6 Weight-Lifting Tips for Beginners From an ‘Unlikely Coach' Who Went From Lifting 40 to 300 Lbs. in 8 Years

Criene | Twenty20

Are you interested in strength training, but not sure where to start? Casey Johnston, cultural critic and creator of "LIFTOFF: Couch to Barbell," was once in your shoes.

"When I first got into exercise, I thought cardio was sort of the only way," says Johnston, who started "She's a Beast," a fitness newsletter. "It seemed like the only healthy thing to do, and it also felt accessible."

But, sticking to solely cardio exercises depleted her muscles, she tells CNBC Make It. So, she turned to weight lifting to rebuild them.

When Johnston first started lifting in the gym in 2014, she was bench-pressing 20 pounds and squatting with 40; since then, she's squatted 265 pounds, "benched" 142 and deadlifted 300.

She credits this drastic change to a simple method: "It was taking it a step at a time."

"You'd be surprised how much you can really make happen without any specialized training, just [by] showing up to the gym, eating your food and doing the reps that you should be doing."

Weight-lifting tips for beginners

Here are some tips she recommends as you begin your own weight-lifting process:

  1. Start in the gym if you can. Having access to varying weights allows you to add a little weight to each session.
  2. Don't take on too much too fast. Take it slow.
  3. Remember that you're in control of the process.
  4. Form your own relationship with weight lifting and go at your own pace.
  5. Get lots of protein, but also eat carbs and healthy fats.
  6. Avoid feeling discouraged by reminding yourself that this is a learning process.

Signs that you shouldn't add more weight to a session

As you're lifting, it's important to know your limits, especially when increasing the weights over time.

You may need to stick to one weight class a bit longer than others; here are some signs that you should hold off on upping your weights:

  • You can't finish all of your reps
  • Your form is breaking down or changing as you're lifting
  • You're wobbling a lot

"It's important to be patient with yourself, and start where it makes sense for you," says Johnston.

"But if you complete all your reps and the session felt good, the next time you should be able to add a little bit more weight."

The little things can hint at progress on your weight-lifting journey

Johnston started seeing changes in her body after a few weeks to a couple of months of weight lifting, but really noticed a change when she was able to lift packages with ease, like her cat's litter.

"Since starting to lift, I have never really gotten used to the feeling of [knowing] my own capability in the best way possible. I'm constantly being surprised by the amount of, not even raw strength, but sometimes physical stability or stamina," she says.

"It's such a joy to be rewarded in those real moments. Like you go to pick up your heavy suitcase and you're like 'Uh, it's such a drag, I need to get to the gym more.' [But] it's such an incredible moment to go pick up your heavy suitcase, and your suitcase doesn't feel heavy. It feels light."

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