The Ignorant Beginner’s Guide to Weight Lifting

I am a big fan of weightlifting – It is my favorite form of exercise. I have my husband to thank for this one. Years ago, other than convincing me to go to the gym in the first place, he pulled me away from my cardio-fest and brought me over to the weight side of the gym. All the machines and testosterone were intimidating, but I realized that weight lifting is a million times better than doing cruddy cardio. (For me anyway. My spirit animal is the sloth, and I dislike movement.)

Even though it has been a few years since then, I still love the weight machines. Nowadays, there is a trend of more females doing weightlifting, but I need to make my voice heard anyway. Try weight lifting. Even if you don’t go to the gym, start up, and try weight lifting. It’s one of the highlights of my day, and I’m actually disappointed on days I don’t go. 

I am not a personal trainer, although I’ve always harbored a fantasy of becoming one. But, other than my husband’s guidance, I’ve learned everything I know from the internet or just self-experimentation. For you see, ironically enough, I do not like using a personal trainer. I don’t find it motivating, I find it demotivating. I think this stems from the one time I tried one, and I got my “evaluation,” and the trainer told me I was overweight at 135lbs. I’m 5’7″. I do not think that is overweight, and I think that trainer was full of shit, trying to motivate me to buy his personal training. I’m glad my mindset has changed since then, and now I’m focused on being healthy and strong! (although also not crushing my poor Pony’s wee little back.)

Because I love weight lifting so much, I want you to weight lift too! To assist you in starting your weight lifting journey, here are my own ignorant beginner tips. So ignore the scale, don’t worry about becoming a bulky body builder (not likely to happen), and try it out. I promise you, it is amazing.

The Weight Machines Provide Information

Once you have entered the gym, approach a machine. There is usually a nice description of what you are doing, and the muscles that are worked. Just do what’s on the sign. 

weight lifting
This one also includes helpful fashion advice. White shirts and shoes are always in!

Picking Your Machines

When you first start out, I recommend just picking any machine to test out how to work it. Choose a simple looking one, and then subtly watch other people use the more complicated looking machines. That will give you a clue on their use, but sometimes people are really awful at using machines. If they look like they are making violent, abrupt movements, they probably aren’t using it exactly right, and don’t imitate them or you might hurt yourself. 

As you start to figure out how to work the machines, you can strategize better. Look at what muscles the sign shows you using, and choose machines that work the most muscles. You get much more bang for your buck/effort!

Wow, so many muscles!


You don’t just do one movement and call it a day! You’ve got to sit on that machine and do it loads of times! And then do it loads of times the next day! And so on, and so forth, forever and ever! (Don’t be scared, once you’re into it, your muscles crave it.)

But seriously, you’ve got your ass in the seat, and you’re thinking, how heavy do I make this thing, and how many times do I have to do it. There’s many different thoughts and theories, but what works for me:

12-15 repetitions of almost the heaviest I can move. It is not the absolute heaviest, it’s one weight under that. You need to be able to move it but still keep your form. If you are wiggling or having to throw your body around, it’s too heavy.

I do 2 sets like this. The last 5 reps usually end up being a battle of wills – your arms may be burning, but you can still do more reps. You can push through through it. If it truly was a struggle, I drop the weight down 5 lbs, and then I do another 15 reps. Then, one more set after that, possibly dropping another 5 lbs. 

To avoid confusion, that makes it:

  • 1 set, 12-15 reps, almost heaviest
  • 2 sets, 15 reps. 5 lbs lighter
  • 1 set, 15 reps, 5 lbs lighter

Don’t pull out your cell phone between sets. Don’t wait that long. 20-30 seconds at the most. Spend the time stretching our your limbs, maybe stand up off the machine, and then sit back down and back to work. Be efficient with your time at the gym. If you’re on your cell phone, you’re literally just sitting in a chair, and you can do that anywhere. If you keep moving through your workout, you’ll be both entertained, and be out of there in a jiffy, or you’ll be able to give yourself time for more machines, and get a better workout.

Leg Days vs Arm Days

You’ve probably heard people say things like, “oh my quads are killing me, it was leg day today!” or something about their arms being on fire. Hopefully related to working out. 

Well, they say these things because you are supposed to alternate your workouts to give your muscles time to recover. You do legs on Monday, and then on Tuesday, you work your arms. To break that down further, figure out which machines are leg machines, which ones are arm machines, which ones are back machines, and which ones are chest machines. Then, decide which days you are going to work which body part(s).

Or, you can be like me and have a routine of machines on certain days. Like, there’s a certain back machine I always use on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, which are usually my leg days. There is also two machines I use everytime, regardless of what day is it. One is the leg press, pictured above, and the other is a “free weight” pull down. My personal philosophy is that I need to at least stretch out the muscles I used the day before.  I don’t feel right if I don’t do those two things, regardless of what exercises I have planned for the day. 

The squat machine, much easier than doing an actual squat.

If it sounds much too complicated to figure out, don’t sweat it. The important thing is just to go there and try it. If you feel like you need to do all the major muscles, do that. Do whatever makes you feel like you are getting a good workout. I think that people refine and alter their strategy once they are getting into the groove of it, so if you don’t want to worry about that, don’t. Just try out different machines.

I’ve found that the machines that I dreaded and were the weakest at (starting at 5lbs!) ended up being ones that I love to do. I don’t love to do them because they are easy. I love to do them because they are hard. I started out on the shoulder press at 5lbs, and now I am at 25lbs, and it’s amazing to me that it keeps getting easier, and I keep putting that weight higher. The accomplishment of it motivates me more.

Raise the Weight

As you start to get comfortable, put more weight on! It took me a while to realize that being uncomfortable with the weight isn’t a bad thing. It has to be uncomfortable for the muscle to grow. Don’t get stuck doing weights you are comfortable with, if they are easy, you need to raise the weight. The higher the weight is, the more progress you will see. 

As for my own progress, I’ve lost 15 lbs since I started all this (although I’m still doing a modified Whole 30). I’m positive I’ve gained muscle, but I don’t know how much. The most annoying thing about working out is that the progress is not instant. Sometimes it feels like spinning wheels in the mud and getting nowhere. There have been many times I’ve felt like it’s pointless but did it anyway because going to the gym is ingrained into my routine. And, now I’m finally seeing the results. I don’t really have a set goal of anything, but I’d like to lose about 15 more lbs so I can ride Pony without feeling like I’m crushing him. But, I’m not really in a hurry, so I’m planning to just keep evolving my workout and see where it goes. 

Next step – free weights! I think they are a bit tougher than the machines because you have to use your stabilizers, but I’m going to incorporate gradually and see where it goes!

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    1. ooo yes, do weight lifting! I’ll have to come up with a specific list of machines for horseback riders. There’s a noticeable difference in my riding and just working around the farm since I started.

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