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  • Writer's pictureBrandon McDonald

So you wanna build a muscle…

Weight Lifting 101



Hey you!

Yes, YOU!

I heard you wanna get swole.




Oh. You just want to be the healthiest version of yourself… and maybe just a tiny bit shredded.


You’re in the right place! Strength training can do that!

Now, you’re most likely here because you’re at least curious about lifting. Whether a doctor or friend suggested it, you saw it on social media, or you just want to add this to your workout plans. Whatever the reason, I’m glad you’re here.

Before we get into this, you should know: I’m very biased when it comes to strength training. I love lifting weights. I also grew up doing it, so it’s always been reasonably comfortable to be in a weight lifting setting. I also understand that isn’t the lived experience of a lot of people.

While I love the personal benefits I’ve seen, I mostly love seeing my clients' lives improving as they have added strength to their lives.

Here’s a short list of some benefits of strength training:

  • Body composition

  • Blood sugar regulation

  • Reduces chronic inflammation

  • Increased strength

  • Increase power

  • Increased endurance

  • Improved mobility

  • Improves brain function

  • Bone health

  • Muscle health

  • Heart health

Ok… so it’s not that short. And I could keep going!

Here’s the thing, a safe and consistent strength training program can improve your life in so many ways! It can also be daunting to start. I get it! There is a lot out there. But, here’s the good news. There is a simple way to get started! And even better, I’m about to teach it to you! So let’s dive in.

Movement First

Where do we start? Well, first you will need to learn and get competent at some important compound movements (v). Everything can be modified to be easier or harder. They are:

  • Push (Pushup)

  • Pull (Pullup)

  • Hinge (Romanian Deadlift, or RDL)

  • Squat (Squat… XD)

(In parentheses I have an example for a visual of that movement. If you can’t do the example, don’t worry, you’re not alone! We will get into modifications.)

With each movement, you will want to get them dialed in with just you. No added weight (a.k.a. Body weight) at the beginning. Once you can do that comfortably, you can add weights to it. I recommend starting with planning out your sets (v) and reps (v) before jumping in. Know what number you are aiming for.

Once you nail the body weight movements you will move to light weight then to heavy weight. You never really have to get to a crazy heavy weight, and you should always be willing to take a step back in weight if you aren’t still confident in the form. NO EGO.

If you’ve never lifted before, it’s ok to start with 1 or 2 days a week added to your other movement routines. Ideally, working your way up to 3-4 days of strength training. Below I am going to break down a 2 day a week split (v).

When you’re deciding how to organize your workouts make sure you have a combination of:

  • Warmup

  • Compound movements

  • A single arm (SA) or single leg (SL) movement (very important!)

  • Accessory movements

  • Cardio


One of the arts of successful resistance training is learning how to do a good warmup. It shouldn’t take long (15 minutes max), but it should NOT be skipped.

  • Get your HR up

  • “Activate” weak links

  • Stretch over used areas

Lift: working up to heavy weights

  • Light weight and body weight movements can live in the 10-15 rep range

  • Heavy weights can live in the 5-10 rep range

  • Max weights can live in the 1-5 rep range

  • Outside of that is more specialized

  • An easy way to add more work is to combine 2 lifts into a superset (v)


  • compound movements

  • Single leg/arm movements

  • Push/pull upper body

  • squat/hinge lower body

Accessories (v) and Isolation exercises (v)

  • Things you enjoy

  • Things that need work (probably things you don’t enjoy)

  • EX: Hamstring Curls, Reverse Crunch, etc.


  • Stand alone or as part of a circuit (v) / complex (v)

  • EX: Stationary Bike, Row Machine, Treadmill

A safe and consistent strength training program can improve your life in so many ways!

Basic 2 lifts per week template

  • Choose an exercise from the table below for each.

  • Sets and reps are labeled Sets x Reps (3x10)

  • Choose an appropriate weight for each exercise

  • Repeat a workout for a few weeks as you get used to it

  • After 4 or 5 weeks keep the same template but change the exercises

  • For a fillable template you can print out, try downloading these PDFs!

2 Week Template - Day 1
Download PDF • 55KB

2 Week Template - Day 2
Download PDF • 56KB

Upper Push - Pushup, Dumbbell Bench, Barbell bench, Overhead Press

Upper Pull - Pullup, Row, Cable Pulldown, Chinup

Lower Hinge - Glute Bridge, RDL, Hip Thrust, Deadlift

Lower Squat - Box Squat, BW Squat, Goblet Squat, Front Squat

Core/Accessories - Bird Dog, Dead Bug, Reverse Crunch, Farmer Carries Upper Push (Single Arm) - Dumbbell Bench, Overhead Press

Upper Pull (Single Arm) - Row, Cable Pulldown

Lower Hinge (Single Leg) - Glute Bridge, RDL

Lower Squat (Single Leg) - Lunge, Split Squat

Day 1: Upper body Push - Lower body Hinge

Warmup - 5-15 Mins

  • 2-5 mins Cardio at brisk steady pace

  • Upper warmup

  • Lower warmup

  • Stretch and/or Foam Roll (World's Greatest Stretch)

Lift - 20-30 Mins

  • Upper push - 3x10

  • Upper push SA - 3x5 each side

  • Lower Hinge 2 Leg - 3x10

  • Lower Hinge SL - 3x5 each side

Move - 10-20 Mins [Complex -OR- Circuit] [3 Rounds]

  • Upper Push (lighter) - DB Bench x10

  • Lower Hinge (lighter) - RDL x10

  • Cardio Machine (ex: Row machine) x30 seconds

Core/Accessories - 5-10 Mins

[Optional] Cardio - 10-30 Mins

Day 2: Upper body Pull - Lower body Squat

Warmup - 5-15 Mins

  • 2-5 mins Cardio at brisk steady pace

  • Upper warmup

  • Lower warmup

  • Stretch and/or Foam Roll (World's Greatest Stretch)

Lift - 20-30 mins

  • Upper pull 2 Arm - 3x10

  • Upper pull SA

  • Lower Squat 2 Leg - 3x10

  • Lower Squat SL

Move 10-20 Mins [Complex -OR- Circuit]

  • Upper Pull (lighter) x10

  • Lower Squat (lighter) x10

  • Cardio Machine (ex: Stationary bike) x30 seconds

Core/Accessories - 5-10 Mins

[Optional] Cardio - 10-30 Mins

Lifting vs Cardio

It seems there is always a debate as to whether you should do lift or do cardio. Here’s the truth: DO BOTH!

Regardless of your goals, your physical health is at its best when you are doing strength training and cardio. How much time you spend on either can be different depending on your specific goals.


Despite claims about fat burning, cardio is all about heart and lung health. Yes you burn calories, but getting lost into the abyss of “running off your calories” to lose weight is a time suck and a dangerous road to travel. It’s important for everyone to spend time doing cardio. If you like it, do more of it. If you don’t enjoy it (like me) it’s still important to find ways to get it into your workout routine.


Want to know a secret? If done correctly, you’ll actually burn MORE calories doing strength training than just doing cardio. Again, I’m not a fan of working out to burn calories, but I can almost guarantee that your goals around physique, energy level, fat loss, etc. would all take a big jump with a proper (consistent!) weight lifting regimine.

To incorporate both, the best is to focus on them on separate days. If that doesnt work for your schedule, just spend the harder part of your workout doing the one closer to your goal focus (i.e strength goal = Lifting focus, Running a 5k = Cardio focus).


In all, adding a couple resistance training workouts to your week (consistently) will boost your overall health immensely. Make sure to stay safe and smart with your weight choices, but don’t be afraid to work hard, either. Finding that balance can take time, but it’s worth the weight. (good one huh?) Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or want help!

P.S. Here’s the code for the Jargon I used. You might as well learn it at some point. Now go get your best gym bro impression on!

(V.) Vocabulary: (In Brandon Terms…)

Sets = how many times you do a group of reps

Reps = how many times you do an exercise between rest periods

Split = how you organize which part of body you are focusing on during a workout

Complex = 1 time through a group (3+) of exercises, rest, then repeat

Circuit = multiple times through with no rest. With either a number of rounds or a time set.

Superset = 1 time through two (2) exercises, rest, then repeat

Accessories = smaller, typically lighter movements that help build up the ability of your compound movements

Compound movements = exercises that involve multiple groups of muscles in one movement. (i.e. Push, pull, hinge, or squat)

Isolation exercises = exercises that involve a specific group of muscles (i.e. curls)


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