the joy of strength training


February 10th, 2008 at 1:40 am

Starting out

This is the third article in the series Getting into weight training: a female-friendly guide.

1. Why lift weights? 4. Exercise technique
2. Types of weight training 5. Training programmes
3. Starting out 6. Create your own programme

Starting Out

Most people structure their routines around some or all of the big lifts from powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, namely:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Bench press
  • Snatch
  • Clean
  • Jerk

Once you have got past the beginner stage, it is possible to move large amounts of weight with these lifts, making them pretty tiring. Therefore, people often split them up between sessions. For example, you might focus on squats one day, and do deadlifts a couple of days later. Alternatively, you can do all the lifts in the same session but do a heavy day and a light day.

Basic equipment


barbellFor the big lifts, barbells are used. Most gyms will have standard Olympic bars which are 7 foot long and weigh 20kg. However, there are other types of bars, so if you are not sure check with the gym staff. A women’s Olympic bar weighs slightly less at 15kg, but many gyms don’t have them so you would use the 20kg bar.

It’s important to count the weight of the bar when calculating how much weight you are lifting. A standard Olympic bar with a 20kg weight plate on each side weighs 60kg.

Weight plates and collars

The weight plates which go on either end of the bar can range from 2.5kg to 20kg. Some gyms have the little 1.25kg plates as well. These are particularly useful for women as they allow you to make smaller increments in weight on the bar. Remember that you have to put a plate on each side, so the smallest increment you can make is 2.5kg or 5 lbs. Plates should be secured to the barbell using collars.

Bumper plates

Olympic weightlifters use ‘bumper’ plates, made of rubber so that when you drop them they bounce. Most gyms won’t have bumper plates so if you are doing Olympic lifts you will need to lower the bar under control rather than drop it.



Most gyms will have a set of dumbbells, starting at 10kg and going up to 45kg or beyond. They will also have a set of small dumbbells starting at 1kg and going up to 10kg. Often these small dumbbells are found elsewhere in the gym, so you may have to look for them.

How much weight to lift

It’s always tricky to know what sort of weight to put on the bar when you first start. The general rule is to start light and build up slowly. But make sure that you do build up the weight. Here are some rules of thumb you can use to work out what to aim for in your first few months of lifting:

  • Squat – start with empty olympic bar, aim for 100% bodyweight
  • Deadlift – start with empty olympic bar, aim for 100-125% bodyweight
  • Bench press – start with empty olympic bar, aim for 50-75% bodyweight
  • Snatch – start with wooden stick, aim for 50% of bodyweight
  • Clean & jerk – start with wooden stick, aim for 50-75% of bodyweight

Since how much you can lift is closely related to your bodyweight, people often talk about their lifts not in terms of the actual weight but what percentage of their bodyweight it is. A weight that is 100% of your bodyweight is equivalent to your bodyweight. So if I weigh 60kg and I am lifting 60kg, I am lifting 100% bodyweight. If I am lifting 120kg I am lifting 200% bodyweight, or double bodyweight. This means that it is easier to compare yourself to other lifters, whether male or female. A double bodyweight power lift is pretty good in anyone’s book. A double bodyweight olympic lift will win medals.

Next article: Exercise technique

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