When it comes to working out, you have a lot of different exercises and workout routines that you can do to burn fat and build muscle. However, weightlifting is a workout that will burn fat, build muscle, and make you incredibly strong. In this guide, we are going to go over everything you need to know in order to begin weightlifting and how to do it safely.
What Is Weightlifting?
Weightlifting as a sport isn’t very popular in the US right now. There are only 30,000 registered members who are competing. That’s a lot of people, sure, but when you compare it to a sport like hockey that has over 600,000 members, it’s pretty small in comparison.
Since there are so few people across the nation participating in weightlifting events, there are going to be misinformation floating around about the sport.
Generally, when people think of weightlifting, they picture these huge burly men who are lifting cars, pulling tractor trailers and other incredible displays of strength. Or people think of powerlifting, which is a strength sport where the competitor will attempt to lift maximum weight on three different lifts: the squat, the deadlift, and bench press.
Weightlifting can be done as a competitive sport, or it can just be done as an exercise. What makes weightlifting different than powerlifting is that it truly is an individual sport. When you’re in a weightlifting competition, you are the only person on the stage lifting the weights.
You are relying on your own strength to lift the bar. With powerlifting, you have spotters to make sure the person doing the lifting is safe.
History Of Weightlifting
Weightlifting has been around for a very long time! The first instance of this sport dates all the way back to the Zhou Dynasty of China, which took place from 10th century BC to 256 BC. During this time period, those who were interested in joining the military needed to pass strength tests before they were permitted to join.
Weightlifting wasn’t just popular in ancient China. There are several sculptures that date back to civilizations in ancient Greece that show people lifting large and heavy stones. Over time, the Greeks replaced the stones with primitive dumbbells.
There have even been ancient artifacts of weightlifting found in Egypt that depicts ancient Egyptians lifting heavy bags of sand as a method of strength training.
Weightlifting made its first appearance in the Olympic games in 1896, to which Launceston Elliot from Great Britain won the “One-Hand Lift” competition and Denmark’s Viggo Jensen won the “Two-Hand Lift” competition.
While the sport didn’t make an appearance in the 1900 Olympic games, it made its come back in 1904.
For the next two Olympic games (1908 and 1912), the sport had been left out again, but it became a permanent part of the Olympics in 1920; and by the 1932 Olympic games, the sport now had five weight class divisions and the competition featured three disciplines: the snatch, the press (also called the clean and press), and the clean and jerk.
In 1972, the Press was removed from competition in the Olympics, so now only the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk remain as Olympic weightlifting events.
To perform the Snatch, a barbell is placed on the floor. The lifter will grip the bar and they will quickly stand up, which pulls the bar off the ground. The lifter go into a squat position and lift the bar over their head and stand up.
To perform the Press, the bar begins is at the lifter’s shoulders. The lifter will have to stand up straight until the ref motions to complete the lift. This is achieved by pressing the barbell up over their head repeatedly at full arm’s length without moving the legs or the need of assistance.
The Clean And Jerk
To perform this lift, the lifter must first lift the bar off of the ground up to the shoulders. Then, the lifter will need to lift the bar over their head with their arms fully extended. There aren’t any time restrictions, so the lifter can complete the lift when they are ready.
With both lifts (first to the shoulders and then over the head), the lifter must keep their feet in line, their body must be upright, and their arms and legs must be fully extended. The lifter must maintain control of the barbell and hold it over their head for 2 seconds, or until the ref signals the lifter to lower the barbell to the floor.
How Is Weightlifting Different Than Other Forms Of Strength Training?
When it comes to strength training, there are many different exercises that can be done to make a person stronger. This can include:
All of these exercises require some kind of resistance to build muscle and make it strong. You can do this by using dumbbells, weight machines, resistance bands or balls, or even your own body weight.
These activities can be done within a class-like setting, or you can do them on your own. Examples of strength training classes include yoga and Pilates. For these workout routines, you are using your own body weight to strengthen your body.
Weightlifting, however, is a form of strength training that requires the use of free weights or weight machines for that resistance.
Between the two options, free weights tend to be the better option for those who are interested in building strength evenly throughout the muscle groups. This means that your dominant side isn’t going to be able to pick up the slack when your weaker side begins to show signs of fatigue.
Some people are under the impression that in order to do weightlifting, you have to want to get large. That isn’t the case at all because body building is a sport in and of itself. With body building, the athlete is lifting weights in order to increase the size of their muscles, as well as gain functional strength.
People who are interested in bulking up are more interested in “the pump,” which where oxygen and nutrients are distributed to muscles by the blood in such a manner it creates a type of high.
This type of lifting causes the body builder to create tiny microscopic tears in the muscle. This causes the body to repair those tears, which expands the size of the muscle and it is called hypertrophy.
Is Weightlifting Better Than Cardio?
People who are interested in losing weight are often told that they need to spend hours on the treadmill or elliptical machine sweating the fat away. When you’re serious about getting into shape and losing those unwanted pounds, you can’t pit one against the other – both have some pretty impressive merits to them.
Benefits Of Weightlifting
You can eat fried chicken or that Big Mac without feeling (too) guilty when you’re lifting. Why? There have been studies that suggest that type II muscle fibers that are built when lifting weight will improve your overall metabolism.
As you get older, your body’s muscle and bone mass will begin to deteriorate. This is especially concerning for women because their bones are naturally smaller than a man’s, so they are at greater risk of osteoporosis.
By lifting weights, the muscles are going to adapt to the stress of lifting heavy amounts of weight. This causes you to become stronger and your bones will become stronger as well.
If you’re an athletic person, weightlifting can help you perform your sport better. Now, although someone who plays lacrosse may not be doing squats in the middle of a game, if they are able to complete a high-rep squat with 225 pounds on their back, they are putting themselves in a high-intensity situation where his limits are being tested.
Those very muscles are going to adapt and when push comes to shove on the field, those muscles are going to perform exceedingly well. Also, weightlifting can improve your dexterity, endurance, as well as hand-eye coordination – all of which are essential for performing well.
When you’re lifting weights, you are going to be engaging groups of muscles. So when you’re out there living your best life, your body is going to move easily and with grace. You’re going to be more aware of how your body moves, which is going to help keep you safe.
Let’s say you have to pick up a package, as a weight lifter, your body will move in a way that is similar to how you do squats or a deadlift in the gym. Because your body is already familiar with these movements, you’ll be less likely to hurt yourself lifting said heavy package.
Part of lifting weights is losing weight – we get that. But what lifting weight also does is reduces the chance of getting diabetes.
There was a study funded by the National Institutes of Health that shows that men who lift weight for 150 minutes each week, they are 34% less likely to get the disease. When you add regular cardio into the routine, the risk is reduced by a total of 59%!
Benefits Of Cardio
When you are engaged in a cardio workout, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that make you feel happier and gives you that high that can be so addictive. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, and you begin running as your way to escape, you’ll see a change in your overall mood.
While you’re dancing your booty off in Zumba class, your heart is getting a work out too! Since your heart is a muscle too, when you do any kind of cardio, you’re giving your heart a good workout because it has to beat faster and harder to supply your body, muscles, and organs with the oxygen-rich blood it needs.
Cardio is going to lower your bad cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease.
As you are working out and have that heart beating for what feels like a mile a minute, your metabolism is also getting a good boost! The better your metabolism, the better you’ll be able to burn calories and fat, which will help you to lose weight.
Working out requires a lot of energy, and when you’re done exercising for the day, you are going to feel tired and you’ll be able to sleep much better than if you led a sedentary life. Good sleep is important because it helps your body repair injuries and the like.
So which is better? They both are great for you and they both should be incorporated into your workout routine to maximize all the benefits.
Equipment Used For Weightlifting
Now that you’re all hyped to start weightlifting, let’s run down the equipment that you need in order to help you reach your goals.
Weight plates that are designed to withstand regular drops when you’re able to lift the bar over your head. There are other plates available, but they will cause damage to the barbell you’re using and the floor.
When you’re buying bumper plates, you’ll notice that they are all the same size as the 25kg plates, which are standard for Olympic plates. Plates of this size gives you the ability to set your bar at the right height.
Other plates will vary in size – lower weight plates will be smaller in size. Now, since you are just beginning, you won’t be going for the 25kg right off the bat; however, since the bumper plates are all the same size, you will start at the right height while using the lighter plates.
The barbell is the bar that you are going to add the weights to when you’re going to lift. For those interested in training for the Olympics, you will need a specific Olympic lifting style barbell. This barbell is important because it is going to have the ability to store elastic energy, or whip. As you become more experienced at lifting, you’ll find the whip can be beneficial.
Also, the Olympic style bars have smooth rotating sleeves that lets you get under the bar quickly without having to let go of the bar. It also built to withstand repeated drops when the bar is overhead.
It’s important to know which bar to get because a women’s bar is going to weigh less, have a smaller diameter, and it will not have a center knurling.
Dumbbells are a basic piece of gym equipment that you’ll probably already have in your home gym. You can also use kettlebells for more exercise possibilities.
There are a two main types of weight machines that you could use to help build muscle. These are plate loaded machines and pin loaded (also known as stack) machines.
The stack machines have rectangular weights with a hole in them so that you can insert the pin and lock it into place. These tend to be preferred because you don’t have to load and unload the machine in between sets.
A plate loaded machine doesn’t have any weights attached to the machine, which requires you to put the plates on the machine yourself. The benefit of using these machines is that they tend to give you a greater range of motion than a stack machine
When you go into a gym (either a home gym or a commercial gym), you are going to find a variety of racks. The most common racks include:
Necessary Support Gear
Because you are going to be lifting incredible amounts of weight, it would make sense that you have support gear. The idea behind the support gear is to make sure you are safe, but also to correct your movements while you are performing your workout.
Let’s take a look at essential pieces of support gear that every weight lifter should have.
Lifting straps are designed to be wrapped around the barbell and they help you hold onto the bar. They allow you to train longer without exhausting your grip. These are useful for those who are familiar with weightlifting, but as a beginner, they aren’t going to be too useful.
The straps are generally made from leather or a durable fabric like neoprene and have some kind of padding for user comfort.
Wrist wraps are not like lifting straps because they do not hold you to the bar. Instead, the wrist wraps simply wrap around your wrist. They give your wrists additional support to be able to lift heavy weights without experiencing discomfort and pain.
Wrist wraps like the ones from Euro Skt will be around 18 to 20 inches and they will feature a way to adjust them so that they are comfortable to wear when you aren’t training, but also immobilize your wrist when you are lifting.
When you’re lifting, your knees are going to be under a significant amount of stress. You can reduce that stress and protect your knee cap from becoming injured by wearing knee wraps.
The wraps should be made from a durable, but breathable material like a cotton and polyester blend and they should have a way to securely close the wraps – most will have a hook and loop closure system like the ones from Euro Skt.
These belts are available in Velcro and leather, and they can be very beneficial for the experienced lifter. These belts will be sit between your hips and your rib cage and they are designed to support your lower back while you are doing heavy lifts like squats or a deadlift.
The belt should be loose enough where you can easily slide your hand between your torso and your belt. When you’re using one of these, you will want to take a deep breath and engage your abs, obliques, and back so that they are pushing against the belt.
If you’ve watched any weightlifting competition, you’ll notice that the competitors are all wearing a singlet. This piece of gear isn’t supposed to be some kind of fashion statement and they certainly aren’t going to be for the modest folk because you’ll be able to see the outline of everything.
Fortunately, you can wear a pair of tight fitted shorts over (or under) the singlet, and you can wear a short-sleeved t-shirt under the singlet. With that said, this is a required piece of clothing for competition because they can successfully carry your weight and ensures the muscular parts of your body are positioned well and supported.
Gloves aren’t necessarily a must have piece of gear you will need. Some people like to use gloves because they believe they will be less likely to get callouses while they are lifting. However, callouses will still form and gloves can compromise your grip, which not going to be beneficial while you’re training!
Chalk is going to dry up any sweat in your hands, thus allowing you to get a better grip. People like to use chalk when they are doing work that requires a good grip such as when performing deadlifts, pull-ups, and rows.
Just a word of caution, before you go to your local gym and start chalking your hands in between sets, you will want to check with staff. Some gyms do not allow chalk because it is incredibly messy.
Shoes are an incredibly important piece of gear if you want to lift. That doesn’t mean they have to be expensive though. A good fitting pair of lifting shoes need to allow you to drive through your heels. This means you’ll want to look for shoes with a flat sole or shoes with a solid sole. Don’t think about using your regular gym shoes because they are too soft and cushy.
Safety Is Key When Weightlifting!
Lifting weights is a great workout, there’s no doubt about that, but there is great potential of getting hurt, too. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, you will want to do everything you can to stay safe and that includes:
Always Warm Up
You know how people stretch before they go for a run? They do this to get the blood flowing and their muscles ready to be worked. The same principle will apply to lifting. When you warm up before you lift, you’ll be less likely to injure yourself.
Also, instead of going directly to the heavy weights, start off with lower weights and work your way up to the max.
Hydration is important ever your overall health, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that you’ll need to stay hydrated while you are lifting weights too. When you’re hydrated, your muscles will be more elastic and will be able to adapt to the stress of lifting weights easier.
While you aren’t going to be noshing on chicken breast while you’re at the gym, the food you ate will help to give you the fuel your body needs to complete your workout.
Even if you are lifting to lose weight, you still have to eat a lot of good calories so that you have the fuel necessary so you aren’t weak. Not getting enough good nutrients could cause fatigue and weakened muscles, which is a recipe for disaster.
Always Maintain Form
Each weightlifting exercise is going to have their own set of movements, but it is important that you always use the perfect form for each. When you have bad form, you are putting your body at risk of injury because your body is not going to be able to handle the stress correctly. You should be challenging your muscles, not your joints!
Use Weight You Can Control
The desire to get big and strong is understandable, but you don’t want to let your ego get the best of you! Only lift weight you can manage and when you feel that you are ready to progress, do so at a gradual pace. You don’t want to go from lifting 200 pounds to 300 pounds overnight – that’s just foolish!
Lifting weights is a great workout, but more importantly, it is a great way to test your strength. The beauty of weightlifting is that you don’t have to be a bodybuilder in order to do it. You can be an average person who isn’t looking to get huge Arnold Schwarzenegger-sized muscles.
Should you decide to go into weightlifting, you will want to talk to someone who can guide you through the first few workouts until you have the proper form for each exercise so that you don’t hurt yourself. Also, when you are lifting, you’ll want to make sure you have the necessary support gear in your gym bag because they’ll make your workout a little easier.