Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

A weightlifting guide for beginners, according to a certified personal trainer

Weight training for beginners: A total guide

Fitness is always the number one New Year’s Resolution goal come the start of the year. A major turnoff for those trying to improve their health is knowing where to start, regardless of what time of the year it is. Attacking your fitness goals can seem daunting at first. Beginner workouts are useful to help get your body acclimated to a new routine. Whether you want to lose love handles, exercise in 20 minutes, train for an ultra marathon or endurance event, or simply take better care of yourself, making a consistent habit out of exercising is the first step. Weight training creates a solid foundation that sets you up to achieve your fitness goals, but it can feel overwhelming for beginners.

“On a physical level, weight training can improve strength, endurance, and balance, and it also helps keep your bones healthy,” says Kenta Seki, ACE-certified personal trainer and FitOn App Trainer. “On a mental level, exercise and weight training can improve your mood and sleep patterns, and even boost your self-confidence.”

Related Videos

So to help you become familiar with the movements and techniques of weight training, we worked with Kenta to create a beginners’ workout guide in order for you to execute these exercises and give you the results you’re after. You don’t need a ton of workout equipment to see results quickly – you just need a basic understanding of the weight training principles.

Before you start throwing heavy weights around your local gym or home gym, Kenta has a few pieces of advice for weight training safely.


“Don’t skip your warm-up,” says Kenta. A light cardio exercise, like a 5-minute run or jog, and light stretching will help your body prepare for the work it’s about to do.

Another tip: Remember to breathe. Avoid holding your breath during any of the exercises below. Exhale while you’re putting forth the most effort on an exercise, and inhale as you’re coming back to your starting position.

Finally, Kenta underscores the importance of form above all else. “Don’t sacrifice form to lift heavier weights,” she warns. If your form is suffering due to the amount of weight you’re lifting, take it down a notch and work toward that heavier weight. Having goals to strive for is important in fitness, like anything else. You’ll feel better when you can lift that heavier weight confidently and properly than if you exhaust and possibly injure yourself in the process.


Squats certainly help build muscle in the leg, but the squatting movement also creates an anabolic environment, which promotes body-wide muscle building. Squats can help you improve both your upper and lower body strength when done correctly, so nailing this exercise will set you up for success in future moves.


  1. Start with your legs hips distance apart.
  2. Hinge at the hips as you drive your butt backward.
  3. Lower your butt until it’s parallel to the knees, keeping your toes and heels firmly planted on the ground.
  4. If you don’t have a squat rack at home, take a dumbbell in each hand while performing this exercise, or dangle a kettlebell between your legs.
  5. Do two sets of 15 repetitions.

Read more: Best Leg Workouts


Deadlifts sound easy: At first glance, it just looks like you’re picking up a heavy object and setting it down. It might look simple, but this movement is actually incredibly complex and easy to do incorrectly, which can result in injury if you’re not careful. This exercise strengthens your legs, back, and the rest of your posterior chain, which helps take the stress off your lower back. It’s a beneficial exercise when done right, so establishing proper form is crucial to avoid having to correct bad habits later.


  1. Grab the bar or dumbbells with an overhand grip, meaning your knuckles are facing away from you.
  2. Lift the weight, keeping it close to your legs, focusing on taking the weight back into your heels.
  3. Look straight ahead, not down.
  4. Check your posture and make sure you’re standing up straight with your shoulders back, squeezing your shoulder blades, imagining you’re holding a pencil between them.
  5. Lift the weight to thigh level, pause, and then return to your starting position.
  6. Rest the weight between reps and remember to correct your form before starting another. Do two sets of 15.

Chest Presses

Dumbbell Bench Press

Chest presses will help develop your upper body strength by toning your pectorals, deltoids, triceps, and biceps. This foundational arm workout is an effective and straightforward way to work out your upper body and developing that wide chest most men covet.

If you’re working out at home, this exercise can easily be done with dumbbells.


  1. Lie back on a bench with your arms slightly bent and the weights aligned with your shoulders.
  2. Brace your abs, keeping your feet on the floor and your lower back slightly arched as you lower the weights to shoulder level.
  3. Do two sets of 15 reps.

Read more: Best Chest Workouts


Rows are another upper body workout that carves and sculpts your back muscles. This exercise is especially important because it’s a movement that we don’t typically do in our daily lives, so it’s activating and building a muscle that rarely gets any attention. It also helps strengthen your posterior chain, which can alleviate back pain.

Dumbbell rows give you a better range of motion than other row variations, so it’s what we’d recommend here.


  1. Place one hand and one knee on the bench, grabbing a dumbbell in the other hand.
  2. Let your arm hang down, keeping your spine aligned, and then row the weight back, squeezing your shoulder blades.
  3. Think about pulling with your back, not your biceps, keeping the weight close to your body.
  4. Do two sets of 15 reps with both arms, switching in between sets.

Read more: Best Back Workouts

Shoulder Presses

The shoulder press engages your shoulders and core, which can improve muscle definition as well as stability. Your shoulders get activated in nearly every upper body strength workout, so strong shoulders can improve your performance in other exercises.

Using dumbbells in this exercise helps activate the anterior (front) deltoid more than when using a barbell.


  1. To perform the shoulder press, start by holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level.
  2. Don’t go wide – rotate your elbows forward a few degrees to be in front of your shoulders slightly.
  3. Brace your abs, avoiding arching your back, and press the weights straight overhead while squeezing your shoulder blades.
  4. Do two sets of 15 reps.

Read more: Best Shoulder Workouts

Overhead Tricep Extensions

The triceps are the muscles in the back of your arm, which is why they tend to be ignored in favor of bicep workouts that give you those bulging muscles out on display for the world to see. But if you want balanced, tank-top-worthy arms by summer, you need to make sure you’re giving your triceps a little love.

The overhead triceps extension exercise is an isolation exercise, meaning it focuses on the tricep muscle alone. You can do overhead tricep extensions with one or two dumbells, either standing or seating.


  1. Start with the weight behind your head.
  2. Lift the dumbbell until your arms fully extended, keeping your elbows close to your head and pointing forward and your palms facing the sky.
  3. Bend at the elbows, lowing the weight behind your head.

Read more: Best Arm Workouts

Bicep Curls

barbell bicep curls
Westend61/Getty Images

Bicep curls are perhaps the most recognizable weight training exercise. The bicep muscle plays an important role in most pulling exercises, like deadlifts and rows, so focusing on beefing up your biceps will certainly pay off and help you unlock your full fitness potential.


  1. Start with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Keeping your upper arms glued to your sides, curl the weights until they reach your shoulder.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat 15 times over two sets.

Basics Work Best

Utilizing this exercise guide is the first step to learning the basics of an overall solid workout plan. Take your time and go light and slow when learning these moves and before long, fitness will be a consistency in your life.

Editors' Recommendations

The best Peloton instructors to match your workout vibe
If you're new to Peloton, here's our guide to help you choose the best trainer to suit your needs and style
Peloton bike at home.

Peloton has become one of the most famous brands in the world of fitness since it was founded back in January 2012. The first Peloton bike was sold in February 2012, and since then, Peloton has become a multi-million dollar business. The main reason for this success is that it offers gym-style workouts without the need for customers to leave the comfort of their own homes.

It's not just the Peloton bikes that have become famous; even the Peloton instructors have become celebrities because of the large international customer base that Peloton has attracted.

Read more
Self-care tips for men: A complete guide to feeling your absolute best
Self-care tips: They're not just for the ladies. Here's how men can feel their best.

Quick, without thinking, what comes to your mind when you think of self-care? Do you automatically envision a woman pampering herself in a bubble bath? Or a room dimly lit by candles as she sips a glass of wine while reading Fifty Shades of Grey? Well, the truth is, at its core, self-care is a set of rituals, regimens, or practices (it can be as simple as you'd like) that help individuals recharge, re-center, and achieve balance in their own well-being and happiness. Self-care takes work and time and is more than just pampering yourself. And yes, it's something men should absolutely put to practice as well. Try these self-care tips.

What exactly is self-care and why do men need it?
Self-care is simply the act of taking time to focus on yourself. You allocate certain time during each day, or even just weekly, to put your stressors on the back burner, with the goal of improving your mental health. The past few years have been complete chaos, and as such, an increase and focus on mental health has taken center stage. Over one in three adults in the United States reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic, which means practicing self-care in any capacity should become a priority.

Read more
Treadmill running vs. outside: Is one really better?
There are pros and cons to treadmill and outdoor running. We'll help you weigh them to figure out your routine
A man in sunglasses runs downhill past a close up image of heather.

When it comes to treadmill running vs. outside running, everyone has an opinion. Both options come with their own set of pros and cons. Most runners like one over the other but see value in both, depending on a host of different factors.

Running is a great way to stay in shape and get some exercise, no matter where you choose to do it. There is no right or wrong answer to where you should run, whether that's outside or on a treadmill, as long as you get it done and enjoy yourself in the process. 

Read more