Everything you need to know about lifting weights at home
Home workouts are the new normal.
Gyms are off-limits for the forseeable future, and with so many amazing online and digitial fitness resources, lots of people might just not go back.
So, if you are serious about keeping your fitness home-based for the long-term – you have probably considered investing in some weights. And it isn’t a frivolous decision because weights are surprisingly expensive once you get above 5kgs.
Weight training can be a crucial element of a well-rounded fitness regime. Whether you’re working towards a specific fitness goal, an aesthetic goal, or training for a sport – conditioning your muscles with weights can have a huge range of benefits.
But you need to know your stuff before you dive in at the deep end. Particularly if you’re going to be at home, without the expertise of a personal trainer or professionals in the gym.
We asked the experts to bust some of the common weight-lifting myths, and share their top tips for using weights at home:
Who is weight training for?
‘Anyone can benefit from weight training because not only does it help to build strength, but it also curbs the impact that aging can have on our bodies,’ explains Steven Virtue, fitness development manager at Total Fitness.
As we age, Steven says we all begin to suffer from a loss of bone density and muscle mass.
‘Due to the compression, tensive and torque forces your body is exposed to when performing compound training, weight training improves both your muscle mass and bone density, making it a fantastic form of exercise to resist aging,’ he says.
‘Furthermore, as we continue to spend more time at home and likely being less active than usual over lockdown, such loss in muscle mass and bone density can be exacerbated.
‘So, weight training is a fantastic form of exercise to incorporate into your lockdown workout routine.’
Does weight training burn body fat?
Typically, workouts such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) and cardio are those that people take up to burn fat, Steven says weight training is frequently overlooked or even associated with bulking up.
‘Weight lifting is actually a great form of exercise to help your shift stubborn fat as, with any form of intense activity, it draws upon the fat cells stored in your body to produce energy,’ Steven explains.
‘There are three specific ways that weight training helps with fat loss; you burn calories during your weight session; you burn calories to aid the process of muscle building and repair; and new muscle gained costs lots of energy to maintain, meaning you are burning more calories throughout the day.
‘However, it’s important to note that burning fat is fundamentally dependent on a calorie deficit – when you consume less calories than you expend.
‘Establishing a healthy calorie deficit for you body is best left to the experts, so work with a personal trainer who can work out your energy requirements and ensure you are eating the right amount of nutrients for your needs.’
Should you invest in weights for home workouts?
‘Weights are an excellent tool to use in order to make your workouts more challenging by adding resistance and greater load to your muscles,’ says Ollie Thompson, personal trainer at SIX3NINE.
‘However’, he adds, ‘whether it’s worth you investing in weights depends on your goals and training experience.’
Ollie says weights are hugely beneficial if your goal is primarily to build muscle, or get substantially stronger – as your muscles and nervous system requires this extra stress and stimulus in order to adapt and grow.
‘This is difficult to achieve without any weights as you’ll be using only your body weight and only have methods such as time under tension to use to your advantage,’ he says, ‘which on it’s own isn’t adequate to progressively build muscle and strength consistently over time.
‘If however, like many of us, our goal is more focused towards burning some fat, getting leaner and simply looking, feeling and moving better then of course this can be achieved without any equipment.’
Ollie says burning calories doesn’t necessarily require any added resistance on top of the use of our own body.
‘There are a ton of ways you can increase your heart rate and burn calories to help burn fat, feel healthier and move better,’ he adds.
‘Using weights for fat-loss is simply an option you can choose if you’d enjoy using weights as part of your workout.
‘Whether you’ll see results using weights vs not using weights depends heavily on your goal.’
Tim Benjamin, WithU co-developer and trainer, says weights can be a fantastic tool to increase the difficulty of exercises you do at home.
‘They easily add weight to shoulder presses, bicep curls, squats,’ he explains. ‘But they are not essential to have an effective home workout.
‘Many moves can be replicated with just your bodyweight, want to increase the difficulty of squats? Try single leg ones. Want to do a shoulder press? Try pike push-ups.
‘Weights are a great tool, but they are not without their dangers either, going too heavy, or fatiguing and dropping them could cause serious injury to you and your home.’
Tim adds that body weight training is a fantastic method to burn calories and improve your balance, stability, core strength, body awareness and general athleticism.
‘Just look at elite gymnasts, body weight training experts and calisthenic athletes to see that you don’t need heavy dumbbells to have a good workout.’
Sarah Durnford is a master trainer at Les Mills. She says the decision to invest in weights ultimately comes down to individual preference.
‘Any workout that you do will be positive for your mind and body, with or without equipment,’ says Sarah.
‘However, we have found through research and years of training that adding a weights-based training session to your workout routine can increase your overall health, providing quicker results for change in the body physiologically.’
How to work out safely with weights at home
If you haven’t lifted weights before, it can be difficult to know where to start – and the potential risk of injury can be quite intimidating.
Steven says that a well-designed weight training program should incorporate a variety of movement patterns to create structural balance, and help keep you injury free.
‘Personal trainers can be helpful in creating an engaging and diverse programme that balances squatting, pushing, bending, pulling, single leg, single arm, and various core focused exercises to keep you strong and avoid injuries,’ he suggests.
‘If you’re not sure how to build a safe yet effective routine, here is a helpful beginner’s checklist for weight training:
Ollie says that when you’re using weights at home, it’s important that you either have previous experience with using weights, you have a trainer you work with, or you have spent some time learning some basics about weight training.
‘It’s important to minimise risk when training at home, especially if you’re alone,’ he says. ‘You want to avoid injuring yourself from lifting too much weight with poor technique, or have an accident and drop a weight on yourself.’
He says injuries tend to occur with poor movement or attempting to use greater weight than you can comfortably handle.
‘So long as you move sensibly and don’t attempt any personal bests alone in your lounge, then your risk of injury should be low,’ says Ollie.
‘Never try to lift more than you know you can comfortably, especially when you’re alone. One benefit of training in a gym compared to your lounge is the speedily response of others if you get in a muddle.’
Another top tip from Ollie is to buy pieces of equipment that are one solid unit.
‘There are a range of dumbbells out there for you to buy, some better than others. For home training, especially if you’re alone, I recommend you consider fixed weight dumbbells over the adjustable – as these don’t run the risk of falling apart or coming undone and dropping on your foot.’
When is it time to shift to a heavier weight?
Fitness is all about progression, and Steven says that once you reach the point when the last few reps of your workout are feeling comfortable, it’s time to switch to a heavier weight.
‘A good habit to get into is to keep a journal and write down the reps you have done and weights you are using for each exercise, noting down how your body is responding to the workout,’ he says.
‘Whilst everyone has off-days at the gym, hopefully your journal will highlight when the workout is no longer challenging your body.
‘There is no set time frame for when the shift to a heavier dumbbell weight needs to happen – the adaptation process for each person is completely different. It’s important to listen to your body and not over-exert yourself unnecessarily.
‘Those who are just starting their fitness journey and using weights are likely to adapt and move up the weights range slower than a fitness enthusiast who has already developed their muscles extensively.’
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