Starting weight for upper body workout?

  • I realize everyone is different...with that said I need an idea of where to start with a weight to start lifting for upperbody. I am unfit, 51, never lifted. I joined a gym and they started me on weight machines (no doubt they feared I'd hurt myself with free weights) and having me lift about 30lbs 12X, then adding 5 lbs and doing 10X, then add 5 lbs and do 8X. There is no way I could do all that lifting the BFL way with that much weight. I can barely do the machines. So, where to begin? I guess I can just start at 10 and work my way up, but there has to be a better way to know where to begin. I don't really care for the upper body machines. I am short and find them cumbersome. Will appreciate any suggestions.

  • If you don't like the machines, ditch em and go for the free weights. If you've never lifted I would say go for the 5, 7.5 and 10lb dumbbells to start. Work your way up in 2.5lb increments if your gym has those. If you don't think you are hitting that Level 10 by the final 12, go up another 2.5 lbs. You'll figure it out pretty quickly. If you pay attention to your form you're not very likely to get hurt. Obviously if you feel like you are straining, or feel any pain beyond burning in the muscle, STOP immediately. I started on machines and hated them too. Now I do all my workouts, including lower body, with dumbbells. If anything, free weights make you less inclined to hurt yourself because the machine can overstretch your limbs/body, force you into uncomfortable positions or bring a body part through a range of motion that it isn't meant to do.

    I always think of my first 12 and 10 rep sets as a "warm up." Sometimes that means grabbing the 5lb dumbbells, and sometimes if I am toward the end of my workout, that brings out a Level 6 effort which is where you want to be. Don't be afraid to start small. The whole point is to build yourself up over time, not go for it straightaway and then work yourself to death through the rest of the reps (it's called a "high point", not a "high period", for a reason).

    I hope this helps. Good luck!

  • Thank you! Great advice. I started pretty much like you said for lack of being able to do anything higher anyway (but felt like a wimp for starting so low). Thanks for the 'permission' to start low and work up. Sometimes you just need to hear someone besides yourself say it's o.k.=) I felt like I got a lot better work out than I had been with the machines. Control/form was poor...and that in my opinion goes to show the machines weren't helping me with balance, form, etc...They probably weren't made with 5'1" women in mind. Thank you again for sharing your knowledge.

  • I'm a 59yo female and was athletic in much younger years, but very flabby for the past 20 years or so. I started with 3lb dumbells for everything in the first week--this helped me focus on form and learning the exercises. All exercises were too light. So, I used 5lb the second week. Some were still too light, so I added 8lb the 3rd week and then 10lb for 4th week. I perform at least 1 upper and 1 lower routine before increasing weights on the NEXT routine.

    I'm starting week 5, and feel the need to add 15lb and 20lb weights for some exercises. For most high points, I'm now using 10lb, but for some I'm still using 3lb (dumbell lunges and side arm raises...whoa...those are tough but feel sooooo good).

    When I'm doing a workout, I make a note then and there of what weight to use NEXT time--that's when you really know, when you are actually doing it. If it's too light, you know to increase it, and yes, 2.5 to 3 lbs is all the increase should be to avoid injury and not shock your body. I'd rather have a workout be too light and avoid injury than to try to advance too fast, get injured, and be unable to workout.

    Yes, if you pay attention to the body part you are trying to work (e.g. hamstrings) and the second part of the exercise, you don't need to go up in weights as fast as you might think. Focus and make it burn!

  • Happy to help! :) Glad to hear the free weights are treating you better than the machines. I still struggle with form when I am getting to my Level 9 and 10 effort, so don't get discouraged with that.

    Also, dumbbells will do wonders for your core vs machines. My posture has dramatically improved since I started working with dumbbells. Sometimes I do them standing, sometimes sitting on a bench but without leaning against the back rest. It really makes a difference in the long term.

  • Just my own 2 cents...and i'm no expert, but since you've never lifted before, consider sticking with the machines for a week or 2.  using machines does force you into proper form, and i'd hate for you to pull something if you make the switch to free weights and dont really know what youre doing.

  • I did the machines for 4 weeks. They were a good way to get started and get a little strength without breaking a toe;)