Im watching you.

For the new year, lots of blogs and blags are posting great intros for beginners.

1-- If you are real new to weight-lifting, please check out Lyle McDonalds 'Beginning Weight Training' series.

2-- If you are a dude, especially a young dude with dreams of 22-inch guns, John Barban has figured out The Secret (**SPOILER** Its steroids).

3-- Peter and Travis of Obesity Panacea have some basic tips for beginners, like What Not To Wear, and Who Not To Be.

Heres a few things I want to add:
You know how people always say "Oh, dont be embarrassed! Everybodys been a beginner, nobodys watching you anyway, just do your own thing!"

Thats not entirely true.

I watch everyone in the weight room.

Not that I care how much they are lifting, its that I am perpetually paranoid that someone is going to kill themselves. Especially people who are benching a lot of weight without a spotter... and they were real shaky on that last rep, but theyre doing another... It bothers me. So honestly, while I am mostly focused on my own workout, I am subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) watching other people. But I am not judging them-- Im just a worrier.

Which brings me to my second point-- the clankers/screamers. I 'grew up' in a powerlifting gym. Humongous guys lifting African elephants covered in chains and shit. One of the gym rules was 'dont drop your weights', and everyone had a spotter, so even lifting approximately half the weight of Mars, the gym was reasonably quiet. So loud screams/clanks/plates slamming to the ground meant Something Bad Happened. I havent been in that gym in years, but the imprinting has been done. When I hear really loud noises in the gym, I assume someone is in trouble/is hurt. But they arent. Douche bags who are shrugging half the weight I deadlift just slam their weights down for attention.


The only other thing I wanted to mention was, just be nice. Its common sense.
Share-- If you are using The One Power-rack in the gym, dont only use it for shrugs or bicep-curls and super-set with 5 other exercises. If someone is doing that (maybe the gym wasnt as full when they started- I do that on Saturday mornings when no one is around *shrug*), just ask nicely to work in. Normal people get the idea that theyre hogging, and let you work in, or move along.

Be sanitary-- In my perfect world, I can work out in a sports bra and shorts. *shrug* I just think clothes are restrictive when Im lifting. But I would never do that in a million years, and it has nothing to do with modesty-- I got sick a few years ago, and as a side-effect of that illness, I got a golf ball sized StaphA abscess in my arm. StaphA that I, no doubt, picked up at the gym. So, if youve been running on a treadmill for 45 minutes, then come over to bench, put down a towel. Wipe off the bench with spray/alcohol wipes after you use it (your gym should provide these for you). Hell, wipe it off before you use it too. I do step-ups on benches, and though I only wear these shoes at the gym (they arent muddy), I wipe down the benches afterward, cause no one wants to sit in gym floor grime.

Clean up after yourself-- No one wants to trip over the dumb bells you left on the floor. No one wants to work up a sweat taking your plates off the barbell or leg-press. No one wants to get a cardio workout hunting down a second 10 lb plate cause you hid them all on one machine doing some weird pyramid sets. Put things back where you found them. Its just nice.

Anyone else have any good beginner tips/links?


More like this

                      In this post we take a look at the top 10 worst gym personalities, as a means to help you clearly identify and classify inappropriate gym behavior, and to help you steer clear from inadvertently falling into one of these categories as you embark on your fitness journey. In…
Dan Meyer at dy/dan just posted about teacher-student analogies. His analogy is that the student is like a weight lifter and the teacher is the spotter. I like this. It is similar to my usual analogy that the teacher is like a trainer and the student doing some exercise. Another analogy I often…
Since last weeks post on fitness (or lack of it) on SciBlogs*, blag brother Ethan suggested a blag-wide fitness event-- lets all talk about our personal 'fitness'. What we do, why we do it, mistakes we made along the way, even though we are totally amateurs :P Heres his pretty post :) My post is…
“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.” -R. Buckminster Fuller If you want to improve yourself in any area of life, it's going to take hard work to get you there. Have a listen to…

Generic for newcomers: Ask the experienced hands about what the customs and practices are. Most are customary for a good reason.

For runners at tracks:
If you're on a track, go the direction posted (indoor tracks often post a direction of the day) or counterclockwise. If you violate this (there can be reasons) then go far to the outside and move out of the way for everybody who is going the customary direction.

If you're on a track with friends, be friendly to each other -- run close together, not spread across every lane of the track (creating a hazard as others try to guess where you're going to be when they are trying to pass through).

If you hear someone say 'track!', it means they're coming up fast behind you and you should step out of your current lane. If they say 'track 1', it means they're in lane one so get out or stay out of that lane until they're past. (Same idea for 'track 2' etc.) When you're the fast mover, this is what you should call.

On the road: running side by side in a group down the road is not only impolite, it verges on suicidal (my area at least). Run in single file. Change up who is in front of the single file periodically. This also applies, minus the suicidal aspect, if you're on a walk/run/bike/... path.

The "Who Not to Be" got me loling. "when a 100lb girl is squatting more weight than you in the next rack over, and is doing so silently, there is no reason for you to be grunting like a rabid boar."
Yes! This! Am I the only one who is seriously tempted to go over to those guys and say "hey, I'm glad you're getting a good workout and everything, but if I can go through natural childbirth with less grunting than that, I can't help but think ur doin it rong"

This inspires me to GO TO THE GYM!!!

Or ... maybe I'll blog about going to the gym.

I cant go to the gym!

Oklahoma has been iced/snowed over for days.

The citys shut down. Including the University. Including the University gym. *twitch*

As for dropping the weight:

I do a lot of Olympic lifts at the gym (cleans and snatches), and when you are trying to get the lift, you have a lot of failed attempts. This causes me to drop the bar, and it cannot be avoided.

Even when doing them correctly, getting a bar down from above your head to the ground can be very tricky and there will inevitably be noise. Sorry if I frightened you.

Thanks for the links! I'm headed back to the gym tomorrow after a couple weeks off with a bad chest cold. Just what I needed.

And thanks for writing about your staph infection--I had a slightly bigger one a couple years back. For some reason I never thought of the gym as a place I might have picked it up.

Cam-- No, I totally understand with Olympic lifts. The people Im talking to are not doing Olympic lifts. Theyre doing cable rows and lat pulldowns and dumbbell shoulder presses and leg presses... :-/

I work out most mornings and use an ipod to pass the time with podcasts or music. Once a week, I get a CarTalk podcast and can break out in sudden bursts of laughter which, of course, no one else can understand. I am NOT crazy, at least not that way.

"when a 100lb girl is squatting more weight than you in the next rack over, and is doing so silently, there is no reason for you to be grunting like a rabid boar."

Interestingly enough, in the Army, I caught a lot of crap for not grunting and moaning while exercising... apparently, if you're being quiet, you're not exerting yourself. Endlessly frustrating for a person who basically never vocalizes except when speaking.

I haven't really worked out in a weight room/gym for years. But, I too lifted in a gym that focused mainly on powerlifting. The owner also billed it as 100% natural and would quickly encourage juicers or potential juicers to go elsewhere. He also would not allow serious olympic lifting as it was too hard on equipment and too hazardous to novices. All of this meant that you didn't do any benches or squats without a spotter or three...depending on what safety required. Having said that one of the nastiest experiences you can have in the gym is someone spotting you on the bench who is clueless. There is nothing like having someone position themselves over your head with shorts on and then trying to encourage you. A fear of being tea bagged can stop anyone from making a best effort...I mean who wants this guy to dip his knees at all in order "assist" the lift? Back up, dude! If I needed that much help or was in that much danger I'd get two guys on either end of the bar...sheesh...what's wrong with you?

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 31 Jan 2010 #permalink


One running sleeve might make your perfect world unnecessary for less restrictive weightlifting attire. You can make your own running sleeve (I've been told) by cutting the end off a dress sock, but here's a link:

I found helpful tips reading "Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults," a March 2009 position paper by the American College of Sports Medicine.

I've been doing dead lifts and Romanian lifts regularly since reading your posts in early January on fitness. My knees, hips, and lower back -- chronic sources of misery in my life -- are starting to feel stronger, which leads to my suggestion to beginners: devote a disproportionate amount of time to your weakest lifts. I've neglected dead lifts and squats in large part because I'm lousy at them, and I opted to work on lifts for which I possessed a knack. Had I regularly done squats and dead lifts over the years, I might have saved myself from many episodes of low back pain.

I compensate for the embarrassment of lifting Tinker Toys by being optimistic I can't help but enjoy large percentage increases in the weights I use for dead lifts and squats over the coming months, and by telling myself it takes a lot of chutzpah to dead lift Tinker Toys amidst a gaggle of behemoths. (Maybe one day I will posses the chutzpah to grunt like a rabid boar and slam down my Tinker Toys.)

By leonids11 (not verified) on 31 Jan 2010 #permalink

Im watching you.

Gonna change your name to pERV?

By dexitroboper (not verified) on 31 Jan 2010 #permalink

As for dropping the weight:

I do a lot of Olympic lifts at the gym (cleans and snatches), and when you are trying to get the lift, you have a lot of failed attempts. This causes me to drop the bar, and it cannot be avoided.

Even when doing them correctly, getting a bar down from above your head to the ground can be very tricky and there will inevitably be noise. Sorry if I frightened you.

Posted by: Cam | January 31, 2010 8:39 PM

Yes, and there is nothing wrong with that, provided that you are at a facility that is appropriate for that type of lifting and working with weights that are designed to be dropped from overhead. But, most "fitness" type gyms do not have that type of free weight equipment, nor the space, nor the proper flooring to drop 300 + lbs onto from 6 + feet on a regular basis.

If you go into a regular "fitness" type gym and do clean and jerks or snatches with their regular free weight weights and drop the weight from overhead onto their concrete floor covered with thin rubber tiles, you will likely be asked to leave. Most of the customers at your average fitness gym are scared, intimidated or annoyed by enthusiastic body builders and powerlifters.

I make an effort to be quiet. If the gym is slow and I am working out with a like minded friend, and I am feeling good, I might get a little more intense and do some very heavy (for me) lifts that might involve a little grunting and accidental clanging of weights. If I use chalk, I clean all the weights and then borrow a mop to clean the floor. I make the effort because if I didn't I would be asked to leave the gym, because like most gyms the one I use caters to the average customer, not the hardcore bodybuilder or powerlifter, because they are in the business to make money.

By Darrell E (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink

Don't rest in between sets on the piece of equipment you are using. Other people may want to use it, too.

Don't talk to people while they are lifting unless you are spotting them.

Don't be afraid to ask for a spotter.

Don't be afraid to ask for advice on proper form, rep count, and amount of weight.

For fuck's, please wear close fitting underwear when performing leg presses if you wear shorts that gap!

How much do you deadlift ERV!? And who the hell is slamming down weights that are half of that for attention!!??

1. If somebody asks you to spot them, and you don't know how to safely spot that exercise, then let the person know.

2. Learn what "working in" means. I once asked a guy if I could work in on a piece of equipment; he said "sure" and then just sat there between sets. Once I explained what I meant we both had a laugh, but a less patient person could have been pretty pissed.

3. Look around to see who is doing super sets, so you don't needlessly grab a piece of equipment and screw up their set.

Loved the "who not to be" link. I'll add another - the Maria Carey. The Maria Carey can be of either gender and is someone who thinks that the little people are just there to service their need for attention and privilege. I once had a couple of Maria Careys who were doing the Perez Hilton on the bench for the only low pulley cable row machine in the gym. I politely asked them if I could use the machine and they both looked me over top to bottom and then turned away to continue gossiping.

If your spotting someone on the bench press who wishes to go to failure, try as best you can to make his last rep as fluid as possible. When it is clear he will not make it (the last rep being the biggest clue) begin applying the most minimal assistance possible and increase it ever so slowly, allowing for the lifter to continue to use all his force possible. Sometimes you just barely need to tap the bar for him to finish the last rep. Let him do as much work as he can. DO NOT sit there watching waiting as he goes to failure, struggles, and then has the bar plummet back to his chest, on which point you grab and jerk the bar off of him.

If you are using dumbbells and pulling them off a rack, do not stand so close to said rack that others can't reach dumbbells adjacent to the ones you just pulled. This is one of my biggest pet peeves.

Newbies: watching someone else isn't always a bad thing. If you see a machine you don't know how to use, watch someone else on it. If you are doing free weights or abs, see what other people are doing-I've learned a lot of great exercises by observing. And please, do SLOW reps-it's much better on your body, and you'll feel it more. Doing a few reps correctly is better than doing a ton of reps wrong.

I agree with most of the above, when it comes to the grunting and groaning though I think its excusable if you are actually using a weight which requires some effort.

I also totally agree with #17 about spotters and failure sets, there's nothing more annoying than someone who thinks "spotting" means doing the rep for you -.-

The one thing I would add is; People who use the gym as a park bench. If you are actually using a piece of equipment that's fair enough, but don't sit there chatting with a gaggle of adoring fans for 10min between reps. It's ridiculous the amount of times I have to go around growling at people to get a move on when I'm trying to get on with my workout.

...also people who are there to be seen. You know the ones I mean, young girls (and some times guys :S ) there with the full hair and makeup who spend about an hour walking on a tredmill looking around to see if anyone is watching them.

I've just realised I could probably rant at some length about this, probably best that I stop now.

"I cant go to the gym!

Oklahoma has been iced/snowed over for days.

The citys shut down. Including the University. Including the University gym. *twitch*"

So go push people out of their parking spots.

I put on the big coat, scary boots and gloves and played s&m hulk until I had moved more metal than U.S. Steel.

It was pretty funny to see the terrified expressions shift to Tess Trueheart on Valentine's day when a big monster in black leather appears out of the snow then begins to push your hybrid blowabout off of dead spinsies.

By Prometheus (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink

To all of those guys in your late 20s who did a lot of lifting high school and even in college but then gave up for a few years and want to get back take it from my experience go slow! At 27 your body canât take nearly as much abuse as it could at 17 and you will see results with out injury if you take it slow work your way in to it. If you hurt your self you are not going to see any results for a long time.

Quit complaining about snow! Get some cross country skis and get out there!

By The Backpacker (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink

Someone mentioned it in the comments of what not to wear, but I wanted to repeat it: Please avoid wearing scents. I don't have any allergies, but there are few things worse than gasping for breath and suddenly getting a lungful of someone's perfume.

The flip side, though, is to shower before going to the gym, and to wear clean clothes....

By Quietmarc (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink


I agree that we should always round out our weak lifts. If nothing else, those other muscles are the failure points in the lifts we like. I pushed my bench press up about 60 pounds in three months by working on the stabilizer muscles, and I can still do the chest portion of the lift for 30 or 40 pounds beyond where my triceps give out.

That said, just from a motivational standpoint I always have to use my ace lifts as the core of my workout. I get excited to try for a 1200 lb leg press or a 280 bench - I won't get out of bed early to do flies or triceps kickbacks.

I will say, Backpacker is right on. At 27, I still have most of my strength from high school, but there are far more in the way of aches and pains now. . .

I use machines mostly rather than bars so I don't know the right or wrong of this. I notice that my gym has about an equal number of folks who use and do not use the keepers on the barbells. I have never seen anyone lose a disk so what is the consensus about locking weights to the bar?

And for those aching 27 year olds, 55 is no picnic either. Pay attention to the aches and work a body part that is not crying.


That is prime time. You have the ability to be much more capable in all respects at 27 than you do at 17. You may be slightly less resilient than at 17, but not much.

The problems arise when you try to do the same things you did at 17 when you are completely out of shape. If you tried the same thing at 17, and not having spent some time working up to it, you would have hurt yourself then as well.

I hurt alot when I worked out at 17. Yes, I could work through the pain and heal if the injury wasn't too bad, but I could do the same at 27. Heck, the worst problem I have, a bad shoulder, is due to a couple of injuries to the same shoulder that both happened in high school. Late 30's to 40's is when you lose the ability to keep working through an injury. Now if I injure something and try to keep working through it, it just gets worse. I have to stop until it heals.

If you are out of shape, at ANY age, take it easy when you start weight training. And if you are older than 25, don't worry. You are not over the hill yet, you have barely started to climb.

By Darrell E (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink


That may well be true but in practice it is all the same. Basically my point is if you are getting back after a long time out take it easy for the first bit. Ending up in an arm sling for 6 weeks does nothing good for your level of fitness believe me.

By The Backpacker (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink

I notice that my gym has about an equal number of folks who use and do not use the keepers on the barbells. I have never seen anyone lose a disk so what is the consensus about locking weights to the bar?

Posted by: MikeMa | February 1, 2010 3:18 PM

Though the weights coming of the bar may be rare, depending on the circumstances even a slight shift in the position of a plate can be annoying. On lifts where balance is crucial like bench press, squats, dead lift, and you are working near your limit a plate sliding even just an inch or two can be enough to screw up your lift.

I have only heard of one good argument for not using clamps. If you are doing bench press alone leaving the clamps off may be safer because if you fail you may be able to tilt the bar to one side enough for a plate to slip off. Once one plate goes the uneven weight distribution usually causes the bar to flip flop back and forth dropping plates until they are all off.

Personally, I pretty much never use clamps on bench press (no reason except convenience), on squats only when I reach my work out weight, and on dead lift always. On dead lift it is a pain to have to continually bend over, lift and tighten the plates up after every set, so it is easier to just put the clamps on.

I don't do maximum lift attempts anymore, but when I did I always used clamps no matter what type of lift. When you are at or a little beyond your limit a balance check can ruin your whole day.

By Darrell E (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink


That may well be true but in practice it is all the same. Basically my point is if you are getting back after a long time out take it easy for the first bit. Ending up in an arm sling for 6 weeks does nothing good for your level of fitness believe me.

Posted by: The Backpacker | February 1, 2010 4:48 PM

Oh, I agree with you. I just thought it was funny that two 27 year olds where bemoaning their aged bodies and wanted speak up for us "elderly" folks. I was just imagining someone a little older who has never done any serious exercise, but is thinking maybe it's time to try, reading these posts and deciding that maybe they are too old to try.

By Darrell E (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink

I certainly hope that Ms. Smith is not trying to become the second coming of Bev Francis.

If you can't use a spotter, use a machine. If you want to use free weights, use dumbells. Another good reason for using dumbells is you can't cheat the weak arm.

Not that I care how much they are lifting...

Dunno about (p)ERV, but I cannot help myself but look and see how much the macho guys are putting up on most popular machines (e.g. inclined press and chest fly) because it is usually interesting. Oftentimes you'll notice really big-looking guys doing low reps on relatively light weights, and smaller guys hefting up surprising amounts. Turns out that even when I thought that it was reasonable to judge a person by their external characteristics (rather than their character) I was very often wrong.

That said, maybe they are working the tinkertoys for the reasons Leonids explained above. Good idea, if you can handle the voyeurs. ;)


Good points. I recently read that proficiency at a form of exercise cannot be overestimated as a factor for why we choose to continue doing some forms of exercise over others. Of course, any exercise we want to continue to do is going to help keep us fit.


My understanding is that muscle density -- not size -- is what determines strength. Has anyone heard anything different? These days my efforts in the weight room invite no onlookers -- unless it's looks of pity.

By leonids11 (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

DAM10N and leonids11,

Yes, people can certainly suprise you. It depends a lot on what a person trains for. A power lifter trains for strength period. A body builder trains for size, definition and symmetry. Most people have heard something like "size for size a power lifter is stronger than a body builder". That is true almost all of the time. But don't let that fool you. An in shape body builder is typically very strong by any reckoning.

Also, there is large variation in bodies, obviously. One person may be relatively weak on bench press, but a monster on military press. It certainly can be hard to guess a persons abilities just by looking at them.

By Darrell E (not verified) on 03 Feb 2010 #permalink

Can I add to this list the Zazen Lifter? You know, the guy who sits down at the machine you were just getting ready to use and proceeds to stare blankly off into space for five minutes before doing anything with it? I understand needing to catch your breath, psych-prep yourself for the reps, but seriously ... anything over 60 seconds and you're not exercising, you're zoning.

Some newcomers might not even know that they need spotters, especially since schools don't require Physical Education for all. You don't know what you don't know. I once attended a performance of Chinese acrobats and one of their feats was climbing and balancing on a single-width tower of chairs. They had spotters all round. Everything went well. However, a newspaper reviewer wrote about the people standing about the stage apparently at random. He didn't realize that they were there to catch falling acrobats.