Reader’s Request: Weight Training 101

When I put out the call for reader’s requests yesterday, I received quite a few strength training-related requests.

For all of you who were looking for some help in the weights department, here ya go 😀

How to Set Up a Weight Training Plan and Start Seeing Results!

Spot Training Doesn’t Work

Back in the day, after I had lost a majority of the weight I was aiming for, I decided to experiment with weight training. The intention was good, but the problem was that I had no clue what the heck I was doing. After aimlessly wandering around the weights room a few times, I settled onto the mat and did a few crunches and called it good. Since I didn’t know how to put together a weight routine, I just decided I’d work on the parts that I thought needed the most help: my abs, arms and thighs. I worked out these muscle groups everyday and was so confused when I didn’t see a difference in my body.

It took me a while to figure this out (and I’m sure that quite a few of you know this already), but there is no way to spot train and you *shouldn’t* work out the same muscle groups on consecutive days. When our body burns fat, it burns fat all over, not just in a specific spot you’re targeting. Where you see it first is an individual thang. Some people lose weight and inches in their face first, others their arms, legs, stomach, whatever- everyone is different. The point is that we should focus on our body as a whole when we work out, not just the parts we want to change.

Our muscles need at least 48 hours to repair and recover. When we consistently tear down the same muscles (lifting weights causes tears in the muscle and recovery allows it to repair and grow back stronger), and don’t enable our body to accomplish the results we’re looking for. This is why it’s an excellent idea to have a specific weights split when you’re weight training.


How to Set Up a Weight Training Plan

There are a thousand ways to set up a weight training plan, but for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to give you three options: synergistic, antagonistic and full body circuit.

Step #1: Choose your split


Day 1: Shoulders, Chest and Triceps

Day 2: Legs and Abs

Day 3: Back and Biceps


Day 1: Chest, Shoulders and Upper back

Day 2: Quads and Hamstrings

Day 3: Core (Back and Abs)

Day 4: Biceps and Triceps

-Full Body Circuit

Day 1: Arms, Legs, Abs, Back

Day 2: Arms, Legs, Abs, Back

Day 3: Arms, Legs, Abs, Back

Weight lifting gloves

Step #2: Create your workout plan according to your chosen split, leaving 1 day in between weights sessions and use this time for longer cardio sessions, a fun class or an off day- make sure to have at least one day of active recovery each week (totally off, or something that isn’t taxing on the body, like a walk with the pups or a stretch or easy yoga sesh)

Step #3: In your workout plan, choose 2-3 exercises per muscle group for the antagonistic and synergistic plans; 1-2 per muscle group for the full body circuit (here you can use compound exercises that work more than one muscle at a time, too)

Exercise ideas and workout plans:

Winter Shape Up 2017

Fall Fitness Plan

Summer Shape Up 2016

Intro to Iron Pumping and Intermediate Iron Pumping

The workout page (lots of muscle-specific exercises here)

Women’s Health


Stability ball chest press

Tips for Creating the Ideal Strength Training Plan

Create the workout plan in advance, so you know what to do when you’re at the gym and will have a back-up if a specific machine or tool is being used by someone else. Every Sunday, I take about 15-20 minutes to plan out my workout schedule. Also, if you have a plan (with an approximate time to when you’ll be pumping iron) you’ll be less likely to skip it 😉 For tips on how to incorporate cardio and other classes into your routine, check out *this post*

Switch out the exercises you’re doing (or rotate the days that you work each muscle group) every 4-6 weeks or so. Our body is a very intelligent machine and will do what it’s expected to. Constant changes scare away plateaus 🙂

Experiment with how much weight to use. Start out lighter and if you can easily do more than 10 repetitions with that weight, go heavier and see how that feels. Aim for 3-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions (beginners start with 3 sets of 10). If doing 3 sets in a row bores you, go from one exercise to the next and then repeat the entire circuit 2 more times.

Warm up for 5-7 minutes with low/moderate cardio, followed weights, then follow with the rest of your cardio sesh. Some people prefer to do cardio first, but I find that if I do cardio first, I have nothing left for weights. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re aiming for weight loss, do cardio first and give it all ya got, if you’re aiming for muscle tone, go with weights first.

Weight training will not (will not!) make you “bulky”. You will not emerge from the weight room a Hulk, I promise. Some clients start to worry that when they start weight training, their pants get a smidge snug and their weight goes up a little. Muscle is more dense than fat, so less muscle will weigh the same as a lot more fat does, volume-wise. Usually they’re initially gaining muscle more quickly than they’re losing fat, and then everything falls into place and before we know it, the scale and jeans follow. This is why I think keeping record of body fat percentage is so important– most gyms will do it for free, or see if there’s a bod pod near you.

Go for some protein 30-60 minutes after your weights sesh. (More info on fitness fueling is *here*)

Have fun! Once you start –or give a makeover to your- weight training, the newfound strength is empowering and it’s remarkable how consistent weight training will change body shape.

Please check with a doc before making any fitness/nutrition changes. Be smart- your body will always tell you what’s best. Ignoring your body’s needs leads to injury.

I think that’s it, as far as the almond shell version goes 🙂 I could talk about weights all day!

If there’s anything I forgot to address, please hit me up in the comments 😀

Do you pump iron? What’s your absolute favorite strength training exercise? Where do you get your moves?

I’m off to walk the pups and head to work!

See ya this afternoon <3



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  1. clemmy on September 21, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Hi! ive never really thought about specific exercise… i walk alot and like to do yoga/light stretches. But i need some direction! i dont need to lose any weight, im actually trying to gain! but i dont want to quit exercise all together… ideally id like to maintain my fitness and stay toned while trying to build up some of the muscle that i have lost due to being underweight.
    How much is ok to do? i dont want to overdo it, at the moment i walk almost everyday (so my cardio is taken care of!) and then ive been doing core/abs exercises… but i didnt have a set routine or know what i was doing. do i still need to take days off in between abs work? how many sessions shud i do per week. your help wud be SO appreciated!!! thanks x

    • Fitnessista on September 21, 2010 at 10:44 pm

      i’d only do abs 2-3 times a week max 🙂

  2. Nicole on September 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Great post! I have only just started weight training- but one of the big reasons I started was your blog! I do a lot of sports that build large muscles in my thighs (hiking, skiing, biking), and for a long time I was afraid to try weights, because I was sure they would make my thighs even bigger!

  3. Nicole on September 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Great post! I have only just started weight training- but one of the big reasons I started was your blog! I do a lot of sports that build large muscles in my thighs (hiking, skiing, biking), and for a long time I was afraid to try weights, because I was sure they would make my thighs even bigger! I’m

  4. Nicole on September 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Great post! I have only just started weight training- but one of the big reasons I started was your blog! I do a lot of sports that build large muscles in my thighs (hiking, skiing, biking), and for a long time I was afraid to try weights, because I was sure they would make my thighs even bigger! You’ve convinced me

  5. Nicole on September 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Great post! I have only just started weight training- but one of the big reasons I started was your blog! I do a lot of sports that build large muscles in my thighs (hiking, skiing, biking), and for a long time I was afraid to try weights, because I was sure they would make my thighs even bigger! You’ve convinced me that doesn’t

  6. Nicole on September 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Great post! I have only just started weight training- but one of the big reasons I started was your blog! I do a lot of sports that build large muscles in my thighs (hiking, skiing, biking), and for a long time I was afraid to try weights, because I was sure they would make my thighs even bigger! You’ve convinced me that

  7. Nicole on September 21, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Great post! I have only just started weight training- but one of the big reasons I started was your blog! I do a lot of sports that build large muscles in my thighs (hiking, skiing, biking), and for a long time I was afraid to try weights, because I was sure they would make my thighs even bigger! You’ve convinced me that doesn’t have to be

  8. fittingbackin on September 21, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Great post! You’re motivating me to whip the plans back out and get better about pre-planning these workouts instead of just sure… i’ll do that. haha Thanks as usual for the motivation!

  9. Daniella on September 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    thank you SO MUCH for posting this!! I was stuck in a rut of doing the same 6 or so weight machines at the gym over and over again. Recently, I’ve been using more free weights and trying to do new exercises with them in a “total body split” circuit style. I find I’m sore in new places and I can tell I’m getting a killer work out! While I’m not a strength training newbie (I had a personal trainer for some time as well), I’m trying to switch up my routine and this post could not have come at a more PERFECT time!! Thanks again for sharing the info 🙂

    • Fitnessista on September 21, 2010 at 10:44 pm


  10. Kaleigh on September 21, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    First of all – I love your blog! I found you on (the Dailyspark article where you discussed Zumba) and thought I should check you out. Thank goodness I did or I wouldn’t have gotten to known the wonders of almond butter, maca powder, chia seeds and so much more.

    I do have a question about this post though. I am looking to lose weight (have lost 22lbs so far, and have a little less than 20 to go). I heard a trainer say once, that in order to lose weight, you should do compound weight lifting – because on days where you are working your upper body you won’t burn enough calories (I guess because bicep, tricep etc. muscles are so much smaller than your hammies and quads). The problem is that i find compound weight lifting a bit more tedious and far more exhausting than focussing on one part at a time.

    What do you suggest for weight lifting to lose weight?

    (and p.s. thanks for coming into my life!)

    • Fitnessista on September 21, 2010 at 10:44 pm

      i disagree- i think you can totally work muscle groups in splits without doing compound movements. for extra calorie burning power, add in some cardio blasts every few exercises (like jumping jacks, burpees etc)

    • AmyW on September 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm

      This type of lifting your trainer suggests is a wonderful way to lose that fat. A positive to this type of lifting is it’s results. You will see faster results (by compounding your lifts your workouts do not take as long). Additionally, it is more of an intensified workout (hello…cardio!). I would suggest sticking with it. It is most definitely going to be tough. I can assure you that you will be in much better shape and see results soon! Good luck and have fun:)

  11. Sara C. on September 21, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Love this post!!! I recently bought the Big book of exercises because of one of your post in the past and LOVE it!! Thanks for the inspiration!!!

  12. Necia on September 21, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I absolutely adore lifting iron, and prefer whole body workouts. I get my inspiration from books and the www. I think it’s a great way to lose weight, as my body shrinks and just outright changes for the BETTER!

  13. Alexi on September 21, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    LOVE the post and I love your blog… the only thing is, muscle does not weigh more than fat…

    “5 lbs. of fat is much bulkier than the 5 lbs. of muscle, but five pounds is still five pounds. Muscle does not weigh more than fat.

    Fat is bulky and lumpy so if you carry an extra five pounds of fat, you’ll be lumpier than with five pounds more muscle. A five pound pile of fat will take up more space (volume) than a five pound pile of muscle; but five pounds is still five pounds, so for those of you that don’t “get” English, you cannot say one thing weighing a certain weight weighs more than another thing at that same weight. It’s a common joke to play on an 8-year old. The correct way to state the muscle weighs more than fat scenario is, “Muscle is heavier by volume than fat.”

    A woman weighing 150 pounds with 19% fat will look much smaller (and be much healthier) than a woman at 150 pounds with 35% fat. They weigh the same, yet the composition is different. Because muscle is more dense than fat the person with less fat and more muscle will look smaller.”

    • s on September 21, 2010 at 4:26 pm

      ok, so density, not mass.

  14. Denise on September 21, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Awesome information!!!! Thanks a million!!!!

  15. Mary (What's Cookin' with Mary) on September 21, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    ATTN Everyone: right click this page and save this shortcut! All really great info for FREE!! Thanks G 😀

    • Fitnessista on September 21, 2010 at 10:42 pm

      thanks mary 🙂 xoxo

  16. Sophia on September 21, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks so much! This was really helpful. If you’re looking for more weight/strength training tips, check this out:
    Fit&FabLiving Strength Tips!

  17. Amy on September 21, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    I llove weight training. I just get frustrated because i do everything they say u should and my upper bodys really cut and toned but my lower body still really lacks definition despite the fact that I’m a thin girl. so frustrating!!!

    • AmyW on September 22, 2010 at 1:43 pm


      I would suggest upping your weight and lifting heavier with lower reps. Be explosive with your lower body (and full body) lifts! If you are a thin girl lacking definition than you are more than likely lacking muscle. Build up your muscle by lifting heavier and eating more (yes eat more! Healthy though with lots of protein). If you are doing steady state cardio, cut it out and focus on lifting. Add in high intensity interval training (HIIT) a couple times a week and that’s it. I would suggest finding some other websites/forums that are focused entirely on weight training for additional support and help. If you want some recommendations, let me know.


  18. s on September 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    super helpful info on weight training!! interesting, though i guess not surprising, to learn about switching up the training routine every few weeks. i’d been doing the same arms exercises for probably months now and changed it up this past week with the 100 pushups app on my iphone.

  19. Chicago Cuisine Critique on September 21, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    This is a great post! Thanks for sharing. I love lifting weights. I find it to be fun. My favorite thing is do a full body toning type class where each of your muscle groups get the right amount of focus. I have found this works best for me, mixed with a day or two of my own weight lifting routines.

  20. Monica on September 21, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Very helpful! I do have a couple questions…If you choose a full body circuit over a synergistic or antagonistic split will you see results faster since you are working each muscle group 3 times a week vs. one time a week? Do you have a certain split you recomend over another? I do currently lift weights a couple times a week but it’s always kind of random because sometimes I read to lift as heavy as you can so that you can complete 8 to 10 reps but not more and sometimes I hear to lift higher reps like 12 to 15! This confuses me so, so much!! I don’t know what to do! What is with these two schools of thought? Thank you!!! 🙂

    • Fitnessista on September 21, 2010 at 10:40 pm

      i think all of them work extremely well. personally, i love the synergistic split the best. as far as reps go, definitely do more than 10

  21. Brooke on September 21, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    I love love love this post! It definitely helps me to understand my workout schedule better. I miss so very much being able to go to the gym and use their equipment. Alas, I’m currently not able to afford it at the moment. We’re also in a very small apartment, with zero room to workout in! Double bummer! 🙁 At the moment, I’m stuck with running outside and doing squats, static lunges, and pushups at the foot of my bed! ONE DAY I’ll have my dream workout room, or even just a spacious room to be able to move around in (it’s on the “required” list for our new place)!!

  22. Jennifer@ Frost Bites on September 21, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Thank you for all the tips..very informative and always useful!

  23. Jess on September 21, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Ahh I love this post! I was planning to do a light weights sesh today even though I did spin and Body Pump yesterday. I figured since I am not *that* sore it would be okay. But you reminded me I should probably give my muscles time to recover. Running it is. 🙂

    Would you recommend doing splits even if I am not overly strong? I know I have the capacity to weight train well – I had a PT last year. But are splits something that are more aimed at hardcore lifters?

    • Fitnessista on September 21, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      i’d recommend doing full body until you get more into it 🙂

  24. Lyn on September 21, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    Gina, your language when you explained the pound of fat v. pound of muscle–thank you. Your writing style is direct and genuine and it makes your blog a pleasure to read. So many bloggers have attempted to be people they are not, especially by developing an artsy writing style, and your continued authenticity has not gone unnoticed!

    • Fitnessista on September 21, 2010 at 11:18 pm

      thank you lyn- that means a lot and i hope you know how much i appreciate your kind words <3

  25. Rosie on September 22, 2010 at 2:27 am

    Thank you so much for this. I read your blog a lot but don’t have much time to comment. I’ve been trying to sort out a weights program for ages and it seemed so complicated, but you’ve made it seem achievable. I’m going to be doing lots of planning tonight. Thanks again!

  26. AmyW on September 22, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I love love love full body lifts, such as Squats (and it’s many variations), pull ups, dead lifts, and many “strong man” lifts that not too many women are familiar with. I rarely “target” my abs as they are worked just by performing full body lifts. I love doing circuits as well, using dumbbells, medicine balls, kettle bells, etc. I also love to lift heavy, with low explosive reps. However, I don’t recommend doing so until you are familiar with lifting weights and are in decent shape. I do switch up my workouts a lot and also my sets & reps. My typical week looks like this, Day 1 – 6 sets x 6 reps, Day 2 – 4 sets x 10 reps, and Day 3 – 3 sets x 12-15 reps. Due to having three young kiddos I can only get to the gym three days a week so I do some cardio after I lift. But I also workout at home, run, lift as we do have a home gym, yard work, chase the kids (lol), a quick circuit or dvd with weights as well…when I can. I don’t like wasting time and most of my workouts are under one hour, mainly due to the lack of time that I have to workout anyway (that’s when my kids, husband, house work, yard work, church, etc. come in to play).

  27. Vee on September 26, 2010 at 11:15 am

    I really find your blog super helpful! Even the recipes on here I’m thinking of trying 🙂 I’m not fully on the organic-vegan train yet but I’ve tried to incorporate what I can on a f/t grad budget. Anyhoo, the gyms where I live albeit nice are more geared to those already in shape and often occupied with people who use it as a social club, so basically I’m stuck at home. I don’t have much space for a free weight set. I was wondering how do you feel about resistance bands? Are they just as effective or should I just try to get a couple of free weights for good measure? Any advice helps!!!! Thanks!


    • Fitnessista on September 26, 2010 at 8:16 pm

      resistance bands are great if you know how to use them.. i’d invest in a pair of dumbbells too

  28. rbm on December 10, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    ok, so i know i’m over a year late on this post, but since i’ve just recently started following your amazing blog, i have to say thanks again! this post (and all of yours i’ve read so far) are just so helpful and motivating! i’ve been looking for tips for awhile on weight lifting, and this is so, so perfect! thanks for all your inspiring posts and good luck with the entire birthing experience!!

    • Fitnessista on December 11, 2011 at 1:54 am

      thank you! so happy to hear that this post has helped a little. thank you so much for reading and welcome to the little blog <3

  29. Katie on September 5, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    I just found your blog! I LOVE this post. I have been looking and looking for advice like this! I am the type of person that needs a plan to be motivated to go to the gym. I keep saying that I need to know “what I’m doing” before I get there. This will be SO helpful!! Thank you!!! 🙂

  30. Jamie Reynolds on October 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Hey girl! I really need your opinion. So what do you think about these running shoes? I just saw this Reebok commercial with J.Sparks, Lil Rel, and Ruben Studdard and they look really hip and comfortable.

    • Fitnessista on October 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm

      one of my friends at work has them and LOVES them

  31. Mélanie Lemire on January 22, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Hi Gina!

    I’m from Montreal, Canada, and I love to read your blog! :o)

    I have a question : Did you ever try the Bodypump class by Lesmills? If you did, what did you think of it? Do you think it is an effective way to work out your muscles, since the same routine is done over and over again for 3 months?

    Thank you!!

  32. Tracy on March 15, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Great post. I’m really glad I found your blog. You are what every blogger inspires to be!!! I have been taking Body Pump 3 times a week for the past couple of months and I absolutely love it. I used to be terrified of weights and lunges just about killed me!! I’m really glad I stuck it out and faced my fear. I feel stronger than ever!

    • Fitnessista on March 15, 2013 at 10:51 pm

      thank you so much, tracy!
      LOVE bodypump- happy to hear you’re enjoying it 🙂

  33. Jo on March 19, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Gina, thanks for this fabulous post. You’re really inspiring to me and I love your blog!!

    @ Tracy I do bodypump too and really love it! (Lunges are killers!)

    Thanks again for the inspiration!

  34. Keeon on November 30, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Antagonistic working muscle groups – working biceps and triceps on the same day is a good way to save on time while being able to work more muscles.

  35. […] or three days a week, lift on. For a great guide, check out my friend Gina the Fitnessista’s post here. For my current prego workout plan click […]

  36. Tyeesha Jones on March 17, 2016 at 12:53 am

    I could relate to a lot of things that you have said. Thank you!

  37. Tish W. on May 9, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    This breakdown is so useful! As women we always hear about cardio cardio cardio, and then finally somebody says “weight training is good for you too!”, but they usually don’t give you a clue where to start! I love seeing a clear explanation that I can use to start my own regimen. Will definitely be visiting your blog more in the future!

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