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Workouts for New Weightlifters: How to Start, and How to Stay Confident

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Manhattan chapter.

If you walk into the gym and immediately feel intimidated by the weights section, you’re not alone. It’s totally okay and completely understandable! Especially when pretty much every time you look at the weight-section at the gym and it’s crowded with men dropping enormous weights and admiring their flexed muscles in the mirror. But believe me, the weight section is nothing to fear. 

The more you’re in the weight section, the less scary it becomes. If you’re trying to build that booty, get the girls looking perky, or just want to be overall stronger, there’s a workout designed to target each group individually. 

Whatever workout you choose to do, go through the workout routine three times doing 8 to 10 reps of each exercise. Make sure you stretch properly before and after to prevent injury and drink lots of water throughout the day to stay hydrated! Pick weights that are comfortable and sustainable for you to lift for the entire set. Don’t push yourself to do too heavy of a weight because this can lead to poor form and a higher risk of injury. 

Weightlifting is SUPER beneficial to fitness and overall wellness so throw on your cute workout clothes, grab a gym buddy, and try out some lifting!

If you’re a frequent gym goer like me, your TikTok is probably flooded with all different kinds of workouts and gym tips. If not, I’ve got you covered. Below I’ve listed a few basic and beginner workouts for girls just starting out with weights that will help you get more comfortable weightlifting, and feeling confident in doing so. 

Arm Workout:

Bicep Curls 

Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your wrists and hand in a horizontal position and bend your elbow is fully bent and your hand is at about shoulder level

Tricep Kickbacks

This is best done bent over with a hand and corresponding knee on the bench for stability. Hold you opposite arm with a dumbbell  at a 90 degree angle to your torso and then extend your arm backward so it is straight and slightly above your back

Bench Press

Add your desired weight onto the bar, I would start off small and then if it’s too easy, add more weight as you go along. Lay on the bench and place your hand slightly wider than shoulder width and lift the bar off of the holder. Bring the bar towards you until it is almost touching your chest and then push it away so your arms are extended but do not lock your elbows and then repeat

Hammer Curls

This exercise is really similar to bicep curls and does the same motion but instead of having your wrists and hands at a horizontal position, you want to have them at a vertical position so they are perpendicular to the ground when extending. It’s going to somewhat look like your doing the monkey/go-bananas dance but in a way more controlled and slow manner

Tricep Dips

To do this exercise you need to find an elevated surface like a bench or one of the stepping stools. Place your hands on the surface behind you so you are facing away from the with your arms extended, then lower yourself by lowering your arms until they make a 90 degree angle. Add a dumbbell or plate onto your lap as you do it if it feels too easy.

Concentration Curls

Sit on a bench with your elbow propped on your leg while holding the dumbbell in your hand. Have your arm extended down with a slight bend in your elbow then slowly lift your arm sob your hand comes up to chest level. Slowly lower your arm back to the starting position and repeat

Back Workout:

Bent over Rows

This exercise can be done with either a barbell or two dumbbells depending on personal preference and strength levels. Stand in a wide half squat stance with your back straight and chest forward and pull the bar or dumbbells into your torso around belly button level. While doing so, your chest should push out somewhat as your shoulder blades move in towards each other during the exercise. Think of it like you are trying to pinch something in between your shoulder blades as move the weight toward your body

Single arm DB Row

Stand in a stance where you are bent over with one hand and the corresponding knee on the bench. Hold the dumbbell in the hand that is not on the bench with your arm fully extended then, pull the arm and dumbbell pack in a row motion until you form a triangle between your arm and your back. Try not to open your chest toward your arm when you do this to get a full workout of your back muscles

Shoulder press

Again, this workout can be done with either dumbbells or a barbell, if using a barbell adjust so it is at shoulder level or very slightly above. Start with your arms forming an upright 90 degree angle (almost like you’re making a touchdown sign) while holding the weight and then push it above your head so your arms are extended. A slight curvature of your spine might occur but try to limit it as much as possible as it could hurt your back 


There are a few machines located in the gym that you can use this for. In this exercise your arms start extended above your head and then you pull the bar(s) down so your arms are against your torso with your hands ending at about chest level

Upright Row

For this exercise I would recommend using the cable weights in the gym or a kettlebell. You will stay in a standing position for this and start with your hand holding the weight near your hips in the center of your body. You will then raise your arms until your fists are close to your jaw. Think about making your arms almost in a Y-formation during this exercise and try to keep your elbows from dropping below your wrist level

Delt Raises

Start in a bent over position with your back straight and arms extending out each holding a dumbbell. From here you are going to extend your arms upward so they are parallel with you back all the while keeping your arms straight and extended. Try to keep as little bend in your elbows as possible while doing this but due to the difficulty of the motion, bends in the arms is natural for beginners or when you’re increasing your weights

Leg Workout:

Calf Raises

Stand on an elevated surface (on a step or even a 45lb plate) and fully extend your calves so you are on your tippy toes then slowly descend down so your feet are down. To really feel the exercise hold the raise on your tippy toes for a few seconds 

Barbell Squat

Add the desired amount of weight to the barbell and make sure that the bar is set on the stand at shoulder height or slightly below. Stand in a wide stance for the squat with your legs slightly past shoulder width and squat so that your thighs are parallel to the floor

Leg Extension

This exercise works best on the leg extension machine so if it is available, I recommend using that. If not, grab a bench and put it in an incline but not a 90 degree seated position. Then grab a dumbbell and lift it from the floor using your feet until your legs are completely straight and parallel to the floor.

Seated Leg Curl

In order to do this best, use the seated leg curl machine at the gym, if it’s not available skip this exercise or come back to it later in the workout. 

Goblet Squat 

Choose your preferred dumbbell weight that you would be able to hold while squatting (mine is around 65lbs for reference). Hold the weight with both hands in front of your chest by gripping onto one of the weighted ends, not the middle bar. Then squat into a deep position so the back of your thighs slightly touches the top of your calves. 

Leg Press

Using the leg press machine at the gym, adjust the resting position of the footboard to one that you can reach without going to your tippy toes. Then, add your desired weight to each side and position your feet depending on your desired exercise. For glute activation have a high stance; a wide stance will work your inner thighs, a low stance will engage your quads, a narrow stance will activate your outer thighs, and for overall engagement keep your feet in a normal shoulder-width stance. Press the weight until you make a 90 degree angle with your thighs and shins and then return to the starting position.

Glute Workout:

Single Leg RDLs

Hold a weight in front of your thigh (you can hold one or two dumbbells) and balance on one leg with a slight bend in the knee. While keeping your back straight, bend over by hinging your hips backward until the weight is at about mid shin. Once you reach mid-shin then drive your hips forward while going into a standing position again. Do this exercise on each leg and repeat. 

Hip Thrust

Place your back against the bench while sitting on the floor with your feet bent, use a barbell on the ground and load it with your chosen weight or use a heavy dumbbell and put it on top of your hips. Lift/thrust your body upwards until your legs create a 90 angle and are perpendicular to the ground so you are making a fairly straight line with your body. Lower your body to the starting position and repeat.

Bulgarian Split Squat

Stand about two feet away from the bench and lift one leg so and place it on the bench behind you so your leg is bent backward at a 90 degree angle. Your ankle joint can either be aligned with the side of the bench or you can have your foot flexed on top of the bench (like a lunge). While keeping your chest up, bend the knee of the leg that is on the ground and hinge your hip slightly until your quad is about parallel to the floor. 

Hip Abduction (Outer Thigh Machine)

This workout is easiest to do using the outer thigh machine at the gym. However, you can do this by holding a weight against your leg in a standing position and then horizontally raising your leg as close to a 90 degree angle to your torso as possible. You should feel this exercise working the sides of your hips and glute muscles if done properly. 

Weighted Step Ups

Find a step stool at the gym that is an appropriate height for you to be able to step onto in a controlled manner. Grab a dumbbell or two, if only one dumbbell grab heavier and hold in the center of your chest, if two, hold each at your sides. Step onto the stool one leg at a time and then step back onto the ground.

Lunges (front and side)

Step forward for a front lunge or horizontally for a side lunge. Bend until your leg makes a 90 degree angle at the knee and then explode back into the starting position. Do this exercise on each side either alternating or doing one set on each side then switching. Keep your knee directly over your ankle and try to avoid having it go past the ankle.

Glute Bridges

You can do these weighted or unweighted depending on your personal strength levels. If you choose to use a weight, position it on your pelvic region. Position yourself so you are laying on the ground with your legs bent and feet on the floor. Raise the lower half of your body until you make a flat, diagonal line from your knees to your chest with your legs forming a 90 degree angle perpendicular to the ground. 

Chest Workout:

Lateral Raises

With a dumbbell in each hand, hold your arms by your side with your palms facing inward toward your body at the starting position. Then raise your arms outward until they form a straight line (or as close to a straight line as you can get) and your body makes a T-shape. Lower your arms in a controlled manner back to the starting position to complete a single rep. This exercise can be done with both arms raising at the same time or by alternating each arm raise if lifting both arms together is too difficult.

Incline Press

Grab and bench and adjust it so the back part is at about a 45 degree angle or slightly below. You can use either dumbbells or a barbell with weight on it depending on your strength level and personal preference. Start with your dumbbells or barbell at about neck level with your arms bent. Raise your arms with the weight upward until your arms are fully extended and above your body in the air. 

Dumbbell Fly

This exercise can be done using the pec fly or on a bench with free weights. For the free weights, grab your desired dumbbells and lay down on the bench. Start with your arms extended but with a slight bend in the elbows. Then bring your arms together over your body while keeping your arms extended and slightly bent. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Front Raises

Hold a dumbbell in each hand, shoulder length apart, resting in front of your body with your wrists horizontal and palms facing the ground. Raise both arms vertically until you reach shoulder level while keeping your body motion controlled so you aren’t “swinging” your body as you do this; If it is difficult to do this raise one arm at a time to create more control within your reps. Then lower your arm back down to your sides 

Dumbbell Pullover

Lay on the bench while holding a dumbbell in both hands with your hands extended out in front of your chest and a slight bend in the elbows. Move the dumbbell up your body until your biceps are bent over your head until you can’t move them any farther back. Bring the dumbbell back over your face and torso until it is back above your chest.

Bench Press

  See description in arm workout

Keep in mind that everyone starts somewhere and the jacked gym bros we all see at the gym were once string noodles not knowing what to do either. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help on form or tips while working out and only push yourself to your own comfortability levels. Hopefully these descriptions and workouts help you get your foot in the door with lifting and help you along your fitness journey!

Amanda is a junior business analytics major at Manhattan College. She is a member of Women in Business, Music Ministry, the O'Malley School of Business Honors Program, and Performing Hearts (Manhattan College's Female A capella Group). Amanda is also an intern for the Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center.