I like to say that the most difficult thing about going to the gym is GETTING to the gym. However, if you’re new to fitness, you could be hit with another challenge… “What do I do when I get there?!?”
With the multitude of tools and equipment around your typical gym, it’s easy to get lost in the ether. In this article, I’m going to give you notes on how to make your time at the gym worthwhile and effective - even if you’re fresh out of the box.
STEP ONE: ”The Warm Up”
This can be done on a treadmill, jump rope, elliptical machine, ergonomic rower (“ERG”), stationary bike or some other form of cardio - about 5 minutes one one of these machines should suffice. The goal is to get your heart rate up and warm up your tissues so they respond better to the next step - stretching and movement preparation.
STEP TWO: “Stretching and Movement Prep”
Here, we can be a little creative because there are a variety of ways to stretch. You’re free to use a static or dynamic stretch (like PNF or ballistic stretching) but I always recommend stretching a little bit of everything and focusing a lot on a just a few muscles. The same as when you go in for a massage - some things need more attention than others. Think of it like the 80/20 rule - “80% of the work should be done by 20% of the workers”. In this case, if you’re focus for the day is on lower body exercises… stretch the quads, glutes, hamstrings, etc. for the majority of the time but be sure to hit the pecs, back, shoulders, and so on as well. Example:
* In a 5 minute stretching session, you can work on the lower body for about 3-4 minutes while stretching the rest of the body for the remaining time (approx. 1-2 minutes)
TOOLS FOR STRETCHING…
Lets take a look the tools at your disposal for making an effective stretch.
* Foam Roller: a foam log used to massage the body by either rolling it over your body while on top of it or laying on it for pressure
* Lacrosse ball: a firm, rubber ball used in sport but may be used to target muscles, like the pecs and low back muscles.
* Note: this may be supplemented by either using a tennis ball or racquet ball for less pressure
* Double lacrosse ball: two lacrosse balls tied together either by manufacture or by use of tape, designed for more control when placing it along the length of a target muscle. By design, this is absolutely ideal for targeting the muscles along the sides of your spine.
* Note: may also be known as a “mobility peanut”
* Strap: This is a firm, cloth strap with a loop at the end for securing apart of your body. Consider this an extension of yourself when you cannot reach part of your body, like your foot when stretching out the hamstrings.
Note that I didn’t mention any SPECIFIC stretches. There are signs and posters at most gyms to give examples for different stretches. There’s no black and white rules to this but a rule of thumb is: “If it feels like a good stretch and doesn’t compromise the body (or increase risk of injury), then it’s a good stretch”. But just in case… To the right is a beginners guide to stretching, complete with transparent complexion and skin-toned tank tops…
For static stretches on specific muscles, hold them up to 2 minutes, breathing deep and attempting greater depth in the stretch as you go.
STEP THREE: “Exercise”
The moment you’ve all been waiting for.
If this is your first time at the gym, stick with machines. I’m a huge proponent of barbells, dumb bells, kettle bells, TRX and olympic rings… but, we need to crawl before we run. The machines are safe, secure and almost fool proof. The smith machine (below) is a lockable barbell put on a track so you can still do barbell work with a safety net.
Every machine should have a crudely drawn figure of a guy using that machine - both in a start position and the end position. The muscle you’re focusing on is usually in a different color to stand out - often the color red. But, also, sometimes maroon, scarlet, carmine and vermillion… You get it. It’s red.
PROGRAM: Getting to your goals
What are your goals? Where do you want to be and by what date? Do you have a goal with a deadline? These factors determine exactly HOW you’re going to exercise. Day one, exercise one… We’re doing 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions. That means you will perform 12-15 repetitions of that exercise, rest for up to 1 minute, then repeat that process for a total of 3 sets. You’ll adjust the weight as you progress between sets and exercises in the future. Some fatigue or soreness should be settling in by the 12th repetition and you should be able to complete the last set of each exercise with some difficulty but not compromising form. More on that in another article…
COOLDOWN: Wrapping up your workout
Get back to the stretching and let that blood flow, baby. Often times, you can induce a lot more soreness that you need to after a workout (See: “DOMS”). This can be because of a lack of hydration, poor supplementation, or even because, after all that stress you put on the body, you didn’t give it some TLC. Stretch those muscles again, drink a recovery beverage (BCAAS, some carbs to replenish your storage, protein shake) and maybe throw in a contrast bath to make things interesting.
EXTRA CREDIT: Going above and beyond the call to fitness
To get the most out of your workout, get a deep tissue massage to help loosen the tight muscles that even stretching or foam rolling couldn’t get to. Spend some time in an infrared sauna to boost circulation and increase relief from sore muscles and joint pain or at in a cryotherapy tank to decrease inflammation. Get with a nutritionist to find out what would be the best diet plan would be to get to your goals.
At the end of the day…
You started coming to the gym with a purpose. Spoiler alert: So did everyone else at your gym. Half the time, no one even notices you’re there so don’t worry about what they’re thinking about you or what they’re doing. Whether it’s to improve your general health or look better in a bikini, you’re welcome at the gym. It’s not a place for egos, but a lab to improve your vessel. Cheers to starting your journey, gang. I’m proud of you for taking the most important step in that journey - starting.