I've been training for over 20 years.
I've worked professionally in the fitness industry for nearly as long.
Over that time, I've been in a lot of gyms and watched a lot of people work out.
I believe that success and consistency in training (or lack thereof) can be boiled down to a few key points. If you're considering joining a gym or health club in your area, or considering "giving up" on training due to frustration or lack of progress, consider this an open letter.
Here are five things I wish I could tell every gym-goer.
1. Everyone Is Not Staring At You
I know there are a lot of people at the gym and that it can sometimes feel like all eyes are on you. But I promise you, people are not focusing on you nearly as much as you think. People come to the gym to train, and that is what they're focused on.
You don't need to be concerned about what they think. They may give you a glance or nod, but they are there for their own purpose.
Don't be offended by that, either. It isn't that you don't matter. You do, but they are there for their own reasons—just like you are.
2. Don't Try to Impress People
Since people aren't concerned with what you're doing, you shouldn't feel the need to impress them or care about what they think.
You need to be more focused on what you need to do for yourself.
What's on your training to-do list? What's going to help you improve? Trying to set a personal record solely to impress the big guy or attractive lady is a recipe for disaster. At the end of the day, what they think doesn't matter. You need to worry about doing what's right for you. Don't play copycat!
Good training is simple, but that doesn't mean everyone is on the same routine. This is why coming into the gym with a training plan is so important. When you don't have a plan, you procrastinate and do stuff you shouldn't do. Find a good plan for you, know what each exercise requires before you start the workout, and go get the job done.
3. You'll Never Regret a Warm-Up
As for the workout itself, I have seen so many people injure themselves or miss moments that could be progressive because they didn't prepare properly. They think they can touch their toes a couple times and get right to lifting heavy weights. Sure, I guess that "saves time," but it also decreases your performance and increases your odds of injury.
You should take at least 10-15 minutes to warm-up. Do five minutes of light cardio (like riding a stationary bike) to get your heart rate up, do some dynamic stretching (such as the World's Greatest Stretch), and then go through a few sets of what will be your first exercise with lighter weight. This will help the muscles, mind and joints prepare for the serious work that follows.
4. Make Each Rep Count
A common gym misconception is that the more reps you do, the better.
Not true. What matters more is how you execute each rep and the amount of effort needed to perform each rep. You need to make sure you practice proper form so the muscle works to the best of its ability. You also need to concentrate on the speed of each rep. Unless you're doing some form of explosive training, you need to take your time when lifting and lowering the weight.
And you also need to use the right weight. If you're supposed to do eight reps but the weight is so heavy you can only do five, that's a mistake. Same goes for if the weight is so light that you could realistically do 20 reps but you just stop at eight. A good general rule of thumb is to train with two "reps in reserve", meaning you end each set feeling like you probably could've squeezed out two more reps if you really had to, but nothing more than that.
Quality reps is far more important than the quantity of reps you do. There are group fitness classes where you'll literally do hundreds upon hundreds of reps in an hour, but they're almost entirely of very low quality.
5. Be Responsible & Respectful
As a former gym manager, I know the importance of this last one.
Not replacing the weights you use, not wiping down surfaces you leave covered in sweat, hogging equipment by sitting on your phone for 10 minutes between sets—if you're acting like a jerk in the gym, people will notice. This is not the type of attention you want; it may even get your membership cancelled.
So please be considerate of others in the gym. Put the weights back where they belong when you're finished, wipe the equipment when you're done, and don't invade someone's space or take something when it's being used. The gym is a small community and like any other community, it's better to be a positive influence than a negative one. If you walk into a gym and are constantly greeted by friendly faces, you're a lot more likely to stick with it.
Photo Credit: monkeybusinessimages/iStock
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