Even if you are the most devoted member of your running group, cardio is not the way to getting muscle definition. Cardio simply burns fat, providing you with a clear canvas to start painting those sculpted muscles. The only path to muscle building is weight lifting.

This is a guide to the basics of weight lifting for all beginners looking to target specific muscle groups. There are a wide variety of lifts beyond this guide that should be utilized after you grasp these basic moves. Never stick to the same exact lifts day after day or your body will get used to the workout and stop progressing. Remember: variety is key.

Each of the lifts below targets a different muscle from each muscle group. Start with these basic lifts and master the proper form before moving on.

 

Legs

Squats

squats
source: Women’s Health Mag

Targeted Muscles: quadriceps and gluteus maximus

The great thing about these basic lifts is that they can be tailored for first time lifters to expert exercisers. Beginners shouldn't use any weights as they lift their arms in front of them for balance and spine alignment. Make sure that your knees do not travel in front of your toes. Depending on how tall you are, this may require you to stick out your booty as you bend your knees. Keep your head up, spine straight, toes pointed forward, and legs hip-width apart.

Try to bend at least ninety degrees at the knee. Beginners do not have to bend as low, and experts can bend much further. Add a barbell across your shoulders once you get the form down to add more resistance.

 

Lunges

lunges
source: Women’s Health Mag

Target Muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus minimus

The forward leg will bend like a squat, and the other leg will lower you down behind you. Press through the front leg, and make sure you keep that knee behind the toe. Your torso should be up straight rather than bending forward.

As you gain more experience, you can start getting fancy with weights, side lunges, and plyometrics (jump training).

 

Hamstring Lifts


hamstring lifts
source: Be Exercise

Target Muscle: hamstring

There are several different hamstring targeting exercises, but my favorite is done on the ball. Lie on a mat and bend your legs over the ball. Lift your body up in a diagonal line with only your head, shoulders, and arms (which will be on your sides to balance you) still on the mat. Slide the ball toward you with your legs and feet. If you want an extra butt and lower back workout, lower your back to the mat and raise it again after every rep.

Other hamstring exercises include leg curls and balancing leg lifts.

 

Calf Raises

calf raises
source: Women’s Health Mag

Target Muscle: calves

This exercise cannot be done thoroughly without a platform. You need to be able to dip your calves below your toe level in order to get the deepest workout. Stand on a platform or stair with your heels hanging off the edge. Lift yourself onto the balls of your feet and then lower your heels below the platform.

Grab some dumbbells or only lift one leg at a time for added resistance. You may need a wall nearby to balance yourself when lifting one leg.

 

Shoulders

Should Press

shoulder press
source: The Health Site

Target Muscle: anterior deltoid (front shoulder)

Start with the dumbbells aligned with your ears, elbows bent a little farther than ninety degrees. Push the dumbbells straight up, biceps next to your ears. Start out with light weight until you understand the form.

 

Shoulder Lifts

shoulder lifts
source: Prevention

Target Muscles: deltoid and trapezius

This exercise is difficult even for experienced lifters, so you may want to consider adding little to noweight. Raise the dumbbells (or just your fists) straight out to the side. Try alternating the lifts from the side to straight in front of you.

 

Biceps

Curls

curls
source: Rolling Out

Target Muscle: biceps (all parts)

Start with the weights in front of your hips, elbows at your sides, palms facing forward. Raise the weights up so your elbows bend just past ninety degrees. Never move your elbows in front of your sides or you will lose the resistance on your biceps.

 

Hammer Curls

hammer curls

source: Sprint 2 the Table

Target Muscle: brachioradialis (forearm muscle)

Hammer curls require the same form as regular curls except the palms of your hands will face you at either side.

 

Triceps

Pull Downs

pull downs
source: Lucille Roberts

Target Muscle: triceps

Place your elbows at your side, and take hold of the rope with about a ninety degree bend at the elbow. Keep your spine straight, knees slightly bent, and maybe pop your booty slightly for support. Pull the rope down without moving your upper arm and elbow.

 

Triceps Dips

triceps dips
source: Women’s Health Mag

Target Muscles: triceps and anterior deltoids

Form a table top with your legs, and place your palms on a bench behind you, fingers pointed toward you, your booty in front of the bench and off of it. Bend at the elbows and lower your booty toward the ground. Push with your arms (not your legs!) back up.

Place your legs up on another bench or platform in front of you for added resistance.

 

Chest

Bench Press

bench press
source: Women’s Health Mag

Target Muscle: pectorals

Hold the weights low on both sides of your chest, elbows bent. Push them straight up. Try to get the weights as close to your chest as possible.

Switch up a bench press with incline and decline. Incline will work your upper chest and shoulder muscles. Decline will work your lower chest.

 

Pec Flys

pec flys
source: West Rehab

Target Muscle: pectoralis major

I prefer to do pec flys with the designated machine, but it can be done several different ways, whether with a machine, on a mat with weights, or on a ball with weights.

Lower the weights out wide, elbows bent, back of your arms grazing the mat. Pull them together in front of your chest with your elbows maintaining their bent position.

 

Pushups

pushups
source: Speed Endurance

Target Muscles: pectorals and anterior deltoids

Place your hands below your shoulders, a little wider than shoulder width apart, your feet about shoulder width apart. Lower your body as low as possible, your elbows bending outward. Keep your spine straight and booty at the same level of your back.

Pushups are one of the easiest exercises to modify. For less resistance, place your knees on the ground, but keep your hips straight for a straight back. For more intensity, place your hands in a diamond in front of you, try to clap in between each rep, or you can attempt them one-armed (experts only).

 

Back

Dumbbell Rows

dumbbell rows
source: Fit Sugar

Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi, middle trapezius, and rhomboids (back and neck muscles)

Bend your knees and lean over at your hips, your spine straight. With your weights in front of you, pull them back to your sides, your elbows bending at ninety degrees behind you.

I prefer to do rows one arm at a time with a bench. However, many individuals misalign their spine by placing a knee on the bench along with their hand. Keep both of your feet on the ground and only place a hand on the bench in front of you. This will keep your spine straight as you perform rows.

Only bend your elbow at ninety degrees behind you. Any farther than that will shift the resistance from your back to your bicep.

 

Pull Ups

pull ups
source: Jokeroo

Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi, teres major, infraspinatus, and teres minor (back and rotator cuff muscles)

Grab the bar above your head, and either bend your knees behind you or shoot your legs out in front of you to ensure all your weight is hanging. Pull your body up so the bar comes right in front of your chest. Never try to lift your head in front of the bar because that opposes the way your back muscles are meant to be lifted.

All beginners and most intermediate (even some expert) lifters will need an assisted pull up machine. Add the amount of weight you want subtracted from your body weight to the machine and place your feet or knees on the assistance pads. This will decrease the resistance.

 

Back Extensions

back extensions
source: Muscle and Fitness Hers

Target Muscles: iliocostalis lumborum, longissimus thoracis, and spinalis (lower back and spinal muscles)

Place your heels at the edge of the machine’s footrest, bend your hips over the pad, drop your head, and back down toward the floor. Lift your upper body with your hips and lower back, your spine remaining as straight as possible.

You can have your arms crossed in front of you for the least amount of resistance, straight over your head for more resistance, or holding a weight across your chest for even more resistance. This lift can also be performed on a ball among other ways.

Never try to get fancy by doing side lifts or twists with this machine without professional help. The back is too easy a structure to get tweaked or injured, so only do back lifts that you are sure are correct.

 

 

Always slow your movements down when lifting weights. That way, you will ensure your form is correct, and you will also have added resistance by lifting the weights slower. Never swing the weights. When you are trying to get stronger, never jump to a heavier weight before you're ready. If you sacrifice form for weight, you'll do a lot more damage than good.

Learn the basics and then start increasing your intensity and weight level. Learn a wider variety of lifts once you get the basics down. Start noticing those muscle grooves and you'll love weight lifting!

 
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