Healthier. Stronger. More confident: Our guide to weightlifting

Feel healthier, stronger and confident in everything we do, from feeling comfortable in our clothing to being able to move something heavy to dealing with anything stressful. Read our guide from our resident nutritionist Nick Owen and Programme Manager Terri Siabi and find out how you can add weightlifting into your training programme.

Getting started

To help you get started with your training and also to help those with some experience of weightlifting -  we are running Men's and Women's classes in March and April. Look our for posters in the Club or email to find out more. 

Men's Weighlifting workshops


  • Monday 16th April, 12-1pm
  • Thursday 19th April, 5-6pm


  • Monday 23rd April, 12-1pm
  • Thursday 26th April, 5-6pm

Women's Weightlifting workshops


  • Monday 19th March, 12-1pm
  • Thursday 22nd March 5-6pm


  • Monday 26th March, 12-1pm
  • Thursday 29th March, 5-6pm

Pre and post workout

Prepare for the lift

Mentally prepare for the moves and lifts that you are planning to do. Map out the movement with a relevant warm up. Making sure it is dynamic will raise body temperature and will get flow to the muscles. For squats; air squats, for lunges; crab walk - using a treadmill or jogging for 5 minutes will not be sufficient. 

Rest between sets

Take appropriate rest between sets. If you are lifting heavy weights it should be at least 2 minutes between sets. Remember this is not an aerobic/cardio workout so it's counter productive to go into the set too soon or become breathless. (Make sure you also do warm up sets - say for squats with an empty bar).

Stretching and soft tissue work

You need to add ten minutes of stretching after your workout. Static holds of 30 seconds to your quads, hams, gluten and piriformis using bands, rollers, lacross balls. Make sure you fit in this mobility element in to support your training progress. 
Combine this all with a healthy eating and hydration regime, plenty of rest, appropriate mobility, core strength, and plenty of sleep it will support us towards better health, stronger bones, greater self-confidence, improved concentration and alertness. 

Post-workout, your body is in a state of damage and you need to provide it with the nutrients to repair. You have depleted your energy stores, broken down your muscles, elevated your cortisol levels (your body’s stress hormone), and generated free radicals - this is how weight training works. You will also have placed a huge workload on your neuromuscular system, far more than any cardiovascular workout.

Keeping on track

The successful change to your physique comes from consistency with your training, eating, sleep and rest - as well as some less obvious factors that can also have a profound impact - your stress levels, your lifestyle, as well as your digestive and gut health.


Consistency is a weekly and daily plan for nutrition, training, and rest/sleep - what are your planned meals and at what time, same for your training routine, and same for your rest and sleep. We also need to think about preparation here. 
  • Food - having the ingredients to hand and making the time to prepare and cook. It’s about making sure your meals are appropriate to your goals and your body type, using good quality fresh ingredients whenever possible, eating a moderate combination of protein, carbohydrate and fats - and at least 7 or 8 portions of fruits and vegetables over the course of the day - 2 to 3 fruits, the rest veg.
  • Training - it is to visualise what you will be doing - begin to mentally prepare for your workout en route to the gym - visualise what you will be doing and put your mind in training mode - own your workout and visualise 'smashing it'. Make sure too that your warm-up is appropriate to your goals - a 15/20 minute warm up or cardio session that depletes your energy levels is not going to be appropriate for a strength training session. 
  • Sleep - it is allocating a minimum of 7 hours of sleep, and ditching the phone, iPad, laptop and anything else that emits blue light at least an hour before bed. Sleep is the time our body repairs, protein synthesis takes place, and growth hormone is released; all absolutely critical if we are aiming to for muscle and strength. Research also shows the importance of a dark room, a quiet room, a cool room, a clean room and a comfortable mattress in helping to achieve this. 


  • Compound moves with the barbell and will be the foundation of your strength and size - strength builds size; squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows and overhead press will be fundamental to your routine It is also important to remember that your core strength and mobility are an integral part of this - and so is your rest.
  • For each of the exercises, you need to have goals - what is it you are trying to achieve - strength and size will come from lifting heavier weights - not unless repetition of light weights for small muscle groups. We have a team of experts here at the YMCA - check let them help you achieve your goals.
  • And for that core strength and mobility - Try Yoga, Supple Strength, Primal Patterns and our new classes In-trinity and FloatFit  

Remember too that these are complex moves - very different from pushing a 'pec deck' or 'leg press'. For example, the dead-lift engages more muscles than any other lift, and your timing is crucial for every part. You can only get the timing right if your neuro-muscular pathways are fuelled to their optimum. To fuel your brain and body, think eggs, deep leafy greens, fish and nuts and make sure you don't go low fat! It’s more processed and has more sugars in it. 


This may well mean re-evaluating some of the core beliefs that we have been fed over the years regarding supplementation, eating, calories, fat and carbohydrates - and ditching the processed low fat options we have previously gone for, or the lunchtime sandwich, meal deal or ready meal that has offered convenience and a calorie count. 
  • Reality is you probably need to be eating more on your training days - and eating more carbohydrates and good fat - both things that we previously thought we should avoid to achieve that fit healthy physique. 
  • Another reality is that you MAY put on scale weight as you become stronger and healthier! This is because muscle is heavier than fat - just ask a few of our team members - their body-weight has gone up and they finally have the physique that they want - with a higher percentage of lean muscle, and a lower percentage of body-fat. You can track your own progress with our Body Composition Analysis - speak to a member of our gym team for more details.
  • As much as I dislike counting calories (we are all slightly different so have different energy requirements), it is worth noting that the sometimes quoted 2500 calories per day for men will not be enough on your lifting days. You would need to be consuming around 2800-3000, maybe more depending on your body-type and particularly if you are doing squats and dead-lifts - and a large part of this needs to come from carbohydrates, which gives you the energy and strength to power through your routine, and then support the replenishment of energy and recovery for your next lifting session.
Your diet should encourage repair and growth. Protein and carbohydrate are critical – fail on the carbohydrate, and your body won't synthesize the protein or vitamins and minerals effectively. You need plenty of vitamins and minerals too – these support our neuromuscular system as well as numerous other functions such as our metabolism. So, after your workout you need the obvious macro nutrients, but also the necessary micro nutrients - better known as vitamins and minerals - failure to get these, and slowly you will be eroding your health. 
For you to get the best from your weight training, your diet needs to be rich in all nutrients – missing out food groups will be detrimental unless a medical need. Grains are a wonderful source of carbohydrate, energy and fibre; dairy a great source of calcium; and eggs (white & yolk) are a great source of iron and fat soluble vitamins. Finally your diet needs to be rich in vegetables, with a little fruit - aim for the colours of the rainbow every day. The recent advice that we up our consumption to 8-10 is spot on, and again I would make this primarily a selection of different coloured veggies with a inflammatory benefits.

Great benefits

Reduce body fat

Increases your body's ability to burn fat during and after exercise. Your body uses more oxygen, it requires more caloric expenditure and an increased metabolic rate. This is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) this burn can last up to 3 days!

Better body composition

As you increase strength and lean muscle mass, you will see a D shape on your results, (more muscle and less fat).

Younger heart age

Those who lift weights are less likely have heart disease risk factors such as a large waist circumference, high triglycerides, elevated blood pressure, and elevated glucose levels.

Improves sleeping 

Lengthens the time of sleep the night after training. Aiding in your ability to fall asleep faster, sleep deeper. You will also be less restless as you sleep.

Anti-ageing benefits

Muscle density in later life starts to decrease and the trend continues with as we get even older. If you follow a well-planned resistance training program that increases the size of muscle fibres, it will help combat the age-related loss of muscle that normally occurs in later life.
So here's to great lifting, great eating and great energy!

About the authors

Terri Siabi is our Programme and Events Manager and a qualified personal trainer. Over the years Terri has developed skills ranging from lifestyle management coaching, advanced kettlebells, indoor cycling and many more. She teaches several classes on our timetable such as indoor cycling, kettlebells, primal patterns & RnR.
Nick Owen is a qualified nutritional adviser and holds a Diploma in Non-Medical Nutritional Advice. Nick uses nutrition to support a wide variety of client goals. These include weight management, fat loss and muscle building, general health and well-being, improved energy levels, concentration and complexion. 
ymca | 8 February 2018