Summer is right around the corner, and you are starting to wonder how your flabby gut and puny arms will look on the beach. You have no need to fret yet, as you have plenty of time to hit the gym and tone the parts of your body about which you might be feeling insecure. You can do some weight-lifting and be ready for the beach by Memorial Day. But it is not so easy to just start lifting, and you could seriously hurt yourself if you start heavy lifting without preparing yourself first.

If you’re lifting correctly, weight training can provide many health benefits. According to a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health, men who lift weights regularly can significantly decrease their risk of type 2 diabetes. And for women, consistent weightlifting is a great way to combat loss of bone mass and reduce your risk of osteoporosis, according to BodyBuilding.com. According to Women’s Health, research found that 16 weeks of resistance training increased hip bone density and elevated blood levels of osteocalcin — a marker of bone growth — by 19 percent. So while bulging muscles and super strength are some significant byproducts of weightlifting, below the surface health benefits are just another reason to get into this exercise.

It is never a good idea to walk into a gym and start lifting weights without any preparation or background knowledge. Check out these tips to get started with weightlifting, and get your body in shape for the summer.

1. Get familiar.

When you first walk into the gym, take a look at the different machines and free weights that you could use to work out. Livestrong suggests walking through the gym with a trainer or friend who understands weightlifting, and who can help you better understand what each machine does and how to use them properly. It is important to learn what workouts and machines will be most comfortable for you. You may not even want to use weights or a machine – there are plenty of exercise regimens that rely on body weight alone, and that can tone you up all the same.

2. Set a plan.

While it is great that you have the motivation to get into the gym and start lifting weights, “get bigger” is not a good enough plan for your workout on any given day. You should plan to exercise different muscle groups on different days. You will not maximize your workout if you do one lift that works your biceps and then immediately follow with a lift that works out your back muscles. You want to approach each workout with one or two specific muscle groups in mind and then alternate from there. Muscles need rest to build.

3. Prepare your body.

Be sure to hydrate yourself before, during, and after your workout. A good trick is to weigh yourself before and after your workout and drink the difference in water. Warm up your muscles by doing a short bit of cardio and stretching before beginning your weightlifting routine. Focus your stretching on whatever muscles you are planning to work that day.

4. Don’t overdo it.

You are not going to turn into Lou Ferrigno or Ronda Rousey on your first day, so don’t expect to jump right up to lifting multiple plates. Find a weight that is comfortable for you from the start and work your way up from there. By lifting too much weight, you will put unnecessary strain on your muscles, and it could result in injury. If you start to feel a burning sensation during your last few repetitions, that is a sign that you chose a proper weight.

5. Focus on form.

Every exercise requires a different form. Practice a new lift with lower weight until you get the proper form down. Start slowly and build yourself up once you are confident in your ability to lift your goal weight with the proper form. As you lift, you will start to see your strength and endurance rise rapidly. Just don’t try to reach your goals overnight. Getting in shape is always a gradual process. With a set plan and a little motivation, you’ll have a healthier and fitter body in no time.