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Weightlifting tips for beginners, from a woman who deadlifts 300 lbs

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Are you interested in strength training, but not sure where to start? Casey Johnston, cultural critic and creator of “LIFTOFF: Couch to Barbell,” was once in your shoes.

“When I first started exercising, I thought cardio was the only way,” says Johnston, who started “She’s a Beast,” a fitness newsletter. “It seemed like the only sane thing to do, and it also felt accessible.”

But sticking to cardio exercises alone exhausted her muscles, she tells CNBC Make It. So she turned to weightlifting to rebuild them.

When Johnston first started lifting in the gym in 2014, she bench pressed 20 pounds and squatted 40; since then she has squatted 265 pounds, benched 142, and deadlifted 300.

It’s such an incredible moment to pick up your heavy suitcase, and your suitcase doesn’t feel heavy. It feels light.

Casey Johnson

Cultural critic and creator of “LIFTOFF: Couch to Barbell”

She attributes this drastic change to a simple method: “It was one step at a time.”

“You’d be surprised how much you can really achieve without any specialized training [by] get to the gym, eat your food, and do the reps you’re supposed to.

Weight lifting tips for beginners

Here are some tips she recommends if you’re getting into your own weightlifting business:

  1. Start in the gym if you can. Having access to different weights allows you to add a little weight each session.
  2. Don’t take in too much too quickly. Take it easy.
  3. Remember that you are in control of the process.
  4. Form your own relationship with weightlifting and go at your own pace.
  5. Get plenty of protein, but also eat carbs and healthy fats.
  6. Avoid getting discouraged by reminding yourself that this is a learning process.

Signs you shouldn’t add more weight to a session

While you’re lifting, it’s important to know your limits, especially when you’re increasing weights over time.

You may need to stick to one weight class a bit longer than others; here are some signs that you should wait to increase your weights:

  • You cannot complete all your reps
  • Your form breaks or changes as you lift
  • You are wobbling a lot

“It’s important to be patient with yourself and start where it makes sense for you,” says Johnston.

“But if you complete all your reps and the session felt good, you should be able to add a little more weight next time.”

The little things can indicate progress on your weightlifting journey

Johnston began to see changes in her body after a few weeks to a few months of lifting weights, but really noticed a change when she was able to lift packages with ease, such as her kitty litter.

“Since I started lifting, I never really got used to the feeling of [knowing] my own abilities in the best possible way. I’m constantly surprised by the amount, not even raw strength, but sometimes physical stability or stamina,” she says.

“It’s so nice to be rewarded in those real moments. Like when you go pick up your heavy suitcase and you think, ‘Uh, it’s so annoying, I need to go to the gym more.’ [But] it’s such an incredible moment to pick up your heavy suitcase, and your suitcase doesn’t feel heavy. It feels light.”

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