Weight training at home
November 12, 2006 8:32 PM   Subscribe

I want to be stronger and more physically fit. So I've heard weight training is the way to go. As a complete n00b, where/how do I start?

I would really like to start weight training as part of an ongoing effort to become healthier. But I have not the first clue as to what weight training actually entails (the only thoughts that come to mind are bicep curls, bench pressing and other things that would certainly require gym equipment). Is that all there is to it?

Is there some sort of weight training routine I could follow at home that doesn't require purchasing some insane exercise equipment? What kind of equipment should I buy and what kind of "weight training" exercises could I easily follow at home? Any recommended books or links?
posted by zippity to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Read stumptuous. Then read it again.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:51 PM on November 12, 2006 [2 favorites]

I remember a really old book called Getting Stronger that was pretty good. Nowadays you could certainly find something good online as well. You don't need to get fancy. Just do the plain-vanilla exercises and you'll see a difference.

Just get some dumbbells for starters and get going. You don't want to use any kind of heavy weight for a montho or 2 (I'm told) -- you need to get your ligaments and such conditioned for the bigger stresses to come. Start small and make small steps.

With dumbbells and pushups, you can do your upper body. For the lower body, do stairs or ride a bike. Even better: ski, hike, or climb mountains if possible.

The most important thing is to find something you enjoy doing. I don't know why you have this goal to be fit, but there's gotta be a reason. Maybe you want to do stuff you enjoy or feel more energetic or lose weight. Tie those goals to your fitness activities.

Find stuff you like to do that is physically active -- walking, throwing a frisbee, carrying chopped wood (and/or chopping it), or whatever and you'll get fit while having fun.

Also: lots of urban parks have those "workout stations" where you can get an excellent workout. Only problem is that you have to go to the park... and for me it's easier to have everything at home.

You can buy a cheap used exercise bike on craigslist or something, and maybe even some dumbbells. If not, a decent setup is cheap at a big name sporting goods store.
posted by powpow at 8:55 PM on November 12, 2006

Best answer: Do you have a bike? Ride it. Alot.

Pushups are a good basic way to improve your fitness level. Yoga is excellent for increasing strength, flexibility and gets you much better touch with your body.

I actually just posted a ten tips to better workouts list on my blog (note, this is a self link but it is a relevant self link).
posted by fenriq at 8:55 PM on November 12, 2006

I second stumptuous. Also, adjustable dumbbells, available at your local sports store, are a much smarter buy than fixed weight ones. You can get a kit with adjustable dumbbells and around 30 lbs worth of small weights and then buy extra weight for about 80 cents a pound when you start to need it.
posted by phoenixy at 9:12 PM on November 12, 2006

don't just read a couple magazines and go to the gym thinking you can do it -- you are bound to hurt yourself at worst and waste a lot of time at best. get a personal trainer to show you how to go about things until you get a handle of it, then continue alone. there are so many small mistakes you can make that can hurt you so badly...
posted by krautland at 9:13 PM on November 12, 2006

Best answer: If you are looking for a way to start weight training, I'd skip the bike; this does not replace weight training. Weight training's major advantage is that one can target specific muscle groups quickly and methodically, to ensure a consistent workout each time for the whole body. With yoga, pushups, dips, etc, you have to stop the exercise as soon as one muscle out of many involved in the exercise becomes tired. With weight training, you can target specific muscles and fine tune your workout for best results. This, however, will not improve coordination, balance, or flexibility as yoga/pushups etc can, but you will look and feel healthier.

For weight training, I'd recommend a set of adjustable dumbbells and a bench. (almost) every weight training exercise can be done with just a set of dumbbells, and as an added bonus, helps build muscle tone much better than a fixed bar, as you have to stabilize two weights instead of one. These things are going to run you about $300 and up for a set, but compare that to a gym, which will cost you about 300 in 6 months easily.

If you are feeling a little squeamish about dropping three bills on some training equipment you might not use, you could get a set of medicine balls and do more skill-based workouts; these workouts are a little more interesting, but do not deliver results as fast. also, a set of medicine balls is under $100.

FInally, I stress that NO isometric exercise (pushups, situps, dips) will have the same effects in the same time for the average person as a good weight training regimen, but you could try a hotel workout to start. it's a workout that mimics a circuit but uses mostly body resistance to hit the same muscle groups. Just google "hotel workout" for a few examples. Good luck finding a good solution!
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:20 PM on November 12, 2006 [2 favorites]

I got "Weight Training for Dummies" from the local library, and that got me started. It explains different muscle groups, different ways to build muscles in each group (machines, free weights, resistance exercises, etc.), how to build muscle strength over time using a program called periodization, what order to exercise your muscles in, how often to rest, how to measure your strength gains and how to design a weight training regimin to meet your needs. It's all in very user-friendly entry level language that's not too overwhelming, too.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:24 PM on November 12, 2006

This probably isn't what you want to hear but trying to do this at home and on your own by reading a web site or two and buying a book is going to limit your success.

My advice: go get a trial gym membership. Many gyms will let you pay month to month with no strings attached for a short period of time (3 months) to try it out. Do this and spend a little extra to work with a personal trainer 30 min's or so twice a week. This will get you acquainted with free weights, machines and proper technique so you don't injure yourself. If you feel like you don't need the gym just stop going after the trial period and work out at home.
posted by photoslob at 9:28 PM on November 12, 2006

Best answer: wuzandfuzz, but riding a bike does go a very long way towards overall physical fitness. Reread his question above. I know incredibly strong guys who get winded very easily. I don't consider them physically fit, just strong. I workout and lift weights regularly for overall fitness.

But I will second the idea of a set of adjustable dumbells. They also store alot more easily.
posted by fenriq at 9:35 PM on November 12, 2006

Best answer: Well, the burpee (animated gif) is what some prisoners do while incarcerated. Not designed to make you look pretty, but rather so you can avoid getting raped. Typically, one does 20 in a row, walk to the other side of the cell/exercise area, do 19, walk back to the other side, do 18, &c&c down to 1. The word is that someone who can do the countdown from 20 generally gets left alone.

My Amazon search-fu is failing me, but there are a few decent books that detail the US Marine Corps physical fitness exercise routine; it doesn't require any specialized equipment other than a chinup bar or a couple of chairs (to do dips with).

It depends on what you want to achieve - to "look good" (increase muscle mass/tone) or be more fit (increased cardiovascular fitness).

Personally, my lower body is great but I was very disappointed with how my upper body looked. Alternating as many chinups or chestups as I could do (I do a set until exhaustion, go take a dump, do another set) every day for the last couple of years has yielded noticeable and significant results, although I suspect that my genetics precludes me from getting "big" although a much tougher routine (and change in diet) may yield results.

As a smoker, cardiovascular exercise is difficult, but biking to work (the first couple of weeks was pretty harsh since I have to go up a pretty significant hill) but now - no sweat and I've regained the leg-tone that I had in highschool (when I had to trek a high-incline mountain for several kilometers each and every day to get home from school.
posted by porpoise at 9:50 PM on November 12, 2006

Best answer: Shovelglove is delightfully unexercisey, and I'm certainly getting muscley. Bonus is that you can't really use dumbbells to bash down drywall, should that become necessary.
posted by trevyn at 10:46 PM on November 12, 2006

I third stumptuous. It's a great site and everything is presented clearly without distractions. There is a lot of focus on the importance of NOT overtraining, and the routines are simple, quick and effective. I use her routines and I see great results.

Also, with weight training comes proper eating. Food is considered to have 80% of the effects. If you do not eat there is no growth. You can check bodybuilding out for nutirition advice and ideas but the site contains a lot of infomation, some of it is not reliable. Check out the forums as well.
posted by ye#ara at 12:30 AM on November 13, 2006

I started a fairly regimented period of exercise 3 years ago after not doing anything for about 15 years - I've never been a sedentary type, but not overly physical either. I chose kick boxing (I know it's not weight training, but it serves as a good example nonetheless) - I'm right now 6 weeks shy of 40, BTW.

Anyway, I'm currently getting my body twisted and squeezed every week by a guy with huge arms and hard elbows because I started into this regime without building up my core body strength, I also built a lot of muscle on top of knotted and unaligned muscles, bones and tendons - which now require a lot of work to get back into place. I haven't been able to do anything (exercise) for about a year as a result.

So ... my advice is to start yourself off on a good fundamental and preferably strong base - any recurring aches or pains, knots in backs, kinked neck issues will come back at you with extreme nastiness if you don't get them sorted. It's common sense, but I and a lot of other people make the same mistake - which is why the big armed guys with hard elbows exist.
posted by strawberryviagra at 1:40 AM on November 13, 2006

Best answer: A buddy of mine, who has been weight-training for over 20 years, recently designed me a new work-out based on simplicity and speed:

Squats - 5 sets of 5 reps
Deadlifts - 5 sets of 5 reps
Bench press - 5 sets of 5 reps

That's it. Do it with a cheap set of adjustable dumbbells, three days a week. It'll kick your ass. And it's quick enough that it remains fun.

For a great book on the topic (including proper form for each of those three), try the Men's Health Home Workout Bible.

Above all - have fun! Weight training not only feels good when you're doing it, it makes you feel great the rest of the time. You're giving yourself a great big gift by doing this!
posted by jbickers at 3:53 AM on November 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

wuzandfuzz, but riding a bike does go a very long way towards overall physical fitness. Reread his question above. I know incredibly strong guys who get winded very easily. I don't consider them physically fit, just strong. I workout and lift weights regularly for overall fitness.

I'm going to have to agree with this. All of the resources above are great for weight training, and weight training is great. That said, you need to do some cardio too. I'm a biking partisan, but whatever you can do--biking, running, swimming--is great. Weights + cardio = you as a fitness machine.
posted by The Michael The at 5:11 AM on November 13, 2006

Add another vote for Stumptuous.

Also read Crossfit.com's What is Fitness? for an introduction to a balanced look at health and fitness. If you dig around the Crossfit site and messageboard, you'll find info about routines that require minimal to no equipment.

Finally, if you only read one book, it should be Starting Strength, but you're going to need a barbell and weights to go that route.
posted by Durin's Bane at 6:04 AM on November 13, 2006

I love videos. I especially like Cathe Friedrich. Her videos don't require a lot of equipment--she uses a barbell, dumbbells, and sometimes an elastic resistance band. I don't own a barbell though. I substitute with dumbbells and it works quite nicely. Cathe DVDs also require a weight bench or step and some of them require the high-step. I used the regular bench for a while, and then purchased the high-step when I was ready to branch out. I bought my steps from Walmart.com. They had good prices. The Step. The High Step. The risers are interchangeable.

I like videos because I don't have to constantly reference a book. The music is upbeat and Cathe is motivating without being annoying. If you have Fit TV on cable you can preview her workouts and see if you like her style. I had Tivo'd a couple of her programs from Fit TV and did them religiously-- mainly Pyramid Upper and lower body. I find that hardly any of the Pyramid workouts were eliminated, (you can cross-reference on her website). I don't know if they are showing the Pyramids on Fit TV any longer, but I am sure there are other weight programs. She has a lot of cardio videos as well.

I own a lot of her DVDs and they are done very well. I own the Hardcore Series, and her brand new series that has just came out. My favorites from the Hardcore series are Muscle Max and High Step Challenge. High-step challenge does have an aerobic component to it, but it's easy to follow, and not too dance-y.

I feel like a commercial for Cathe! She is awesome though, and has fabulous workouts that get results.

I also love The Science of Fitness with Tamilee - I want that body! Yes, it's the Buns of Steel lady, but she is not hokey, and the video is extremely well done. The Tamilee video would be a lot less expensive to get started if you are into videos. Trust me, it's great. Tamilee looks awesome after all this time.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:18 AM on November 13, 2006

oops, I forgot the link to the High Step. You can find it at Walmart.com if interested. I also meant Pyramid exercises, not workout when speaking about the FitTV programs.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:20 AM on November 13, 2006

Best answer: ExRx as detailed above is the best site in my opinion. I do not recommend a gym membership, because I always was intimidated by the Arnold's walking around and lifting much more than I ever could. It is disheartening at the beginning. Plus it is much easier to make excuses about not going to the gym than it is to make excuses to do a few reps in your basement. Here's what I'd suggest:

- Get a bench, a bar and some weights. The bar will be something along the lines of 100 lbs and I would recommend two 20 lb weights, two 10 lb weights and two 5 lb weights. Or just buy it in a box set that comes with it. Usually these don't include 20 lb weights in my experience, try to get a couple 20 lbs weights.
- Get one of the small bar bells with adjustable weights. This is for your forearms and other muscles the bench press doesn't hit.
- Read ExRx on the basic motions for the basic muscles groups.

Whatever you do, do not try to plan a superman schedule. You will set yourself up to fail. Keep it simple, and if you end up liking weight training you can expand and get more bells and more weights and other fancy things. The initial setup should cost less than $250. Weights and bars are relatively cheap, your biggest expense will be the bench. I went on the low end and went for whatever is for sale. Yeah iron is nice, but concrete plates work just as well.
posted by geoff. at 7:01 AM on November 13, 2006

Oh and 4 sets of 10 reps is a fairly standard starting point. The scale I have been taught is that anything under 7 reps and you're not building muscles and anything over 12 reps and it is too light for you and you are just doing cardio.
posted by geoff. at 7:04 AM on November 13, 2006

I'll nth the advice to join a gym and get a trainer for a little while. After you know what correct form is and how to make sure you are actually concentrating on the muscles you want to concentrate on, then a bench in your basement may be fine (or you may like the idea of going in to the gym--contrary to a lot of other folks, I find I am more likely to work out if I do have to go somewhere, but then again, I live in a really small apartment so working out at home is a total pain).

Anyway, making sure you are doing it right is too important to scrimp on or to avoid because you might feel embarrassed. I hurt my shoulder (not lifting weights) and now I am in physical therapy, where my treatment is essentially supervised weightlifting. I can't tell you how many times my trainer has had to correct me on little things. I'm really glad I have the chance now to do things right. You only have one body and you want to be sure it lasts you a long time: don't risk hurting yourself through ignorance.
posted by dame at 7:28 AM on November 13, 2006

Response by poster: Excellent suggestions! I think I will start with burpees and go on from there. Thanks for all your help MeFites!
posted by zippity at 6:03 PM on November 13, 2006

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