how to start a weight lifting program at home

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It’s not as complicated as it seems

Starting your own weight lifting program does not have to be a complicated or expensive ordeal. In fact, the simpler and more affordable you make it in the beginning, the more likely you are to stick with it. This guide is your shortcut.

First, we’ll look at the basic lifts and exercises to consider. Then the gear and equipment you might need to get started along with some helpful tips on nutrition and exercise.

Let’s get to it.

The Exercises

The first thing is to decide what lifts you want to do. I guarantee you’ll be expanding your repertoire as you go along, but you’ve got to have a starting point.

Decide what lifts you’ll do at first and see what you’ll need to do them. We’ll go over how to choose the best equipment for you later in this post.

There are many types of lifts, and they all have seemingly endless variations. I’ll cover some of the basics here. These are all you really need, but it’ll be fun trying different things later on. That’ll keep you from getting bored with your workouts.

weight plates
Weight plates should be considered if you want to expend beyond dumbbells and add significant weight to your lifts.

Bench press

Almost everyone is familiar with this lift. You face up on a bench and push a barbell away from your chest. It’s one of the most popular lifts in the world.

Benching works the following muscles:

Front delts
Upper back
Lower back

I consider benching to be a barbell exercise, but some people use dumbbells. Bars force you to use better form, so go with a good bar.

You’ll also need a good bench, obviously.

Chest Fly

Here’s another bench exercise. You lie face up holding the weights out horizontally and bring them up over and in front of you, keeping your arms extended.

I recommend these for building pecs quickly.

Chest flys work your:


This is a dumbbell exercise. A bench is important too. This isn’t really something you can do on the floor.

You can also use a crossover machine. I’ll explain more about these below.


Squats are done by squatting down and raising up to a standing position while holding weight. It sounds simple, and it is. But they are also highly effective.

Do squats for strengthening and toning your:


You might be surprised to learn that squats work your back muscles. You don’t lift with your back, of course. But both your upper and lower back muscles work to stabilize your body during the lift. This is true of all lifts performed off the bench, to some degree.

Squats can be done with barbells or dumbbells.

Biceps Curls

You’ve seen them, and you’ve probably done them.

They mainly work your biceps, but your back and chest muscles get into the picture as stabilizers.


Weights aren’t even necessary for lunges, but using at least some weight with them is a fantastic way to build these muscles:


As you can see, lunges generally work the same muscle groups as squats. It’s good to vary your routine, though, because even slight variations put different amounts of resistance on the muscles involved.

Dumbbells work great. You can use barbells too. I prefer bars because it’s easier to hold the bar on my shoulders, like with a squat, than it is for me to grip dumbbells. It’s up to you. Some people like to use kettle bells. They work as well as dumbbells here.

dumbells for a home gym
You don’t need a full rack of dumbbells. Any adjustable set will do the job just fine.


If you’re new to powerlifting, you’ll want to start out deadlifting pretty lightly. This basically works your whole body in one lift. That’s something you need to ease into. Dont try to be Hercules. You’re not.

Deadlifting involves lifting a loaded bar off the floor to the level of your hips.

You need a good bar for this one. Some variations use kettle bells.

Triceps Extensions

These are an amazing way to build one of the muscle groups that are the most neglected by beginners, the triceps.

They only work your triceps to any remarkable degree, but they do it as well as diamond pushups.

There is a variation of the barbell called the curling bar. It works great for this lift. Regular barbells and dumbbells work well too.

So there are some basic exercises for you to consider. I mentioned them because, together, they offer the beginner a full-body strength training workout.

The Equipment

I advise starting with, at a minimum, a good barbell, weights, dumbbells and a bench. I’ll show you how to find good ones, and I’ll also go into a few other pieces of home gym equipment that you may want to consider.


Your first decision will be whether to get a standard or olympic bar.

Olympic bars are better for heavy lifts. There’s several reasons for this. Not only are they stronger, but they have more flex. This “whip” makes the lift feel smoother. It also gives a bit of a hop at the top of the lift. You see, the bar flexes while you’re raising it. Then the bar straightens when you get right to the top, helping where you need that little bit of a boost.

Oly bars are the best for olympic lifts, which involve a single lift of heavy weight rather than multiple reps of a lighter bar. The clean and jerk is a good example of an olympic lift.

Standard bars can save you some money. Some are made to have some whip, some are made to be rigid. If you’re just benching and curling, a standard bar should be all you need. Pay attention to the weight limit though.

Curling bars aren’t straight. They have angles that allow a better underhanded grip. They’re best for curling, but not so much for pressing and squats. If you don’t want to buy two bars, an olympic or standard bar will work for all lifts that call for a barbell.

Power bars are basically olympic bars, but they don’t conform to the same rigid standards of weight and dimensions. Many have rotating sleeves and big weight limits, like oly bars. They used to be cheaper, but not so much anymore.


No home gym is complete without a good set of dumbbells.

Have you seen the adjustable ones? I really like that kind of versatility. You can save money with an adjustable pair if you’re just starting out.

The simplest adjustable dumbbells work the same way barbells do. You add or remove plates as needed for more or less weight. There’s no need to buy multiple pairs. You just have to have a good set of plates.

Look at the grips before you buy. You’ll probably want some knurling. That’s the diamond or crosshatch pattern etched into the metal part where you hold it. You don’t have to grip as tightly if you have decent knurling.


There are two basic types of plates: steel and bumpers.

You’re likely familiar with steel plates. Bumper plates are made of tough, high-density rubber.

Given the same weight, steel plates are smaller in diameter than bumper plates. This means the bar will sit lower to the floor when your doing olympic lifts. That sucks. It’s so much easier to develop proper form with the extra couple inches that bumper plates give you.

Another reason steel plates aren’t as good as bumpers for oly lifts is the damage they can do to your floor. A couple hundred pounds lands with a big thud. Rubber is easier on flooring of all types, including rubber gym tile and mats.

Steel plates are a little easier to load and unload though. Most of them have handles cast into them.

If noise is an issue, you’ll want to go with bumper plates. They don’t clang together. I can lift and drop 200 pounds without waking anyone in the house up during my early morning workouts.

Technique plates are very light, usually five pounds. They’re meant for developing proper form. You may want to start with tech plates if you’ve never lifted before.

Kettle Bells

Kettlebells are an excellent addition to any home gym and are a great companion to dumbbells.

Imagine cannonballs with handles. That’s what they are.

They’re not totally necessary. Dumbbells can take their place in any lift. But they are easier to handle sometimes. Lunges are a good example.


You can find really good deals on basic benches. I’ve seen good simple ones for less than $100. Heck, look for a used one if you want to. The best adjustable benches are summarized in this article.

If you want more flexibility in your weightlifting program, get a bench that can incline and decline. A little angle changes the way the lifts work your body. For example, an inclined bench press works your shoulder more than a straight press.

You may want to invest a little more and get a bench with a leg press. Make sure you can do calf extensions with it.

Power Racks

These are a nice addition to any home gym. I like them for their versatility and safety.

If you don’t know what a rack is, it’s basically a metal frame that you stand in or behind while lifting. They have adjustable catches for the bar.

A good rack will come with a bench. It’ll fit right inside the frame. The best power racks will high quality and have a solid contraction. They can be pricey in many cases, but the investment is will worth it. A power rack is pretty much all you’ll need.

The really neat thing about racks is that some of the better ones have lat pull and crossover attachments.

Almost all of them have pullup bars. Some have pushup bars as well.

Yes, a good rack can turn your home gym into a complete workout center that rivals a commercial gym. I recommend getting one if you can fit it into your budget. You don’t have to get all the attachments at once.

Just add a lat pull and crossover when you can. You’ll be glad you did.

Getting Started

So, we’ve checked out some good lifts for beginners. We’ve looked at some starter equipment. Now I want to talk about what you have to do to get lifting the right way.


This is more important than you may think.

Eating healthy is a crucial part of health, even for people who don’t workout at all. But it’s the cornerstone of a lifting program.

Many books have been written on the subject. Buy one if you want to. You should, at the very least, keep the following points in mind. If you need to slim down quick, try something like the 28 Day Keto Challenge to get you started off on the right path.

However, it you are looking to gain mass, be sure to get enough protein and calories in to actually grow. A calorie restricted approach won’t help there.

To maximize your lifting session, eat a small, balanced meal about an hour before you begin. This meal should include lean protein and complex carbs. Most professional trainers recommended a small meal afterwards too.


This should be obvious, but it’s often neglected.

Eight glasses of water per day is the standard rule for people of average physical activity. When you lift, you’re more active.

Drink water before, during and after workouts. Its a good idea to take a few sips during your short rests between sets. And keep in mind that if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.

rest and recovery

Rest is just as important as the workout itself. If you do HIIT, you know what I mean.

Muscles don’t strengthen or grow when you are working out. That happens during rest.

essential gym gear for your workout
Add comfortable clothes to you list of gear. If you are lifting heavy, look for weightlifting shoes. Regular tennis shoes won’t support you well.

Most lifting workouts go like this: You lift until the muscles you’re targeting tire out, then you rest until you feel you can lift more. Generally, this is about 30 to 60 seconds. Then you go back to lifting your target muscle group.

You shouldn’t do too many sets of reps on any one day. Let’s look at bicep curls for an example.

Say your curling a 100-pound bar six reps at a time. That’s pretty good for most beginners. Anyway, I would only do one or two sets per workout at the beginning. Rest between sets, then rest again before moving on to a different type of lift.

You also need recovery periods during the week.

Lifting two days in a row will leave you sore. Starting out, you need a minimum of two days between lifting sessions. Two is the minimum; three is better when you’re just starting out.

Your muscles only benefit from exercise when they are in good shape. If they’re strained, they’re in self-defense mode. They’ll grudgingly do what is asked of them, maybe, but they won’t gain any mass or strength when they are stressed by being overworked.

It’s best to have two lifting days per week. If you want to go three after a few months, that’s fine. I’d wait until you are well-seasoned before attempting four days per week. There really isn’t any benefit of five sessions per week. That’s injury territory.

Develop Proper Form

The worst and most frequent mistakes I see beginners make have to do with form.

Improper lifting can result in injuries. The more weight that’s involved, the higher the likelihood and severity of hurting yourself if you’re not doing it right.

Of course form depends on the type of lift.

For olympic lifts, where you’re usually lifting a heavy bar off the floor, you want to keep your back straight. Your spine is for support, not lifting. Don’t worry, those back muscles get enough of a workout stabilizing your core during lifts.

Pay attention to your elbows when benching or curling. They shouldn’t be sticking out at a severe angle from your body. An improper angle here makes for sore joints and a less effective workout.

When I used to lift at my neighborhood gym, I was constantly amazed at how fast some of the other patrons would lift. And I don’t mean amazed in a good way, either. Lifting too fast is bad in so many ways.

First of all, it’s asking too much of your body. You want to strengthen and maybe add some mass, not wear it out.

This isn’t cardio. Each rep should take at least three seconds, as a general rule of thumb. Take some time and actually work those muscles. Your not in a race.

Are you Ready?

How much time have you spent wondering how to start a weight lifting program? It’s not as hard as you thought, is it?

As you can see, you don’t need a room full of expensive equipment to get started lifting. There’s just some basic things you need. You can always add stuff to your gym later on. I hope you end up with a power rack. They can really help you take your workouts to the next level.

Try a variety of lifts. Your body will tell you what muscles are doing the work by the burn you feel during and after the session. Select the lifts that compliment you best and get you moving toward your goal. The key here is consistency and here is where you can start.

Jeff Carpenter

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