Let me start out by saying that I am in no way a professional. Everything I have learned has come from the internet and books, but I am basically obsessed with proper form and learning every new thing that I can about strength training.
It began with running. Okay, that's not true. It began with walking with some running mixed in. Before I knew it, I was running. Then I was at the gym several times a week. I would always run before hitting the weight machines for about 10 minutes. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or why I was doing it. I was extremely scared of the weight room with all of the huge men.
Boyfriend is intimidated by me!
It wasn't until I read this that I really started getting serious about strength training. Her story was very similar to mine, and yet, she had the body that I wanted. Yes, I began my obsession with lifting for pure vanity reasons. But as I continued on my educational journey, I found out just how important strength training is for women. We are meant to pick up heavy things. (Remember, "heavy" is totally relative to you and your own personal abilities).
I knew I wanted to get away from the machines. Machines are good for certain things, but to get real results and the best bang for you buck, so to speak, free weights are where it's at. I began by buying a book. The New Rules of Lifting for Women, to be exact. This gave me a foundation of free weight exercises. It has a program in it, but I never really followed it. I looked up each exercise on Bodybuilding.com and made sure I had my form down. That is the key to picking up heavy things.
I knew that I wanted to train for looks, rather than strength. I began researching programs to follow, but realized none of them really fit exactly what I wanted. So, I created my own routine that I have changed every three months or so. I focus on one part of my body each day: shoulders, legs, chest/triceps, and back/biceps. I researched (mostly on bodybuilding.com, I'll be honest) exercises that are for each specific part of my body. If I didn't know how to do the lift, I googled it. Bodybuilding.com has many, many, many programs that you can follow if you enjoy following a strict schedule. Otherwise, you can search exactly what part you want to workout, and they will give you a bazillion and one exercises to do. It's a really fantastic resource.
My biggest piece of advice is to find a program (or piece together your own) that you know you will stick with. Don't be afraid to go into the weight room with a piece of paper or notepad with the lifts on it. When I first started, I had to draw stick figure pictures of how to do the lifts to remind myself. Don't be intimidated by the men in there! Most of them have no clue what they are doing either.
This was almost exactly a year ago. Time goes too fast.
I really hope this helped! Feel free to ask any more questions. I can only tell you what I did and what worked for me, but I love getting people into lifting. Some day, I hope to get my personal training certification. For now, I will stick to getting my teaching credential.