Exactly How To Start Your Weightlifting Journey

by | Jan 23, 2024 | Training

From the annals of history, lifting heavy loads has always been a showing of strength, and for good reason. But racking up weights and being able to lift heavy does more than show the gym you didn’t come to play. There are a host of benefits and it’s a great way to kickstart your weight loss journey if that’s your goal.

Benefits of weightlifting

Regular weightlifting boosts heart health and lowers blood pressure. It nixes fat reserves and fires up muscle growth. Plus, if you move through the proper range of motion, consider your flexibility and mobility improved, too. Then there’s how it improves your bone mineral density, protecting you in the long term against osteoporosis.

Ready to start weightlifting?

The sport of weightlifting is growing in SA, with more and more women stepping up to the plate to show their strength. But if you’re a beginner, it’s hard to simply power clean half your weight in one fell swoop. So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to come up with a handy guide to beginner’s weightlifting, from the basics to the first few lifts that’ll build up to the two main lifts that make up Olympic weightlifting: the snatch and the clean and jerk. To get there, build up your strength and form, then learn these compound movements that make up the sport.

Master the basics

Finesse your form

To make sure your form and technique are on par, do each lift with a broomstick or unweighted bar. Every expert we spoke to recommended getting a coach to make sure your form is perfect before moving on to weighted work. Grab a bar and practise your lifts in the mirror to watch your form before adding weights to the lift. If you’re a total newbie, try a CrossFit class – they have beginner sessions and most of the time, your first class is free.

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Go for low reps

With strength exercises, you always want to do between two and five repetitions, says Mona Pretorius, weightlifter and coach. “That’s a really good range for a beginner athlete,” she says. “You can build on that by adding weights.” To this end, make sure your weight is heavy enough to where it feels like five reps are enough. Once you feel comfortable and you’re sure you could bang out more reps, add more weights so your muscles are being challenged.

Scale your weights

On that note, increase your weights in increments. As you get stronger and can more easily complete your reps and sets, look to slowly add weights, says Pretorius. Look at increasing your weight in 2.5kg increments on each side of the barbell. “Take smaller progressions and make sure the technique looks the same,” advises Pretorius. Perfect form means less chance of injury and far more gains.

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Beginner’s weightlifting moves to master

Push Press

With this compound movement, you’ll need to focus on driving the barbell from the shoulders, using your legs to help you, says Antoinette Kriel, weightlifting coach, powerlifter and member of The Bar Weightlifting and Powerlifting Gym. “Start in the front rack position, elbows facing forward, holding the weight evenly and making sure your core is braced,” says Matthew Hurn, owner of Movement Crew gym and CrossFit and weightlifting coach.

Front squat

Staying in the front rack position, the front squat involves the entire body and builds towards the clean and jerk, which you’ll do in Olympic weightlifting. “The front squat is a great movement to build leg strength and to strengthen the position for the clean in the clean and jerk,” says Kriel. “This is a squat but instead of the barbell resting behind the neck, it rests in front, on the shoulders.”

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Power clean

When training the components in a power clean, Hurn prefers to have people start in a semi-squat (knees slightly bent, hands hanging down to hold the bar at your shins). From there, says Pretorius, hinge at the hip and make sure to keep your back straight. “Aggressively extend upwards, keeping the arms relaxed and the lats activated,” says Pretorius. “As you become more comfortable with that movement and the technique starts to look really good, then you will go from the high hang to the lower hang,” says Pretorius – think grabbing the bar from a full squat.

Get mobile

Just as strength is important – and the goal – in lifting weights, so is mobility. Having good mobility will enable you to move through each lift with the optimal range of motion, meaning more muscles are engaged where they should be, getting you more from the lift.

Loosen the hips

“Weightlifting requires an athlete to have good mobility to start with,” says Kriel. Hip mobility means you can squat deeper and release tension from the area. To open your hips, Hurn suggests pigeon pose. Get onto all fours, then bring your one leg forward into a low lunge. From there, bend the knee at a 90-degree angle, knee touching the floor and lower down into the stretch.

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Open the triceps

Using a resistance band, wrap one end around your foot and the other looping around your arm. “Pull the band upward to open the triceps,” says Hurn. By doing this, you’ll enable more space for holding the bar in the front rack position.

Mobilise your ankles

With squats, you need to be able to squat all the way down, says Pretorius. To do this, you’ll need ankle mobility. To practise this, Hurn advises doing leg lifts with a kettlebell balanced on one knee. “The weight will help the ankles open up for greater mobility,” he says.

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