After a layoff of some months without lifting weights, it is inadvisable to just jump right back into it. What I do is spend 2-4 weeks on a specific workout that gets my muscles used to the motions and stresses that are unique to lifting weights and which are much different from pounding out miles with my running. This workout is good for people who have not lifted for some time, or who have never lifted before, and want to ease their way back into it safely. The downside to this workout is that it is not a short one; expect to spend about 20-25 minutes per circuit not counting warm-up.
If you have never lifted weights before, write this workout down and bring it to a gym where one of the personal trainers can teach you how to do each specific exercise. Safety is important, and is the main reason that you would do this workout in the first place. I recommend using machines for this workout, despite my distaste for them (a subject for a future article), because the idea here is not to stress yourself more than necessary. The idea is to just get yourself prepared for what is coming later. Somebody who has not been exercising at all should not do this workout more than twice a week for at least 2 weeks. In my case, I have not lifted regularly for 3 months, but I was training for a marathon, so I am jumping right into 3 a week after having done 1 workout this week (today). You will probably want to do this for 3-4 weeks, but I tend to get really bored of doing it 3 times a week for 3 weeks and have never made it to 4 weeks. Given my current level of fitness I will probably do it for the next two weeks.
This workout is done as a circuit, which means that you perform a set of each exercise and then immiediately start the next exercise with as little rest as possible. You can either rest for a few minutes between circuits, or just jump straight into the next one. This workout is designed to hit the majority of your body, working similar muscles a few sets apart from one another, but you will have had plenty of rest to do 3 sets continuously with no rest if you want. The idea is to lift a weight that you can comfortably lift 15 times. You should feel it at 15 repititions, but you should be able to do 2 or 3 sets of 15 reps (except where noted) of each exercise and not be extremely sore afterward.
Start with some type of warm-up, such as a jig jog on a treadmill or easy spinning on an exercise bike. You want to get your blood flowing. If you like, stretch a bit after your warm-up. One mile on a treadmill should be good, or 10 minutes on an exercise bike. Between exercises, feel free to drink plenty of water. I aim for at least 32 ounces of water per workout, which in this workout is pretty easy to do because it is so long. The circuit goes as follows:
- Jumping Jacks: I do 50, because it is an easy number to remember. These will accelerate your heart rate and give you a good base to jump off of.
- Leg Press
- Chest Press: I use a vertical chest press machine, but bench press is fine. If possible, use a machine; if not, use dumbbells.
- Leg Curl
- Lat Pulldown
- Leg Extension
- Lat Raise
- Standing Calf Raise
- Machine Row
- Crunches: I usually do 30. If your abs are in good shape, then do your crunches on a swiss ball. If you want a more advanced move, then find a sit-up board and do full-motion situps. Those are the best for you anyway.
- Seated Dumbbell Biceps Curl
- Back Extension: Easy-hands on chest, Medium-hands on head, Hard-SUPERMAN!
- Triceps Pushdown
That is one circuit. If possible, try to do these in order, but if you mess up and do something out of order you can just continue where you left off and do the one you skipped in the spot of the exercise that you accidently did. If somebody is using a machine, then do not wait for it, just go on to the next one and go back when it is free for your use.
Remember, the idea is not to lift a lot of weight. The idea is to get your muscles used to the motions used in weight lifting so that you do not pull something in your first week or two. While this is a time-consuming workout, it is only for a few weeks to a month, and it is fairly easy to finish because your individual muscles have plenty of time to rest between their own personal sets. You get to elevate your heart rate a bit because you are not resting, and your metabolism will probably speed up.
The most important thing to remember after any weight lifting workout: EAT! If you do not eat anything after your workout, you may as well not have gone. For me, it is not an issue, since I am ravenous after a workout. I usually have a granola bar or something similar right afterwards; fruit juice or a protein shake are great if they are available. About a half hour after I finish lifting (and have showered and gotten to a local deli) I eat a double egg and double sausage patty sandwich on an english muffin with some american cheese. Within 40 minutes after I finish lifting, I am snacking on a few handfuls of almonds. Ideally I would have the almonds sooner, but it is how my schedule works and where my bucket is located (at work). Usually around 80-90 minutes after I finish lifting I am eating pretzels. Drink a lot of water for the 2 to 4 hours following your workout; your muscles will thank you for it.