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Getting Started With Weight Training

Given that our focus this month is on the benefits of weight training in women, it’s only natural that some of you may have questions about getting started.

In our two-part series, we talked with two certified personal trainers from opposite coasts - Chris Juergens in Los Angeles and Yvonne La-Garde in Boston. Our two experts, who train women of all ages and fitness levels, offer their insights on how to get started in a strength conditioning program.

It's Never Too Late

Whether you’re a Gen-X, aging baby boomer or senior citizen, it’s never too late to start a strength conditioning program. Scientific evidence has shown that weight training is safe for almost every one of all ages.

A good example is one of Yvonne’s clients - her 80 year old mother! Yvonne started training her mother Hazel over a year ago. In the past year, Hazel has lost 4 pounds of body fat and gained four pounds of muscle. Proof that even in your advanced years, you can change your body composition and lift weights without injury.

Where to Go

You don’t have to go to a fancy or expensive gym to get the weight training workout you need. Explore your local YWCA or community college. These types of locations offer fewer frills but that means you pay less. Check to see if they offer student or senior citizen discounts.

Most cities have a number of gym and fitness clubs such as Bally’s, 24 Hour Fitness, LA Fitness, Crunch, Planet Fitness and Gold’s. At the higher end, are clubs like Spectrum and Equinox. Many offer intro packages and specials so be sure to inquire.

A growing trend are tiny clubs that cater to a small number of members, who can visit the gym 24-7. An example is Anytime Fitness. These franchised clubs tend to be no-frills but convenient especially if you want to work out during odd hours. But, the quality can vary along with the sales aggressiveness of the management. has a directory of over 20,000 gyms and health clubs across the country, some which offer free guest passes.

Take Your Measurements

The best way to benchmark your progress is by taking measurements and photographs beforehand. When you lift weights, the changes may be subtle at first, and you may not notice. Referring back to photographs keeps your inspired as you watch your shape change.

Most gyms offer free body fat testing especially if you use a personal trainer. Fat calipers and scanners are commonly used but depending on the equipment or person calibrating, the results can vary significantly.

The most reliable test is an underwater measurement, known as hydrostatic weighting. Fitness Wave offers this service and typically charges around $75.00 for the test.

Hire a Personal Trainer

Using correct form is key to prevent injuries and obtain the results you’re looking for. Although you can learn from watching others, unfortunately most people at the gym (especially men) lift weights incorrectly. They use too much weight and compensate by using bad form.

If you’re new to weight lifting or the gym intimidates you, then seek the advice of a personal trainer. If you can’t afford to use one on a regular basis, hire a personal trainer to set-up your routine and show you the correct form for each exercise.

Before you hire a trainer, ask a gym regular whom they recommend. Or, watch a trainer and see how he/she interacts with different clientele. Some trainers are better qualified than others and unlike other professions, no national standard exists. Look for trainers that have national certifications like Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) issued by the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA). Other certification programs include ACE (American Council on Exercise) and NESTA (National Exercise & Sports Trainer Association). Trainers can also receive specialized training such as TRX Suspension Training.

Number of Exercises

Try to complete 8 to 10 exercises for all the major muscle groups – thighs (quads, hamstrings), arms (biceps, triceps), core (abdominals, obliques, lower back); hips (lunges & squats), chest (shoulders & back).

Weight Level & Repetitions

A target of 10-15 repetitions should be completed with each exercise. By the end of the set, lifting the weight should feel difficult but not painful. If you’re compromising your form to lift the weight, then drop the weight back down. As Chris’s clients get stronger, he makes their workout harder by adding some more weight, using destabilizing techniques (instead of standing while doing bicep curls, balance on one leg) or using multiple body parts (e.g., steps ups combined with bicep curl overhead).

Number of Sets

Shoot for 2 to 3 sets of each exercise. If you’re running low on time, try to work in two sets.

Remember to Breathe

It’s common to hold your breath while working out. However, by breathing correctly, you can make your workout easier. A good rule of thumb is to inhale on lengthening exercises and exhale on shortening exercises (the harder part of the exercise that produces force). A simple rule that Chris uses for his clients is to “blow as you go up, and inhale as you go down”.

Deliberate, Slow Reps

To get the most from your workouts, don’t rush the reps. Slowly and deliberately lifting on exertion is important to build muscle strength and endurance. My trainer periodically reprimands me for lifting the weights too quickly. Of course, I think I’ll get the exercise over more quickly!


If your primary exercise is resistance training, then you can work out 5-6 days a week, working different muscle groups on different days. If you’re adding weights to your existing work out routine, then shoot for 2 perhaps 3 days per week.

Duration of Workout

Target 30-45 minutes for your workout. Start by warming up for 5 to 10 minutes (e.g., elliptical, walking, bicycle) before you lift weights. After your workout, follow-up by gently stretching the muscles that you worked out.

Resting After A Workout

Plan one day off a week from working out to give your body a rest. This allows time for your muscles to rest and rebuild. This so-called after burn is when you’re repairing the micro trauma to cells (muscles, bone & connective tissue). It’s a subtle breakdown that causes the body to lay down more muscle so that you can do movement in future without injury.

If you’re doing back-to-back workouts, don’t exercise the same muscle groups. Instead, work legs on one day and the upper body on the next day. If you haven’t been able to workout for an extended period, be sure to come back slowly. Cut back the weight you normally use by 25 percent and gradually work your way back to your prior fitness level.

Chris Juergens is a CSCS, ACE, NESTA and TRX certified strength and conditioning personal trainer. He currently trains his clients at Spectrum Clubs in the greater Los Angeles area. You can reach him via email at:

Yvonne La-Garde has a Masters in Education and is a Certified Personal Trainer & Nutritional Consultant via the National Personal Training Institute & the National Federation of Personal Trainers. You can reach her via email at:

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