Weight Training For Beginners, Part 1: Basic Body Movements

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 9:30am

By Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD

Evidence is accumulating that weight training is good for everyone. It helps you play sports better; helps maintain muscle mass, functional strength and bone density lost through aging; assists in the rehabilitation of injuries; improves insulin resistance and fat loss; and of course, builds a pleasing physique for both men and women.

Understand how your body moves around before starting weight training

But it can be intimidating to start a program. Where do you begin with all the heavy stuff? How do you lift it without hurting yourself or angering the giant guys grunting in the gym corners? Many folks gravitate to the machines for this reason. Recently I was at a training session with a man who said he’d been inactive for 30 years. I explained to him that weight training was easy in theory: you just think about movements that your body does naturally, then figure out how to add resistance to them. "I don’t know how my body naturally moves any more,” he said, “I’m so out of practice." This got me thinking that in order to start weight training, you need to understand the basics of how your body gets around.

Body Movement 101

There are some basic movements that we all do every day. They can be broken up into a few groups. And notice that very few of them involve sitting in a machine that immobilizes you–most involve moving freely in three-dimensional space, often unstably or using one arm or leg.

  1. Squatting type movements. These happen when we do things like get out of a chair, hunker down to look at something on the ground, or squat down to pick up a child.

  2. Pushing type movements. This includes pushing overhead (such as putting something on a high shelf); pushing forward (such as pushing a car door shut); and pushing down (such as pushing down on a chair’s armrests to get out).
  3. Pulling type movements. This includes pulling down from overhead (such as reaching up to pull down the garage door), pulling things toward us (such as opening a door), or pulling up (such as shrugging up a heavy suitcase).
  4. Midsection stabilization. Ever notice how most of your midsection is just squashy stuff without any bones to support it? Well, a lot of muscles have to work to make sure you don’t fold up like a wet pillow, and also that you can bend, twist, and move loads around.

Most weight training exercises are these four types of movements. Movements like these are complex, but generally involve three key features:

Depending on the movement, muscles can be any of these three things. For example, when you press overhead while standing, your lower body and midsection are working as stabilizers while shoulders and triceps are prime movers. However, when you do a squat, your lower body is working as the prime mover. Ideally, you want to get as many of these little guys involved as possible.

Weight training: focus on body movements and not muscles

The first rule of starting weight training, then, is to train movements, not muscles. The body acts like an integrated system, not a series of parts that all happen to be together in the same place. What this means is that you shouldn’t worry too much about focusing on “hitting the biceps” or “blasting the triceps.” This can lead to doing a lot of unnecessary and time-wasting little exercises that don’t give you as much bang for your buck. Instead, do a collection of basic, complex movements--especially those that reflect your real-life demands for function (and sports if you do them). Let the body sort out which muscles will do what.

Weight Training for Beginners, Part 2: More Movement Basics