In this part of the How To Start Working Out series we are going specifically into how to start working out at a gym. There are a few key things you should know and the first is how to pick the right gym for you.
Here we go…
If you have never been to a gym, at first one may seem as good as the next. If you have been working out for some time, you probably already have a good idea of what to look for. Here are some of the things that you may want to take into account.
Atmosphere-I like to train hard and fast. At gyms where there are a lot of first timers, things can get frustrating. It’s not their fault; it’s just that a lot of people that are new to the iron game are not aware of the unwritten gym protocol. They rest on benches reading between sets and sip coffee while holding up machines with long rest periods. The opposite is true if you’re just starting out. A hardcore gym may make you feel a little intimidated. Find a gym where you feel comfortable (usually you can try a gym for free for a couple workouts). The main thing is that you look forward to going because you like the place and the people.
Gear – This doesn’t mean all the new sparkly machines and chrome dumbbells. What you need is a gym that has plenty of cardio machines and enough gear available at the time of day you have chosen to work out. Look to make sure the gear is well maintained. No frayed cables, loose dumbbells or bent bars. The state of the gear in a gym can say a lot about the professionalism of the management and what to expect from customer service.
Cost – Most gyms charge an initiation fee and then a set monthly fee for the full term of your membership. Simple is good. Don’t get talked into a gym on your first visit unless you know for sure it’s really what you want and like. Some of the sales people can be real smooth!
Location – Make sure the gym is a reasonable distance from your home. If the gym is out of the way, you probably will miss a lot of workouts no matter how nice it is. In the beginning any excuse is a good excuse not to go! It’s best not to allow yourself any wiggle room in the beginning. I would usually take location over atmosphere or gear. If you don’t go, you won’t get fit! Make sure there is enough parking. It’s not a big deal, because even if you have to walk, you are there to exercise after all.
Change rooms – This really depends on your level of demands and your lifestyle. To me, all you need is lockers, showers, toilets and that’s about it! The bottom line is clean! Change rooms can be gross and even if you’re hardcore, germs are still bad! You may want towel service or a steam room but these are not necessary and will drive up your monthly fee.
Food! – Not a big deal, but a juice bar is great if you’re on the run a lot. Its great to be able to finish you workout, have a shake and carry on with your day. The juice bar is also a great place to chat with friends and catch up on what’s going on. It’s a much better place to have a conversation than on the gym floor while people are waiting to use the equipment!
Should I hire a personal trainer?
It depends on your finances, how quick you want to achieve your goals and your level of motivation and dedication.
I know personal trainers can be expensive. The usual fee is anywhere from $35-$125/session, which is usually about an hour, depending on the circumstance and the depth of the routine and package. So the question is “why hire a personal trainer?” In one word: efficiency. A personal trainer will get you to where you want to be in the shortest possible time. How do they do that? Well most of the trainers have been on the scene for a while and know the ins and the outs of this working out thing much better than you do. Like anything you want to succeed at, it’s always best to copy somebody who is already where you want to be. Why? Because they already have it all figured out. Let’s look at a few of the most obvious ways that a trainer can save you time and frustration.
Exercise technique – Sometimes the pictures in the magazines are a little abstract and can leave some question to the finer points of an exercise. I can tell you from experience that unless you’re doing the exercise right and are feeling it in the right areas, your results will be dismal.
Time off due to injury – This is close to number one. When you move a weight in unaccustomed plains of movement, you have to do it right. It is almost painful to watch some of the exercises people think they are doing right in the weight room. Inside I know it’s only a matter of time before they have to push aside their goals and stay out of the gym in order to heal an injury caused by lack of knowledge or technique.
Proper program – So you have the proper technique, great. You feel it where you’re supposed to, awesome. Now you must know if you’re on the right overall program to reach your individual goals. Are you in the right set and rep range? Are you using enough weight? How frequently are you training? Part of a proper program is your diet. This is where I find that most people need a lot of help. One of the greatest things a trainer can do is pull all aspects of the “fitness approach” together. Then, to lay it all out for you in an easy to follow program of diet and exercise.
Commitment and motivation – Your trainer is going to be there and you are paying him whether you show up or not! Just knowing that someone’s there waiting for you and that the time is scheduled in, is a great help to keep you on track. The other thing trainers do is motivate. Trainers aren’t all about grunting and yelling. My clients have a personal side that sometimes needs attention too. My clients need to know that when they are down, I’ll do my best to have them “up” by the end of the workout. They need to know that when everything else is crap, there is someone they know who will always push them to be their personal best every time we meet.
These are the things that come to my mind and are the roles that I fill on a daily basis. The bottom line is that personal trainers are your gym teacher, guidance counselor, shrink and best friend all rolled into one. The mind, the body and the spirit are all things that the personal trainer can help you with on your path to true physical fitness.
How to pick a personal trainer for you
This is a great question, but a little hard to answer. Picking a personal trainer is like dating in a way. You both have to jive and also enjoy the company of each other. I like to push my clients to their personal limits. Now that doesn’t mean Mr. Olympia workouts all the time, but I want them to work as hard as they are capable of on any given day. Some clients I have run into only want the status of saying that they have a personal trainer and never give their all or try hard to reach any personal goals. In this case, I would be the wrong trainer for this person.
Personalities also have to match. You have to like and have a certain “respect” for your trainer if you are going to listen to and do all the challenging things they thinks of! Obviously your trainer should have the qualifications to provide you with the information you need to reach your goals. Lastly and this is just my opinion, I think your trainer should walk the walk. I never ask my clients to do anything that have not done or have experienced myself. I feel that they have to know something is possible to be able to achieve it themselves. I like to be able to provide the resources needed from personal experience and it helps to have experienced the obstacles first hand.
I think it’s great if you can find a trainer that will sign you up for 1-3 sessions with the understanding that this new “relationship” is on a trial basis. That way you don’t get stuck with some shmuck that looked great at first but really has the skills of a cucumber when it comes to getting results for you.
What’s in the gym bag?
What do I need to buy before I hit the gym? Nothing. If you are healthy and don’t have any specific joint problems or injuries, anything you buy is just for convenience, pure luxury. I’ll explain later what all those gadgets are for but just remember, any time you use something to assist you or to make life easier, you will usually develop a weakness in that area when you are not using the device. If you lift “bare” when you first start out and tough out the sore forearms and fatigued back, these weaker areas will come up to speed in time and soon you will only feel the target muscle working and not the little guys. Here is a list of some gadgets and what they do.
A Weight Lifting Belt – Used to support the lower back during overhead lifting and other heavy compound movements. Some people develop a dependency on the belt and don’t do a single lift without it. All this does is ignore the problem of weak stabilizer muscles, while continuing to develop the main target muscle. The time to use a belt is when you are attempting a heavier weight than usual and venturing into uncharted territory. The other is if you have an injury to the lower back, although, in this case I would suggest going lighter until the injured area is brought up to speed. If you always rely on the belt your lower back will never be able to acquire the strength that it needs.
Knee and wrist wraps – These are elastic type bands that are wrapped around the joint to provide stability. This again is the same type of deal as above.
Weight Lifting Gloves – Gloves are good if you find that your sweat prevents you from being able to grasp the bar for the duration of the set. The other reason for gloves is if you have an aversion to calluses.
Lifting straps – I am kind of divided on this one. Lifting straps go around your wrists and then you wrap the remaining material around the bar affording you a much stronger grip. So of course if you use them all the time you never get a strong grip. Eventually though, the power of your back can jump ahead of your grip. The last thing you want to do is train your back at sub-optimal levels because of a lack of grip. So, what to do? Train as much as you can without them and only put them on for the top end heaviest sets. Every once in a while attempt to do the set without them and if you can make it through, ditch the wraps until they are needed again.
Lifting chalk – O.k., so this is one thing that I like. Chalk absorbs your sweat when you put it on your hands so the bar isn’t so slippery. I will always use chalk before I use wraps. That way I still get the gripping power but the slipperiness of the bar is gone. Some gyms do not allow chalk, so make sure you check the rules.
Your tunes – Most gyms you go into usually won’t play the music you listen to, so bring your own. Music that you enjoy can change your mood and get you pumping with more intensity. The other benefit of listening to tunes is that most people will not stop you in order to talk up a storm if you are going to have to take off your headphones. This way you can keep up your training pace and not get caught up in someone else’s social outing and hinder your training effect.
I use these bluetooth headphones so that the wire doesn’t ever get in the way.
Shin pads – I have never personally seen anyone else use these but me. Maybe I have actually pioneered something, which would be cool. I use the shin pads during deadlifts so that I don’t loose the skin off the front of my shins. Again, not needed but something that I like to use.
Stop watch – This is a good one because once you start to get tired, your rest periods will probably get longer than they should be. With a little watch, you can time your rest periods and keep the training pace honest and fast.
Training journal – This is one thing you must have! It is so important to keep a record of everything you do in the gym. Memory fails and you have to know how much you did last time in order to make continual upward progress. It’s also good because when you have an exceptional day you can look back and see what variables contributed to such a great workout and therefore you will be able to replicate it again. I record everything. What day I start certain supplements and if they worked or not. What music I listened to. How I felt. You name it, if it has an effect on your training then you should keep note of it. Every time you repeat a workout, you should look back to the last time you performed the same workout. During today’s workout, you want to add weight, add reps or decrease your rest periods. This way, your workout will be more intense than the last. This is the whole secret to success. Constant improvement.
5 Things To Do Before You Start Working Out At The Gym
Well, if you are like me the first time you shelled out some money for a routine, you’re biting at the bit to see if this stuff is actually going to work. It will. Guaranteed. I have trained many people using the exact same stuff I am showing you now and they have all done very well. Having said that, you’re probably even more pumped to get going! First, there are a couple of things I would like you to do before you even step foot into the gym, these will pay great dividends for you later.
Body fat check – Most gyms will do this for you, and some will do it for free. If you can’t get a gym to do it and you don’t want to pay a trainer to do it, then you can buy devices at fitness stores that will take a measurement for you like this one. Some of these are more accurate than others but at least you will have an idea of where your starting point is. The reason you want to do this is because you can lose weight but it might be muscle and you don’t want that because then you will do the yo-yo and end up with more fat then before! Also, sometimes people gain weight and freak out. If you check your body fat and your percentage has gone down then your weight gain has been muscle and you should be stoked because now you will have a better shape and a higher metabolism. Scales are o.k., but they don’t tell you where the change in bodyweight came from so keep that in mind.
Measure your body parts – Get a plain old tape that a seamstress would use (not a carpenters tape or duct tape!) and get measurements for all your body parts. Make little notes as to what side of the body it was and if you can find a land mark like a freckle or scar then you will be more accurate when you come back to do it again. You want to do this because then you will know if a body part responds quickly (and you can be excited) or if you may need to put more effort into a body part that is lagging (in this case, cash in on that determination!).
The bottom line is that if you don’t do these two things, you won’t be able to appreciate the differences you have caused to your body. On those low days when motivation wanes, you can look at what you have accomplished already and get your butt to the gym.
Buy Your Food And House Clean – If it is there, you will eat it. Therefore, get rid of the bad stuff around the house and go buy a bunch of good stuff. The difference between what to eat and what not to eat is as simple as this; “If it was made by man, then it’s banned. If it came in a wrapper, it will make you fatter!” Make your foods from natural sources. You can eat it if it grew, walked, swam or flew.
Have a clear goal – Lifting weights and watching your food intake is not without its trials. When you do anything that takes you out of your comfort zone, you had better have a good reason why you are doing it. In order to do your best at anything you really have to want it. You must have something that will drive you when your motivation wanes.
Believe – Have you ever gotten ready for something and had that feeling that no matter what happens you are going to succeed at it? What happened? You probably got what you wanted right? Well, the same thing applies here. The body cannot achieve anything that the mind thinks is impossible. Did you know that when people under hypnosis touched an ice cube that they were told was a hot piece of steel they actually developed a blister? This just goes to show the power of belief and that whether you think you can or can’t, you are going to be right! “As a man thinketh so shall he be!”
In the next article on how to start working out at the gym, we’ll discuss the specifics of sets, reps, loading patterns and the actual first routine.