I won't go too much into the reasons why lifting heavy weights is good for you - Like the Nike slogan: just do it. This post is a basic guide on HOW to lift heavy weights.
Some Food for thought:
There is a bunch of BS surrounding weight-lifting and fitness in general. Most of what works is easy to understand and the rest is mostly smoke and mirrors meant to sell books, ad-space, or the latest gimmicky fitness product. I'm going to let you in on a secret: Don't buy the hype.
Fitness and weight-lifting is very simple to understand and universally applicable for 99% of the population. The foundations of general weightlifting make up the majority of what your body will adapt to and the rest is mostly masturbation.
Less is more in so many things in life and fitness is no different. The more specialized and focused a movement is the less likely you are actually doing anything productive. You may get better at a skill but why do you want to be good at calf raises unless you are entering a calf raise competition?
From a ROI point of view, why would you do calf raises when you could sprint or jump and get 20 other muscles involved in the process? This seems so obvious to me but this concept is lost on most gym-goers.
The human body is designed to achieve adaptation using the minimum effective dosage. It is a delicate balance between what is just enough and too much. This relates to many aspects of the human condition (food, sleep, play).
The weightlifting principles are based on how we have survived in nature for thousands of years and evolved to our current condition. Human beings are made to pick up, drag, and move heavy objects. It has been an integral part of the human survival and growth.
Now-a-days people aren't forced to move anything heavy unless by choice and this inactivity has a large correlation to the obesity pandemic in this country. Lifting weights is a basic human function we all must do; male or female, young or old.
From understanding our past we can 'hack' ourselves. I am a big believer in this approach. We are not trying to reenact the living
conditions of our ancestors we are trying to improve our current condition based on the evidence they left behind.
For example, we are not made to do intense exercise for long periods of time, although we are definitely made to do intense exercise. We are made to pick up, drag, throw, jump, climb, chase, balance, swim, and run. If you stay within these modalities you are likely to be improve your fitness and health.
The further you stray from these natural human movements the harder it becomes to elicit a physical response and thus the less physical development you achieve. You also risk injury and create imbalances in your body.
Big, compound movements with hard effort for brief periods of time
These weightlifting recommendations apply to any adult, most teenagers, and most seniors. Scaling and loads need to be closely maintained of course but every human on earth should be able to perform the basic compound barbell movements.
Why? Because they are representations of how we move as humans...They are natural.
I'm glad you mentioned that point about the female form because it fits nicely into what I'm talking about here:
Weightlifting is exactly, absolutely, undoubtedly, and 100% what you need to have develop any kind of tone-ness or firmness for men and women!
Lifting weights only makes you big if you eat big and/or take drugs. Females have only a fraction of the testosterone and HGH that men have. This is why females are capped at how much muscle and size they can amass. Even if a female were to train 7 days a week for hours on end it would be genetically impossible to reach a certain point.
Building muscle is what makes a butt tone or thighs not-saggy and this is only done by lifting weights. Also, the weights must be moderate to heavy or there can't be muscle growth. The typical bun-shaping exercises that falsely promote a 'tight butt' or 'firm thighs' is complete marketing bulshit.
Don't buy it ladies. If you want a attractive body you need to get in the gym and pump some iron!
A huge benefit of building muscle through lifting weights is the thermogenic effect that your body has after you train. Your body turns into a calorie-burning furnace. Think of it as 'cardio' for free--you burn calories when you aren't moving.
When you lift weights you will firm-tone-and-tighten (I hate these words but just so we are on the same page) your entire body, and after you lift weights, for the next 24 hours you will experience calorie-burning that will help shed the hardest-to-shed area of your body: the stomach and love handles!
The 3 basic barbell lifts are: Squat, Deadlift, Shoulder Press
Stand up, sit down, pick stuff up, press it overhead. Any human can perform these movements. Maybe not with weight, maybe not without assistance, maybe not perfectly, but they definitely can be done. The point is to start doing them and to start at whatever point your fitness level determines. Flexibility, general fitness condition, and many other factors will come into play in determining where you should start and how long it will take to reach goals you set for yourself.
The key is to get started, take it slow, and be safe.
I'm going to provide some general recommendations such as beginner and intermediate but keep in mind that this is all opinion and use it at your own risk (good damn advice though).
1. Lift 2-4 times a week
2. Follow progressive overload principles (increase weight smartly)
3. Track your progress
4. Train to failure (usually) with proper intensity
5. Rest between sessions
6. Train in a balanced way and work mobility
7. Use a workout partner and spotter. Be safe (if you get hurt you can't train and that is counterproductive..duh)
8. Eat a clean diet that emphasizes whole foods that will improve recovery
9. Drink water
10. Keep reps moderate-to-heavy in the 3-7 range most of the time. Do heavy 1-3 rep sets sometimes (advanced) and do 10+ rep sets sometimes
11. Use proper warm-up sets with light weight and build to working sets
For those that want to follow a program there are many basic weightlifting programs like Starting Strength or 5/3/1 that will have exact percentages to follow. I recommend following a basic program for 6-12 months and gauge results. Avoid flopping around between programs as this is a perfect way to sabotage your results.
For complete beginners and/or those that are unorganized, there are some basic guidelines you can follow to achieve a high level of general overall strength without the use of a specific and structured program:
1. Train Each lift once a week at a minimum
2. Train each lift to failure and near failure for multiple sets. Go hard
3. Add in complementary supplement exercises each workout
4. Perform 2-5 sets of 3-7 reps for each exercise
Bodyweight and complementary exercises will be higher reps typically. If you make sure to go to failure/near failure most of the time, your body will tell you when it has had enough. This takes practice and you should always be pushing what your 'max' is and trying to increase the ceiling in which you can train as well as how much weight and reps you do to get there.
If you have trouble motivating yourself I would recommend joining a gym or working-out with a partner. Everyone needs some accountability to stay consistent. Once you make it a part of your daily routine it will be much easier to be religious with your routine, but I can tell you from years of training with others and by myself that we all need some social accountability from time to time.
The key with a program (or lack of) like this is that your body will give you your feedback. Make sure you listen to it. It may take time to understand your limits but as long as you are constantly pushing these limits you will keep improving.
Failure is the inability to perform another rep through full range of motion and with proper form. It does take experience and practice to learn how to consistently reach true failure. Most people, especially ones who do not train or lift, have no clue how to reach failure because they haven't developed the muscle awareness to know what failure feels like. And many who do go to the gym have never pushed or been pushed to their physical max.
Exercise and weightlifting is a skill, and like any skill you must constantly work at it and develop your ability.
The Push-Up Test
There is no better way to test failure than with high rep push-ups. If you are looking to develop your mental lifting skillz I suggest doing max-effort push-ups a couple times every week. Wait until you get stuck on a rep pushing and fighting with every fiber of your resolve as your chest hoovers an inch or so over the ground but never fully extends to the full rep, then you will know what I mean by failure or 'max-effort'. It's all about intensity, and intensity takes practice.
To review I'm going to provide a basic outline of what it looks like to lift weights for a week:
1 Week = 3 Days in the gym, 1 hour each session
Day 1/Workout 1: Back Squat, Walking Lunges, Push-ups, Bench press or something else upper body
Start session with a light jog and dynamic stretching to prime the body.
Back squat: Complete 5 warm-up reps of the with an empty bar.
Load comfortably light plates 10's, 25's, 45's to each side of bar based on physical preference, and perform a warm up set of 3-5 reps.Add 5's or 10's per side for 2-3 more sets and warm up with 3-5 reps each set until you reach your 'working sets'
*If using a program, now would be the time to complete the program percentages and reps as outlined. If you are not using a program the weights and percentages will be up to you. Go Moderate to heavy most of the time, light sometimes, and near maximal sometimes.
Accessory movement 1#: Stepping or Weighted Lunges - After completing all work sets of back squats, perform lunges in sets of 10 per leg until a nice burn is felt or until you reach failure on any single rep.
After back squats and lunges, your legs may need a rest so now would be a good time to train some upper body exercises. Use the same format from the back squats and repeat with: Bench press - Accessory movement: clapping push-ups
After all your weight-lifting is done you should have a raised heart-rate and will very likely be sweating..if the intensity is there of course. If you were to go right now and walk into your average globo-gym you will see guys hanging around performing sets at a slow to moderate pace without a drop of sweat on their brow or shirt. You know better because you train hard and you don't waste time. If you are lifting weights and aren't sweating you are not training hard enough...PERIOD! I call that the Sweat Test™
Your weightlifting is done and you decide to play basketball for 20 minutes or go for a run or do some sprints. You then cool-down from your workout with some light stretching and foam rolling and head home with an accomplished and elevated feeling.
This is the basic format of every session
Day 2/Workout 2: 1-3 days rest. Shoulder Press, Power cleans, Push-ups, light deadlifts and squats
You perform the same format as workout 1 but with different exercises.
Day 3/Workout 3: 1-3 days Rest - Deadlift, Front squats (light), bent-over row, pull-ups
Same format different exercises. This workout you decide to finish with 3 sets of max-effort push-ups. Then finally you are done with the days workout and your week of training.
By the end of the week you have successfully targeted the entire body with adequate intensity and worked towards improving your general fitness and strength.
You have gotten stronger and healthier. You are now harder to kill and more likely to win at life, sport, or anything else that comes your way.
You will sleep better, live longer, be happier, have better sex, think clearer, and so much more. All because you invested a few hours of your week into your health.
Seems so obvious how easy and important all this is, yet I see people skip work-outs for months at a time with some BS reason in their head why they don't have time or this or that...
As you can probably tell I have no sympathy to those that make excuses for why they can't be healthy, fit, or strong. It's all cop-out mental weakness.
If you can walk, and breathe then you can go to the gym and improve your life...
Now get your ass in the gym and get lifting!