Bodyweight exercises are totally sufficient for resistance training, not to mention super convenient and free. But when it comes to reaching some fitness goals, like building bigger muscles and increasing the amount of weight you’re able to lift, you’ll need to add external weight.
If you’ve mastered your favorite bodyweight workouts and are ready to start lifting weights, know that it doesn’t have to be as complicated or intimidating as it seems. The key is starting with the basics and working on the functional movements that apply to most exercises—things like pushing, pulling, squatting, and hip hinging. Once you’ve built a good base, you’ll be able to start increasing the weight you lift from there.
We asked Alyssa Expósito, certified personal trainer in New York City, to put together a lower-body strength workout that’s perfect for a beginner lifter. The workout below has only four exercises, all of which you’ll notice (as you start exploring more strength workouts) pop up in one way or another in many routines. There’s a reason for that: They’re simple, they work, and they can be made more challenging by adding weight as you start to get stronger and more comfortable with the movements.
While the exercises in this workout primarily target muscles in your lower body, specifically focusing on hip hinging and squatting movements, they also “focus on the integrity and engagement of the core,” Expósito says. “These movements provide an increase in strength and stabilization and challenge the body to move in a different plane of motion.” All of these are important movement patterns to master so you can move efficiently both in the gym and throughout everyday life.
If you’re looking for a full-body workout, Expósito suggests picking two exercises from the workout below and combining them with two exercises from this upper-body workout for beginner weight lifters. “These movements are designed so you can select two from each category to mix and match and have an array of routines,” she says.
Before getting started, make sure to start with a quick dynamic warm-up to prep your body for the work ahead. If you need an idea, here’s a five-minute one you can try. Expósito notes that she likes using resistance bands to “wake up” the muscles in her glutes and hamstrings. “I typically slide it through my feet and above my ankles for monster walks, lateral walks, and backwards walks.” You can find those type of warm-up moves here.
Demoing the moves is April Nicole Henry, a strength athlete, mother, and wife who was born and raised in New York. Henry started her fitness journey about 10 years ago after giving birth to her daughter and soon after, discovered powerlifting. She wanted to be able to do amazing things with her body and figured that training to pick up super heavy weights was a good place to start. She now has competed in three powerlifting meets and recently brought home her first gold medal.
What you’ll need: One set of dumbbells.
Expósito suggests picking a weight that is challenging, but not so heavy you can’t maintain proper form. A good benchmark is to choose a weight with which you can do 15 good reps, but probably no more.
- Eccentric goblet squat—12 reps
- Good morning—12 reps
- Lateral lunge—12 reps each side
- Glute bridge—12 reps
- Do 3 sets.
Here’s how to do each move:
1. Eccentric Goblet Squat
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out. Hold a dumbbell at your chest, with both hands gripping one end. This is the starting position.
- Bend your knees and push your hips back as you lower into a squat. Think about keeping the majority of your weight in your heels to better activate your glutes and hamstrings.
- Drive through your heels to return to standing and squeeze your glutes at the top. That’s 1 rep.
- Do 12 reps.
2. Good Morning
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding one dumbbell horizontally at your chest. Crisscross your arms to hold it more securely. This is the starting position.
- Keeping a soft bend in your knees, hinge forward at the hips and push your butt back as you fold your torso forward. Stop when your torso is just above parallel to the floor.
- Drive your hips forward as you lift your torso back up and return to the starting position. Squeeze your glutes at the top. This is 1 rep.
- Do 12 reps.
3. Lateral Lunge
- Stand with your feet together, holding a dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides.
- Take a big step (about 2 feet) out to the right. When your foot touches the floor, hinge forward at the hips, push your butt back, and bend your right knee to lower into a lunge. The weights should frame your right knee, and your left leg should be straight.
- Pause for a second, and then push off your right leg to return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other leg. That’s 1 rep.
- Do 12 reps.
4. Glute Bridge
- Lie on your back with your hands at your sides, knees bent, and feet flat on floor hip-width apart.
- Squeeze your glutes and abs and push through your heels to lift your hips a few inches off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Pause and squeeze your glutes at the top, then slowly lower your hips to return to the starting position. This is 1 rep.
- Do 12 reps.