Starting a new gym routine can be intimidating, especially if you’re starting from scratch. But if you’ve gone a little too Dad Bod, there’s an easy fix — start lifting weights. Strong muscles help keep bones healthy, prevent injuries (runners, we’re looking at you) and increase your resting metabolic rate. And it’s good for your heart. Weightlifting has been shown to lower blood pressure, too. It’s a good idea to mix in cardio as well as strength training, to get the full health benefits, but even if you have just twenty minutes, you can strength train and fit in cardio.
To get you started on the right track to bulking up, we talked to experts from gyms across the country to hear what they recommend for beginners. You’ll find suggestions from Rick Richey, owner of the Independent Training Spot; Nicole Spizzirri, studio manager at Life Time Athletic Sandy Springs in Atlanta, GA; David Freeman, National Program Manager of TEAM Alpha at Life Time Fitness; James Garcia, Senior Personal Training Manager at Life Time Athletic Flatirons in Boulder, CO; and Daury Dross, one of the FHIT Pro trainers at Fhitting Room in New York City.
All the Gear You Need
We’ll start with the very basics. You should have water at hand throughout practically any workout. “You need a water bottle for the gym whether you’re doing cardio or lifting weights. 50 Strong water bottles are BPA free, non-toxic and leak-resistant,” Richey says. Another pro-favorite is Hydro Flask. “Not only will it cut down on the cost of purchasing a water every time you go to the gym, this bottle will not hold or transfer flavors from [anything] you put in your water,” Spizzirri says.
Heading to the gym is different from heading out for a run — you actually need a pair of shoes specifically for the gym floor. The best gym sneakers our trainers recommended include the Nike Metcon and Metcon DSX. The Metcon “is the perfect shoe for weightlifters,” Freeman says. “It has extra support and stability for Olympic lifting.” Look for a pair of shoes without a ton of cushion — the exact opposite of what you look for in a running shoe. “Shoes with too much height in the heel should be avoided when weightlifting or doing HIIT workouts,” Dross says. “The Nike Metcon DSX Flyknit are as comfortable as the Nike Flyknit, and they are flat, which is good for stability when squatting and lifting.”
Heading to a gym likely means you’re going indoors, so shorts are the play. Wear something you’re comfortable in, whether that’s shorts, tights or both. Dross likes Lululemon running shorts with 3/4 length compression training tights underneath, whereas Garcia prefers the “loose breathable fabric” found in the Jumpman short. “It allows you to move, and is still a great length for any workout you may be doing,” he says.
Comfort is key up top as well. Whether you prefer a tank, tee or long sleeve, the cut and style are up to you. The trainers all recommended Nike and Lululemon gear, as well as 32 Degrees. “They have technologically advanced fabrics that are anti-microbial, anti-static, stylish and come at a great price,” Richey says. And if you’re more comfortable in a sweatshirt, find one that’s sweat-wicking like the Nike Dri-Fit that Garcia recommends.
Weight Lifting Gloves
If you’re starting from scratch, your hands might take a beating as you get used to lifting dumbbells and bars. To prevent calluses, blisters and other gross-looking hand issues, use gloves. “A minimalist glove that protects your hands from calluses while still allowing you to grip and feel the bar during your lifts fix the problem,” Spizzirri says. The slim ones from Barehand combat stink with anti-odor strips. Harbinger’s Power Non-Wristwrap Weightlifting gloves have mesh for breathability and extra lycra so the gloves will stretch to any hand size. Side note: It’s a good idea to hand-wash and air-dry your weightlifting gloves every couple of weeks to keep smelly bacteria at bay. After all, would you wear anything else to the gym for weeks on end without a wash?
Heart Rate Tracker
The only way to really track your fitness is to hook yourself up to a heart rate monitor. While most wrist-based trackers will have one, the more accurate way is to wear a chest or forearm-strap. “I usually wear a Polar H10 strap to track my heart rate and see how many calories I burn,” Dross says.
“No workout is complete without the proper heart rate monitor,” Garcia confirms. “The Garmin Fenix has a great look for every day, and offers everything a multisport watch should, from performance metrics and heart rate to GPS and smart notifications.”
If you take a class or work with a personal trainer, you’re likely to start sweating during the warm-up and properly prime your muscles to work hard. On your own, it can be tempting to skip the warm-up and jump right into the workout. To encourage warming up, Dross recommends foam rolling, something he does before starting any workout. “I have injuries, so I have to make sure my muscles are relaxed and properly warmed up before I lift.” Foam rollers are a simple way to bring more blood to your muscles to literally ‘warm them up.’ They’re cheap and easy to store. High-density foam rollers are basic and do exactly what you need and nothing more. The PERformance Roller is an easy go-to. If you’re looking for something that kicks it up a notch or makes you look like more of a pro, the new HyperIce HyperVolt is a vibrating massage tool that you can use to quickly ‘roll’ out IT bands, calves, quads and hamstrings. You’ll just need someone to help you reach your back and shoulder girdle.
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