How to Lift Weights

I’ve had multiple requests both here and on my tumblr for advice on how to get started with weight lifting, and considering how much I talk it up I guess it’s only fair that I give some more information!

First off, please know that I’m not a personal trainer, professional bodybuilder, or expert of any kind. I’m just a normal girl and the routine I use is a simple one based on online research, inspiration from other bloggers, and my own experience with what works. My knowledge is still evolving and what I do and recommend now might change a year from now…who knows? However, lifting has made in an AMAZING difference in enabling me to get and keep the body I’ve always wanted, and I want to help and inspire other girls to lift weights too!


Okay, there’s a ton of good reasons to lift weights for health and science and self esteem and yada yada but let’s get down to the reasons that you and I probably care most about:

  1. Lifting weights and consequently building muscle raises your metabolism so that you can eat more, lose weight more easily, and maintain your weight loss for life.
  2. Lifting makes you thinner, more defined, and able to wear a smaller size at any given weight.
  3. Lifting can transform your body in a way that weight loss and diet alone cannot. If you have a pear-shape and you diet off 20 lbs, you’ll still be a pear shape. If you’re already down to your ideal weight but still want a flatter stomach, losing more weight isn’t going to help. But lifting can and will shape your body to the look that most of us want (smaller waist, flatter stomach, leaner arms and legs, nice booty) as well as reduce common problem areas (muffin top, saddlebags, belly fat)

If you’re worried that lifting will make you bulky…you’re wrong! FAT makes you look bulky; muscle makes you look thinner and helps get rid of the fat.

If you’re worried that lifting will make you look like a female Arnold Schwarznegger…it won’t! Not unless you’re willing to put in YEARS of time and dedication, hire coaches and trainers, and follow a diet and supplement plan with the specific goal of looking like that. Avoiding lifting for this reason is like avoiding applying to Target because you’re worried they’ll promote you to CEO…it ain’t gonna happen.


  • Lifting Heavy: When I talk about weight lifting, I mean lifting HEAVY. Ideally, you want a weight that enables you to perform 8 reps of an exercise, but no more—if you can easily perform 12 or 15 reps then it’s time to move up to a heavier weight. You know how you see people at the gym throwing down their weights? That’s what you should aim for-a weight that you literally cannot pick up at the end of each set. Waving around 3 lb dumbbells is not going to challenge you and it’s not going to do much for your body.
  • Exercises: Your primary focus should be exercises that focus and engage major and multiple muscle groups. The BEST exercises are squats, deadlifts, and presses—these should be the foundation of your workout because they will burn the most calories and have the biggest impact on your body—they’re also great for your abs!
  • Free Weights vs Machines: In general, free weights like dumbbells, barbells, and bars/plates are better than machines because they challenge you more and enable a more natural range of motion. I use and recommend certain leg press and hack squat machines, but other than that I avoid machines.


  • Lift 4x per week: two arm days and two leg days. Make sure you take at least 48 hours between muscle groups, ie don’t work the same muscles two days in a row.
  • Do 3-6 exercises each time (I typically do 5). If you have the energy for more than 6, it’s a sign you’re not lifting heavy enough—time to increase the weights!
  • 5 sets per exercise It’s okay to do less than 5 sets when you’re just getting started though, but you should aim to work your way up to 5. It’s also okay to do more than 5 sets if you’re trying to focus on a particular exercise or increase the weights on that exercise—for example, sometimes I will JUST do 10-12 sets of squats on the squat rack
  • 8 reps per set If you can easily do more than 8 reps, it’s time to increase the weight!

ARM EXERCISES – pick 4-6 each time, 2x per week. I usually do chest presses, dumbbells flies, and tricep dips every time because they’re really important! All of these exercises use free weights (ie dumbbells), except the bench press which uses a bar, and tricep dips and pushups, which use body weight. (Click on links to see how to do it)

LEG EXERCISES – pick 3-5 each time, 2x per week. All of these work ALL your leg muscles. Note: the types of leg presses you’re able to do depend on what machines you have available; not all gyms will have all of these, or yours might have a slightly different variation. (Click on link to see how to do it)

Don’t forget to stretch afterwards!!! I hope this is useful, and feel free to comment if you have questions!


5 Responses

  1. This is so awesome! Many thanks for putting this together and providing a guideline of how often/week and how many exercises! You simply ROCK!

    When you get started, these things are not intuitive and I was initially choosing WAY too many exercises for upper (over 8) and it totally makes sense to make up 2-3 routines to alternate between. I feel so much better! Because the advice to just: “pick up weight, lift it, lower it” is too simplistic.

    I’m working on my monthly schedule and incorporating Arms 2x/week & Legs 2x/week. So excited!

    • I used to do that too! If you look at my old workouts they were totally different…I’d keep going and going to “feel the burn” and didn’t realize that I was never using heavy enough weights. I was inspired to start lifting heavy by other bloggers, so it’s so cool that now I’m inspiring other people too! The number one blog that was helpful for me was, you might like that too! She doesn’t update much anymore but there’s a ton of useful information. And that’s awesome you’re incorporating weights into your schedule, can’t wait to see how it goes!

  2. […] won’t work either. As a generalization, diet is key for losing weight; exercise (especially weight lifting!) is key for maintaining your weight and becoming thinner, tighter, and more defined; both are […]

  3. Wow, thanks for this post. Very informative and helpful.

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