One important tip: Your virtual trainer should ask you to do the same move from a variety of different angles, which will better mimic what they’d see in person.
“From the front, their form can look amazing with a squat, but then if you say, ‘Okay, show me a side view,’ you’d be able to tell their torso is leaning too much forward,” says Fagan.
If you don’t have room in your budget for a personal trainer, online tutorials can help you learn what a proper move should look like, and working out in front of a mirror (or videoing it on your phone) can help you make sure you’re executing it correctly, Holly Roser, a certified personal trainer and owner of Holly Roser Fitness in San Francisco, told SELF previously.
3. Invest in some equipment.
While starting with bodyweight moves is key, you probably will want to eventually add weights to your weight training plan. Weights, like most other kinds of at-home fitness equipment, have been pretty difficult to find online during the coronavirus pandemic, but they have slowly been coming back into stock at some retailers.
If you can find them, dumbbells are probably the most user-friendly weight option for beginners—more so than kettlebells or barbells, which have more of a learning curve to use properly and safely, says Fagan. Ideally, you’ll have three sets: a light, moderate, and a heavy (5 pounds, 12 pounds, and 20 pounds are good examples, she says).
Other non-weight equipment—which tends to be easier to find available than actual weights—can be great to mix up your workout too. This includes things like mini-bands, looped resistance bands, sliders, or suspension trainers, says Fagan.
4. Prep your muscles before you start.
A proper warm-up is an important part of an effective strength workout. Start by waking up your muscles with a foam roller.
“Foam rolling loosens up tight muscles so that they work the way they’re designed to,” says Davis. A dynamic warm-up is another important part of your pre-workout routine, since it preps your muscles for the work they’re about to do and helps increase your range of motion. Increasing your range of motion allows you to go deeper into those squats and fully extend those bicep curls, which means more muscle recruitment and better results.
“These two combined reduce your risk of injury and allow you to push harder during your workout,” says Davis.
5. Schedule regular workouts—but don’t go overboard.
“Start with two days for two to three weeks, then add a third day,” says Davis. “Ideally, you should strength train three to five days per week, but work your way up—starting off at five days a week might shock your body.” In fact, doing too much too soon is one of the most common mistakes Fagan says she sees with people starting out.
One effective way to program weight training for beginners is to make every workout a total-body day, rather than splitting it up into muscle groups, says Fagan. That means each workout, you’ll be doing a little bit of everything—some lower-body work, some core moves, and some upper-body work, which will keep your workout balanced. If you’re doing three days a week of total-body workouts, you can also eventually add a bonus day, where you focus on specific areas where you want to build more strength.
These workouts shouldn’t stretch on and on, either. Cap them at about 40 minutes, says Fagan. (For some total-body workout ideas, check out SELF’s options here.)
On the days when you aren’t weight lifting, it’s also important for overall health to get in some cardio. “I defer to the CDC recommendations for aerobic exercise—150 minutes of light-to-moderate work or 75 minutes a week of high-intensity work,” says Davis. Ultimately, finding the right mix of workouts will depend on your specific goal.
6. Lift the right amount of weight.
When you first start out, you should stick to about 12-15 reps per set, says Fagan. Shoot for one to two sets of each exercise during the first month you are strength training, and then after that, you can increase it to three sets per exercise, she says.
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