasing your reps. Once you’ve done that and you’re comfortably performing more reps with your old maximum weight, then it’s time to grab something heavier.
Don’t Be Boring
Doing 10 reps with 10-pound weights over and over will get old fast. And more importantly, your muscles won’t be pushed to their max. Boyce suggests playing around with tempo training, where you manipulate the timing of your workout. You can keep your weight the same, but lower the weight for three seconds and raise it for one second. Or you can keep your same weight and reps, but lower your rest interval from two minutes to ninety seconds. “You’re increasing the amount of time you spend under tension,” says Boyce. “It’s going to help you preserve existing muscle and burn more body fat.”
Stick With It
The biggest mistake Boyce sees women making is that they don’t weight lift enough. Those workout machines might seem less daunting, but they’re isolating one specific muscle, which isn’t giving you the same benefit as free weights, says Boyce. And just spending an hour on the treadmill three days a week won’t do much toning. His suggestion is three days of weight training and two days of cardio each week.
Don’t Forget to Rest
Your sore muscles will probably be enough of a reminder, but it’s crucial to take breaks. Take one day of rest after total-body strength training and rest specific muscle groups for 48-hours after working them. Along those lines, be sure to read up: Does Muscle Soreness Mean You Had a Good Workout?