Weightlifting 101

So you want to look like Arnold or Jennifer Aniston? Then you’re going to have to start pumping iron.

In a recent trip to the USF Fitness Center, I noticed that scores of students already do. Sophomore Gene Estep says he lifts to stay in shape. “My father is overweight and it’s important to me to stay healthy,” he says.

Rossi Perales, a student and fitness enthusiast, says she lifts weights simply to stay fit. She’s right; weight training is a very important part of a balanced fitness program. When you build muscle, your body becomes more efficient at burning calories. Lifting also tones your body, strengthens your bones and can help prevent sports injuries. Oh, yes, and it makes you stronger.


Before you start, decide what you want to accomplish through weight training. Do you want to get big, lose weight, tone up or excel at a certain sport? Once you’ve decided on a goal, do some research and talk to a USF Fitness Center trainer. If you’re a neophyte, consider scheduling a few personal training sessions. The trainer will work with you to create a program and teach you to use machines and free weights effectively and safely. For a beginner, learning the proper lifting form is an important goal in itself.

Establishing a purpose for your program is a great start, but if you skip your workout every Monday because you partied all weekend or if you live on a diet of pizza and nachos, that goal is useless. USF Trainer Josh Gonzalez emphasizes the need for discipline. “Health is the main concern. Make sure you also focus on your diet and get in a routine where you work out every day.”


Depending on your goal, you may be pumping massive weights for just a couple of repetitions (to build muscle mass), or you may be doing tons of repetitions at a very light weight (for lean, toned muscles and muscular endurance). A trainer might have you do cardiovascular exercises between repetitions, or you might use fitness props such as Swiss balls, resistance bands and medicine balls. Regardless of what your goal is, Gonzalez suggests that you vary your workouts and work a different muscle group or skill each day.

A beginner whose goal is to learn proper form and gain functional strength might want to try this program:

Do these exercises three times per week at 12 repetitions each:

Use a weight you can lift 12 times so that the last few repetitions are challenging, but you can still maintain proper form.

Leg press
Leg curls
Lat pull
Machine chest press
Tricep bench dip
Bicep curl
Shoulder raise
Swiss ball crunches with 25 repetitions

Remember to do 30-60 minutes of a cardiovascular exercise such as running, elliptical trainer, step class, boxing, etc. at least 3 times per week. As you get stronger, increase the amount of weight you lift or increase the number of sets (12-repetitions) that you perform.


These days, more and more women are getting into lifting. But, unfortunately, there are still a lot who spend all their workout time on cardio.

“A lot of women are afraid to lift because they think it will make them more masculine or make them get big,” YMCA trainer Jose Colindres said.

That’s a myth. Women don’t have enough testosterone to seriously bulk up unless they spend hours in the gym and take steroids.

“Lifting is especially important for women because it builds bone density, which prevents osteoporosis,” he says.

Women in their late teens and early 20s are at their peak bone-building years. They should be especially careful to lift weights and eat a high-calcium diet in order to strengthen their bones.

Get going

Weight training, like any sport, requires a lot of work and dedication whether you do it as part of your sports training, as a fitness routine or competitively. When it becomes difficult, keep in mind the famous words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: “The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 percent.”

Tereza Zambrano is a junior majoring in international studies and is also a triathlete.