Your age, levels of hormones like estrogen and testosterone and training experience all impact the rate at which you will build muscle and the potential to build more. Before beginning any new training program, including lifting, always ask your doctor if there’s anything in your lab work that would impact your ability to build muscle or your safety in a lifting program.
Alright, now that you have the green light from your doctor, here’s a general guideline for you to start making those gains:
If you've never lifted weights before or if it's been a long time since you've lifted weights, try beginning with total body sessions, three times a week for 45 minutes each session. Focus on compound movements that can be performed using bodyweight.
Squats, hinges, lunge variations, pushing and pulling movements are great places to start because these types of exercises can be executed without using weights. This is important because the priority is making sure you can perform these movement patterns with correct technique before adding additional resistance from dumbbells. (Yes, you can start building muscle using your bodyweight!) Once you’ve got those movement patterns down, you can start experimenting with dumbbells to add additional resistance.
After mastering the form and technique of the squat, hinge, lunge and push/pull actions and familiarizing yourself with dumbbells, you can continue to build by organizing your lifting sessions into what’s called a “split” training format. This pattern of lifting divides training sessions into body specific training so you can increase volume of work for each muscle group. For example, here’s a split training program we use in our digital studio that consists of 30-40-minute sessions four times per week:
- Monday: legs
- Tuesday: push/pull day
- Wednesday: legs
- Thursday: push/pull day
You can also progress by working each muscle group at least twice per week (lifting more frequently). Using the example of split training above, I could further subdivide push/pull days and leg days to be more specific:
- Monday: legs
- Tuesday: push/pull (chest/back)
- Wednesday: glutes
- Thursday: push/pull (shoulders/biceps/triceps)
- Friday: legs
- Saturday: push/pull (shoulders/chest/back)
- Sunday: glutes
Lifting weights doesn’t have to be complicated. All you need to do before trying a new exercise is ask yourself two things:
1) Am I 100% certain my form and technique are correct? (Safety first!)
2) Is it effective?
If the exercise involves a squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull or plank, and you’re certain you’re doing it correctly, there should be no problem with effectiveness because these movement patterns are both functional. They also feel amazing when you do them correctly.
If the exercises are safe and effective, there are lots of creative ways you can start incorporating resistance training that will promote muscle growth. The hardest part is beginning and staying consistent. If you need help with that, I’m your gal.
Until next time!
Lee Ann Jolly, Ph.D., is the co-founder of Jolly Bodies Fitness where she leads the design and development of fitness programs based on the core concepts of creativity, education, imagination and efficiency.