Richard Weil, MEd, CDE, is an exercise physiologist and Certified Diabetes Educator, and is director of the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center in
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Weight: Beginners should start with weights that can be lifted 10-12 reps to fatigue with good form. Fatigue means that you cannot lift the weight one more time with good form. If you have to lean back or throw the weight up, then it's too heavy.
Lifting 10-12 reps to fatigue will maximize your strength gains and minimize the risk of overtraining or injury.
Sets: Beginners can start with one set per exercise. You can do more if you have time, but research shows that one set for beginners is enough to yield significant gains in strength.
Time between sets: Rest less than one minute between sets if you want to develop endurance and tone. Rest up to three minutes if you want to focus more on strength; the extra recovery time allows the muscles to work harder and lift more on the next set.
Order of exercises: Design your plan so that large muscle groups are worked before smaller groups. The theory is that if you fatigue a smaller muscle group first, then the larger group won't work as hard as it can. For example, do bent-over-rows before biceps curls. Biceps work in both exercises, but since the larger and stronger back muscles are used in the rows, they wouldn't get a maximal workout if the biceps are fatigued. Another way to say it is that the biceps become the weakest link in the chain if you work them first.
Exercises: Select one to two exercises per muscle group. Here's a list of at least two exercises for each group using dumbbells and machines in an order of larger to smaller groups. All of these exercises and the order of exercises are suitable for beginners.
Shoulders: side lateral raise, front raise, upright row
Back: bent-over-row, cable row, pull-down
Arms: biceps curls, triceps kickbacks, triceps press-downs on pull-down machine
Abs: crunches, knee-drop crunches for the oblique muscles on the side of the abdomen (drop the knees to one side and crunch up)
Legs: squats, leg extensions, and curls on the machines, leg press on the machine.
Rest and recovery: Remember that muscles grow during downtime, not when you train, so allow a day or two between workouts when you first get started so that the muscles can recover and grow. You should show up at your workouts refreshed and at least as strong as the previous workout (there will be days when you aren't stronger, and you should expect them so don't get discouraged when it happens).
Splits. A term used to describe how you organize your workout. For instance, you might decide to work only your chest on day
one and your back on day two. This is the type of lifting you do once you get stronger and more experienced. This is not necessary or recommended for beginners because it's too intense. It's not only unnecessary but it could lead to injury or overtraining (burnout).