You’ve heard the advice about grocery shopping, right? About how you should shop the outside aisles where most of the fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats reside? I like that advice. It’s simple and easy to understand. Shop where the real food is.
When it comes to exercise, allow me to give you some similar advice. Shop the outside aisles. Only in this case, you’re looking for free weights (your fruits, veggies, and meat) and not for the machines (your processed foods and children’s cereals).
You can make your muscles sore by sitting on a tricep extension machine and isolating one muscle group out of many. But soreness isn’t your goal when it comes to fitness; mobility, strength, body composition, bone density, and coordination are.
When you’re standing up and holding a thing, like a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell, and you lift that thing over your head, your body has to execute a complex set of operations to ensure that your spine doesn’t collapse on itself and your deltoids don’t get shredded apart. This complex movement helps you do everyday things better, like put a heavy thing on a tall shelf—or if you’re someone like a firefighter, pull a ceiling down.
Machines might make you feel safer, and you might even be able to make yourself sore using them, but I would much rather have a person who is new to fitness learn how to squat than sit on a leg extension or leg press machine. After all, every single one of us has to squat every single day. Why not learn how to do it properly, all the while building muscle and transforming your body composition?
I’m a personal trainer by trade, but I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: you don’t need me to learn how to lift weights. If you have an injury history, would feel better about having expert supervision, or you’ve been having trouble on your own, of course hiring a good coach might be necessary. However, with a little perseverance, YouTube navigation skills, and Googling acumen you could probably figure out the basics on your own.
Below is a workout to get you started. You’ll notice it consists of a two-leg movement (the goblet squat), a horizontal press, a horizontal pull, a vertical press, and a vertical pull. If you did this sample workout, say, two days a week, you’d be off to a great start. I’d recommend three sets of ten repetitions for each exercise, resting a minute to ninety seconds in between each set and about two minutes in between each exercise. When you can lift the weight for three sets of ten, add five pounds the next time.
This is a beginner workout, which means if you’re dedicated to it you’ll outgrow it quickly and will need to move on to more advanced set and rep schemes (not to mention additional exercises). This is a good problem to have.
If you’re intimidated by the free weight section of your local gym, try out this framework and see how you do. My guess is you’ll get over your insecurity within one or two sessions and you’ll be well on your way to building a stronger, more mobile, and leaner body.