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The Ultimate Guide: Weight training for beginners

If you think weight training is just for gym rats and professional athletes, think again. You probably don't give your muscles much thought, but you use them all day, every day. Now there's no need to be intimidated by giant gym machines and making choices about reps and weights. Here are a few simple steps and tips for adding weight training to your routine.

Don't forget to warm up

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Before you make your way over to the weight room at the gym, it's important to warm up your muscles. Neil Brown, physical therapist and clinic manager and athletic training director at Rehabilitation Center of Southern Maryland's Waldorf location, finds that a lot of weight training novices "injure themselves through not properly warming up, or trying to progress weight too quickly."

To avoid this newbie mistake, Brown suggests "a brief period of cardiovascular exercise (treadmill walking or biking) followed by light stretching."

Keep it light

Now that you're all warmed up, it's time to consider what you'll be lifting. While it may be tempting to see how much you can bench press on Day One, the expert consensus is to start light. Brown agrees. "Initially weight should be low and repetitions high. Performing one set of 20 repetitions is a good early goal."

As you progress, Brown suggests bumping up the weight and lowering the repetitions to build strength. Another option is to increase sets from one up to two or three with 60- to 90-second breaks between.

Brown recommends starting with a focus on whole body strengthening, as opposed to specific muscle groups. "The easiest way to accomplish a general strength training program in a gym environment is to complete their machine circuit," says Brown.

Many weight machines have posted instructions, but if you're unsure definitely ask a personal trainer at your gym for additional guidance.

Give yourself a break

Although experts disagree on how much rest you need after weight training, they all agree that rest is necessary. Without allowing your muscles time to heal, you're more prone to injury. Generally, give your muscles around 48 hours to recover after a weight training session.

Brown encourages beginners not to be discouraged by soreness. "When starting a workout program, it is very common to end up sore, especially after the initial couple weeks." However, do pay attention to soreness or pain that does not subside. Brown suggests these be treated with RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) if the injury involves swelling.

Just lift it

Many beginners are afraid of lifting weights. Don't be. Follow the suggestions to warm up, start light and pay attention to soreness and give your muscles a break.

Goal: twice per week

The American Heart Association, the Federal Physical Activity Guidelines and fitness experts recommend weight (or strength) training at least twice weekly as part of a healthy, active lifestyle.

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You may soon find you look forward to strength training and admire the leaner, stronger, healthier you!

—Lindsey Malkus, Tribune Content Solutions

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