Lift Heavy Things: How and Why to Start Strength Training

Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live. – Jim Rohn

I am in the everybody-needs-to-lift-something-heavy camp. No matter your age or gender, you need to pick stuff up and put it back down. It will benefit your metabolism, your brain, your longevity, your flexibility, and even your confidence.

What’s the best method to lift heavy things?

The methods you can use to get said heavy lifting done are as numerous as there are things to pick up. So, what’s the best way to get your lifting in?

The method that keeps you coming back.

Seriously. There is no “perfect” program. If you are going to lift heavy for the rest of your life, you need to find a method that jives with you right now. Over time, you can diversify your methods or expand your repertoire, but what I am most concerned with is getting you started today. Remember: “Heavy” is relative to you as an individual. For some people, it’s just going to mean using your own bodyweight as resistance. Others gravitate towards weight training. In the end, your goals are going to help determine what kind of lifting you want to do and how heavy you want to go.

Getting Started

How you get started and more importantly, what hooks you in and keeps you coming back, is going to be individual to you. It will depend on your familiarity with proper movement, your tenacity, and your budget. Generally, there are three overarching ways that get people started:

  • Do-It-Yourself
  • Group Classes
  • Personal Training

Most people shift in and out of each category throughout their strength training journey. This is about those people who are just getting started. At the end of this article, I’ll give you some key points to consider no matter which path you choose.

Do-It-Yourself Strength Training

When I say DIY, I mean starting on your own at home. There is so much information on the internet, and a lot of it is free, including strength training programs. If you have some familiarity with basic exercise and movement principles and you aren’t easily gotten by gotcha-articles, you can build your own program, find an inexpensive one to download and follow, or even buy a book. Between YouTube and Reddit, you can get free feedback on your movements, watch proper demos, and cringe at bad lifters.

DIY Strength Training is great for those who don’t want to spend a lot of money and are tenacious enough to teach themselves, try new things, and stick to a plan. Generally, it’s a little easier if you’ve had some exposure to proper movement.

Pros: 

  • Easy to make inexpensive, even free if you’re creative. Starting from home, you would have the one time cost of buying your own equipment instead of the monthly cost of a gym membership. 
  • With the internet, you have access to a plethora of information.
  • You can adapt any program to suit you.
  • You have the freedom to try on different methods and modalities whenever you like.

Cons:

  • There is so much information on the internet, it’s easy to get overloaded.
  • You can easily be pulled into a rabbit-hole of misinformation or information that doesn’t apply to you.
  • Do-It-Yourself can mean you are by yourself, and some people need the social motivation provided by a gym.

Example Programs:

  • StrongLifts 5×5: Beginner barbell training based around a small number of movements. Simple and effective.
  • The Gymnastic Bodies cirriculum: a strength and conditioning program focused on bodyweight skill development. This one requires an investment up front, but is great if you’re interested in learning handstands and other gymnastic skills.

Group Classes

Group classes are a great way to get introduced to different strength training modalities, learn the basics of proper movement, and give you a baseline to go back and work on your own DIY Strength Training program or introduce you to a Personal Trainer. They’re going to cost a bit more money, but can be very budget friendly if you poke around enough. In the group atmosphere, you won’t be getting completely undivided one-on-one attention, but you will benefit from someone teaching and coaching you. Working out with others can also help boost your confidence and help keep you accountable.

You can find strength-based group classes at major gyms, on-ramp classes at CrossFit boxes, and there Groupons floating around to get you started as well. Look for classes like Bodyweight Fitness, Strength Class, Kettlebells, TRX, or a CrossFit On-Ramp class. With these types of classes, you are going to go through the learning experience with other people and have the benefit of camaraderie with your training partners.

Pros:

  • Doesn’t have to be expensive.
  • Tons of options.
  • Potentially a part of a gym membership package, so you can try lots of different classes.
  • You’ll have guided instruction.
  • Great opportunity to build your catalogue of movements.

Cons:

  • Instructors have varying levels of movement standards.
  • Large classes are going to be more one-size-fits-all and may be more challenging to scale to your level.
  • At major gyms, the potential to be very cardio based, as opposed to heavy lifting, is pretty high.
  • For long-term strength training, group classes might not be the best option. Eventually, it would be a good idea to build your own program or work with a Personal Trainer.

Personal Training

Personal training is likely going to be the most expensive option, but you will get a lot of bang for your buck. It’s the quickest way to learn proper form, requires zero know-how from you, and offers the highest level of accountability.

Direct coaching is going to be the quickest way for you to learn about strength training and proper movement. In addition to building personal programs, your trainer can also offer advice on nutrition and related training, as well as motivation and accountability. How you work with them will vary based on your learning and training style. You could hire one for a month to get started, you could work with them every workout session to get constant feedback, or you could buy a couple sessions and meet once a month to check in on progress and form and review your plan.

Pros:

  • Highly personalized instruction with information and guidance that is directly related to you and your goals.
  • You get the added benefits of motivation, accountability, and a source of other health and wellness advice.

Cons:

  • Pricier than other options and it can be challenging to find a trainer that you jive with.

Key Points to Consider No Matter How You Get Started

  • Every option has the opportunity for misinformation. Ask questions, do some research yourself, and if something seems funky, get a second opinion! There is a lot of right information out there, but that doesn’t mean it applies to you. There is a lot of wrong information out there too, so listen to your body and your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, stop and get more information.
  • One option may be better now, another may be better later. Don’t write anything off; take the time to recognize where you are at now, and don’t be afraid to pivot and change course later. How you lift heavy will depend on you and what your goals are.
  • Every workout is your workout. Your body is the one doing the movement, so you have ultimate authority over what you do and do not do. That means if something feels funny, change it. If something hurts, stop. If you aren’t “there” yet in terms of your strength or your conditioning, modify/scale your workout to your current abilities. This is your strength training and nobody else’s.

Whatever you think about strength training and lifting heavy, especially if you are biased against it, there’s much more to it than you think. Lifting heavy things can look like:

Barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, body weight training, sand bags, mace training, gymnastics, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, CrossFit, bodybuilding, group strength classes, led by women, led by men, circuit training, 15 minutes, 90 minutes, 3 times a week, everyday, led by trainers, led by coaches, wearing Lululemon, wearing a t-shirt from high school, by yourself, with a group, done with a training partner, with your family, in your basement, at a YMCA, at a box, at a 24-hour fitness facility, at a big gym, in your garage, outside, and so much more.

I truly believe, with a little effort and a willingness to try new things, you will find the method that works for you.

Barbell image licensed under the Creative Commons.

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Anna Dooley

Anna Dooley

Anna learned about Paleo in the summer of 2011. After gaining and losing the “freshman 15” multiple times through college, it was after graduation that she realized something was wrong with her beliefs about health. The Paleo community set her on the path to real health, introducing her to new and better ideas about functional […]

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