the joy of strength training


February 24th, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Four weight training concepts every beginner should understand

Learning the key concepts in weight training on the Ladies Who Lift course

I’ve spent years training myself and other people, in groups and one-to-one. The majority of the time I am coaching people who are new to weight training or have very patchy experience of training.

I have therefore evolved my top four concepts that everyone should get their head around when getting into weight training. These are the concepts that I communicate in my beginners’ weight training courses, like Ladies Who Lift.

1. Progressive resistance

The body is incredibly good at adapting to exercise. This means that when you do something challenging, the body is initially forced to change in response to the stress – like getting stronger or dropping fat.

However, the body quickly adapts to this challenge and stops changing. This is why so many people find it hard to get results in the gym. They’ve adapted quickly to the initial training but don’t know how to progress it.

Progressive resistance is finding ways continually to increase the challenge of the exercise. This can be done in various fashions: you can add weight; you can add volume (sets and reps); you can slow the tempo of the movement; you can change the mechanics of the movement to make it more difficult or increase range of motion; and so on.

If people go away with only one concept from my courses, I hope it’s this one, as I believe this is the one that will make the biggest difference to achieving your goals.

2. Movements not muscles

Because of the influence of bodybuilding on general gym-going, people tend to think in terms of muscle groups, such as chest, arms, back. Naturally most people have ‘problem areas’ that they would like to tackle. For example, many women want to know what exercises they can do for their upper arms.

I believe that unless you are specifically bodybuilding, you will have more success thinking about fundamental movements such as push, pull, squat and hip hinge, rather than muscle groups or individual muscles.

This is because in the big, free weight movements such as squat, pull up, deadlift and so on, the whole body is working hard in the movement; in a squat, the legs are the prime movers but the whole trunk is actively engaged, particularly the lats and abdominal muscles, so calling it a ‘leg’ exercise – or even a ‘quad’ exercise is not doing the movement justice!

When planning a training programme where the goal is strength, performance or fat loss, it is good practise to think about the correct balance of movements.

3. Tempo

Changing the tempo (timing) of a rep has a significant impact. Slowing a rep down or including pauses in the rep can really increase the intensity of the rep, making you work much harder even with a lower weight than you normally use.

I like utilising tempo for beginners because most people have a tendency to rush their reps; having a tempo to keep to means that the rep is performed in a controlled manner and allows time to focus on technique. It also keeps you ‘honest’, i.e. stops you from rushing the last few reps in a hard set!

Overall, quality of training is vastly increased when attention is paid to tempo, and this will yield benefits beyond simply banging out the reps until you are done.

4. High intensity weight training

How many times have you heard (or even thought) that weight training is boring and it doesn’t feel like you are ‘really working’? How many people do you know who gravitate to running or aerobics because they think that this is the best way to raise heartrate and burn fat?

A key message I get across in Ladies Who Lift is that weight training can raise your heart rate through the roof and make you collapse on the floor in a sweaty mess – if you are doing it right!

There are many ways to achieve greater intensity with weights, including manipulating rest periods and tempo, moving with weight (carries, sled pulls), the right exercise selection and so on.

How do I know it’s working?

Getting into weight training

Weight training is, in my opinion, the best way to get stronger and leaner – increasing fitness and confidence as a side benefit.

It is my mission to help people understand what real weight training is like. It doesn’t have to be boring, it isn’t unproductive and it is for the many not just the few!

So apply these four concepts to your weight training and see your results go through the roof!

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  • 1


    Very interesting article, congratulations.

    Christian on February 25th, 2013
  • 2

    Great post.. I love hearing about lady lifters! And yes – so true that you can totally sweat it out from a good heavy lifting session!

    jennifer on February 27th, 2013
  • 3

    Thanks Jennifer!

    gubernatrix on February 28th, 2013
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  • 7

    Very good point about the intensity – my doctor always asks at my yearly exam if I do any “cardio.” I always tell him, “have you seen me lift weights??” If you’re not a gasping, sweaty mess, you’re not doing it right 🙂

    (It’s the “right” way for ME – others can do as they please.)

    Gingerzingi on April 1st, 2013
  • 8

    Excellent and succinct article, I wish you’d write more, for example sharing the experiences of your courses.

    Kyle on April 19th, 2013
  • 9

    Hello Kyle! Thanks, what would you like to know? Are you talking about my experience of doing the course, or the experiences of people who have done it?

    gubernatrix on April 19th, 2013
  • 10

    Both would be good.

    Many PTs like myself, often we feel… well, after the first 6 or so weeks, in most (though not all) cases, basically the person knows what to do, they don’t need one-on-one attention 100% of the time, just the occasional tune-up and applying brakes or accelerator as necessary. Ideally, people would be one-on-one for at most 6-12 weeks, and after that would move to small group training more loosely supervised.

    I’ve tried to get some of my longer-standing clients to train together in small groups, and some have been keen, but many actually prefer the one-on-one attention – they don’t need it, they like it. Ultimately it’s up to them, of course. Still, I’m thinking about different models for the future for when I’m self-employed and can do things however I want 🙂

    Kyle on April 21st, 2013
  • 11

    That’s interesting, Kyle. I find that clients need a lot longer than 6 weeks though! Perhaps it’s a different type of client. Where I work ( we get people who have all sorts of movement restrictions and difficulties, don’t know much about training and are new to concepts such as tempo, muscle tension and explosive muscle contraction. Proprioception and motor control can be very poor; people can be unable to even tell you where their glutes are, let along contract them properly! Hip hingeing is a big problem, especially with men. People who have never trained have no neuromuscular stimulation and it takes a while sometimes to open up those pathways. In addition to training, clients often need a lot of help and hand-holding with their nutrition.
    But, assuming that some clients are competent after 6 weeks, I think small group training is a great idea. I am starting to do this for Ladies Who Lift graduates. The difference is that Ladies Who Lift is a standalone course for people who are training on their own or want to- it’s not designed for people who are used to personal training. I do get people who have had personal training but generally it is people who want to do things under their own steam.

    gubernatrix on April 28th, 2013
  • 12

    I mean, 6-12 weeks to get the basics, so they can get to a level of strength and mobility sufficient for everyday life. For a typical young woman with a full-time job and some sports, I’d put that at something like a 60kg squat, doing a chinup or two, an 80kg deadlift, that sort of thing. We might add 40kg to the lifts for the typical young man.

    Tempo and the like aren’t necessary for that. And they can have a couple of injuries or movement restrictions and still get those basics. Certainly they can go further and do barbell snatches and so on, but for everyday life and recreational sports, they don’t need to.

    Really, people can always go further with things, of course. But there’s a “just enough to be going on with” level. It’s certainly open to argument exactly where that is, of course.

    But really this is the sort of thing it’d be interesting to see you write about at length.

    Kyle on May 4th, 2013
  • 13

    Your top 4 weightlifting concepts are spot on…particularly tempo. I’m nearly 50 and have been lifting and strength training seriously for about a year (mainly powerlifting).
    Many people rush resistance exercises, not getting the most out of the movement,developing bad habits and therefore risking injury. It’s MUCH harder, both technically and physically, to lift/lower a weight slowly and with control.
    You are absolutely right about the quality of weight training improving when considering tempo. It’s all about the technique, not about the strength…just because you lift heavy one day, doesn’t mean you’re stronger – it just means you lifted heavy that day!

    Keep up your great advice – I’ll be spreading the word.

    Julie on May 21st, 2013
  • 14

    Thanks so much Julie, good to hear from you.

    gubernatrix on May 22nd, 2013
  • 15

    i never knew about the “movement not muscle” technique. Sally you ‘re such a gift. thanks for correcting me. on May 10th, 2014
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    I think a big mistake for beginners to start workout in a gym without a personal trainer. Without basic knowledge, definitely, you can damage your health! Train with the mind! Thx for sharing a helpful review!

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