Starting a new workout is often equal parts exciting and intimidating. And if you’re trying to figure out all the equipment you need, the list of things to buy might be overwhelming. But for beginner strength training, all you really need is a good set of weights.
“Strength is the foundation for all other physical endeavors,” says Eric Johnson, co-founder of HOMAGE fitness. And there are even more unexpected benefits of strength training for both your body and mind. It helps create balance within your body, increases your metabolic rate, help you gain mobility, develop bone health and reduce the risk of injury from falls, and even boost your mood and your confidence. In other words, strength training help you get stronger and makes it easier to navigate the world.
“Confidence and strength tend to have a direct relationship in their growth,” Johnson says. “When one is capable to physically lift more weight or even just control their own body weight, their mental strength increases as well.”
Still, when you’re new to lifting weights, you’ve got quite a few items that you’ll need on your prep and shopping list—which is why we’ve created the ultimate guide to weights for beginners.
What do I need to get started lifting weights?
First, for a solid foundation you’ll need the right shoes for weightlifting (it just so happens that Converse are a great choice, according to podiatrists). Consider getting activewear that’s comfortable, won’t cause distractions, and allow for a full range of motion (some pros recommend cotton).
Before you start lifting weights, you should actually get started with a bodyweight training regimen, since bodyweight moves are the “building blocks” of strength training, as Theodore Savage, the fitness training director at Planet Fitness, previously told Well+Good.
“Test your body mechanics with basic movements and exercises,” Savage says. “Test how low your hips and ankles allow you to go in a squat, whether or not you can hold a plank and for how long, how long you can balance yourself on one leg or in other unstable conditions.”
Once you feel comfortable with bodyweight, it’s time to turn things up a notch by adding the resistance of weights.
How often should I lift weights as a beginner?
To start a strength training regimen, you’ll want to decide on the amount of time and days you want to train every week.
“Consider how many days per week that you can devote to muscular training and then think about how you can train each major muscle group within that number of days,” says Chris Gagliardi, an ACE certified personal trainer. ” If you’re not sure about this, you might want to “consult with a well-qualified exercise professional and use tools such as the ACE Exercise Library to help get you started.”
How often you should lift weights as a beginner varies from person to person and should take into account things like your current lifestyle and schedule. You don’t want to commit to something that’s not personally doable for you. That said, trainers generally recommend strength training three or four days per week, with rest days in between.
Finally, you’ll need a solid set of weights—so where do you start?
How to choose the right weights
When you’re lifting weights at home, you’ll want to start with a set of weights that are the right range for your strength level, and ideally give you room to grow via adjustable weights or a set of heavier weights. “If you’re not looking to invest a ton right away, aim to purchase three pairs of dumbbells: a light, medium, and heavy set that can be utilized for full body exercises, then build from there,” says Emily Knuth, CPT and a former trainer at Dogpound Los Angeles.
Should I start with heavier weights or lighter?
To avoid injury and get an effective workout, start with weights on the lighter side. This will help you test your strength.
“If you are a beginner, it’s always recommended to start with lighter weights and more reps so you can better understand form and also be able to adjust to the training stress on the body,” Roxie Jones, personal trainer, nutrition coach, and the creator of BodyRox, previously told Well+Good.
But the weight you choose also depends on your goals.
How to start lifting weights
Two important elements to weight lifting are the amount of weight your lifting, and the amount of reps and sets you’re doing. What you want to achieve should determine how you balance these two elements.
“If you are trying to get stronger, you will want to lift heavier weights while doing less reps,” Sarah Brannon, an Openfit trainer and program fitness designer, previously told Well+Good. “If your goal is to build endurance, you will want to grab lighter weights and knock out more reps.”
How to lift weights properly
First, find a warm up method that will get your muscles and joints ready to work.
It’s also important to remember that at the beginning, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind: Go Slow. This will help you avoid injury and make you able to identify any issues before they start causing a problem.
“If you add everything all at once and experience some trouble, it’s harder to identify what the issue is,” Steve Stonehouse, NASM CPT and Director of Education for STRIDE, previously told Well+Good. “Is it improper form? Is the weight too heavy? Should I choose a different set of exercises altogether? It’s a lot to work through all at once!”
And whether you’re working your upper body, lower body, or anything in between, always make sure to engage your core when weight lifting.
Are 10 pound weights good for beginners?
Beginners can start with weights as low as 0.25 pounds. Any additional stress from weights you place on the body will get you on the road to strength training.
“Our arms are used to reaching overhead with only the weight of our arms to lift, so when you add even the lightest amount of weight you challenge the moving muscles, which now have to hold the weight and resist it from dropping straight to the ground,” Bethany Stillwaggon, ACSM CPT and a Master Coach for Row House previously told Well+Good.
If you want to find what weight is right for you, the Mayo Clinic recommends finding a weight that will tire your muscle out after 12 to 15 reps. If you’re able to do 15 reps quickly and easily, you might want to go for heavier weights.
Are 20 pound weights good for beginners?
It depends. See whether you can do 12 to 15 reps of an exercise with a 20 pound weight. If not, consider going down in weight. And remember, you will probably need different pounds of weights for different muscles you’re working.
Which dumbbells are best for beginners?
Any dumbbell set that is adjustable or contains room to grow is great for beginners. You also want to be mindful that the handle grip is comfortable.
“Be watchful of dumbbells with different sized grips,” says Stillwagon. “You want one about the size of a broom handle. It’s proven that the larger the grip, the more challenging this is for us and will tire our muscle more quickly, almost feeling as if we are lifting a heavier weight than we are.”
But remember, dumbbells aren’t the only weights you can use to strength train. There are also kettlebells, medicine balls, barbells, weight plates, ankle and wrist straps, and more.
Now that you know what you’re looking for, here are advice from two trainers for everything you need to know about buying your first set of weights.
The best weights for beginners
“I use these at home and really like the grip, but also that the heads are coated to reduce noise/banging around,” says Knuth about the CAP Barbell Hex Dumbbell Weight set that includes five sets of weights (you get 5,10, 15, 20, and 25-pound pairs). Knuth says if you’re willing to shell out the money for the set, it’s worth it since you have a good weight range to work with as you build up your strength and gradually increase weight.
For a little over $120, this Amazon Basics Weight set is also a solid choice for beginners. You get a set of 4, 10, and 15-pound weights to work with, which Knuth says, “is a great starting point for beginners to use for upper and lower body exercises. This also comes with a stand for storage, plus the rubber coating means they won’t clank around and make noise when you move them.”
If you don’t have a ton of space to store multiple sets of weights, an adjustable dumbbell can give you the same weight range options, but all in one space-saving dumbbell set. The Bowflex Adjustable Dumbbells are a bit of an investment, but if you’re looking to save space and have a lot of weight options, it’s worth it. “They range from 5 to 52.5 lbs, but also increase incrementally by 2.5lbs up to the first 25lbs, which is great for beginners,” says Knuth.
For adjustable dumbbells that come at a price that’s a bit easier on the wallet than the Bowflex, you can opt for these Northdeer adjustable dumbbells. “These are also cool because they’re adjustable so you’re able to hit those incremental weights, in addition to the standard 5, 10, 15 [weight increase]. Plus the handles are foam for a nice grip,” says Knuth. For this set, you choose a weight range between 10-30 pounds and each dumbbell set can be adjusted to four different weights.
When you’re new to weight lifting, something you definitely don’t want to do is start too heavy, but you also don’t want to start too light. That’s why Korey Rowe, CPT at Dogpound New York recommends this adjustable kettlebell from Bowflex so you can adjust it and adapt it to your different workouts. One of the great features on the Bowflex Adjustable Kettlebell is that you adjust the weight up or down by turning a dial on top of the weight, which is way more convenient than manually changing out weights or plates, like some other products out there.
Another adjustable dumbbell option from Ativafit is great for beginners since it comes with four different weight options. You adjust the weight plates while placing the dumbbell in a tray that’s included. One rave Amazon reviewer noted that these were the best weights they tried out of four different sets they’ve owned, and said that the handles were cushioned and comfortable.
If you’re on the fence about which weight range to select, Rowe recommends getting a set that’s manageable at your current level but also, “choose weights that fit the profile of your aspirational strength level in the next 6 to 8 months, so you have room to grow,” he says. That’s what’s great about this set is that you get three different weights to work with, giving you plenty of variety and room to work your way up to the heavier kettlebell.
If you’re not ready to invest major dollars into the Bowflex Adjustable Kettlebell, this one from Amazon is similar and just over $60. You can adjust the kettlebell to three different weights (5 to12 pounds) making it a good option for beginners. The Bowflex Kettlebell does go up to 40 pounds, so if you’re looking for a heavier weight range, this may not be your pick.
If you’ve yet to try slamming around a medicine ball in the name of fitness, let me be the first to suggest you try it. It’s surprisingly fun and challenging–not to mention that there’s a million different ways to add a medicine ball into your workout. This one from BalanceFrom comes in several different weights, making it good for beginners. Tip: don’t start too heavy. Find a weight you can comfortably pick up and throw around since, well, that’s the workout!
These square adjustable dumbbells may look unconventional, but they are CPT Azul Corajoria’s go to pick because they save space and contain plenty of potential for gains. “These are my favorite adjustable weights,” Corajoria says. “They’re easy to adjust and you can purchase more weight if needed.”