Going to the gym can be overwhelming sometimes. So many machines, free weights, personal trainers, body builders, fitness instructors…ugh! How do you make sure you are actually making the best out of your time at the gym?
Rather than shying away from the gym altogether, read through my list of common mistakes and misconceptions so you can rise above the anxiety of working out in a public setting and be sure you are maximizing the time you spend there.
Avoid the Cardio Machine Trap!
You walk into the gym, unsure of what to do with all of the equipment, so you jump on the treadmill! “Heck! Those cardio machines are definitely the easiest to figure out how to operate!” The trouble is, unless you are training for some sort of race, where you need to put in the miles, these machines aren’t going to do much for you. If you are trying to build muscle (so you can increase your metabolism and lose fat) chronic cardio is only going to hold you back. Not to mention they are boring! If I had to hang out on a treadmill or elliptical everyday, I wouldn’t be very consistent at the gym either. Next time you’re at the gym, take note of those you see on these machines. Unfortunately, most of the time it’s the same people, year after year, without any significant changes in body composition. If we want our bodies to change, we have to continually challenge it. Adaptation wanes with too much steady state cardio. Instead, use these as a tool during interval training or as a warmup and cool down.
Avoid Too many instructed classes!
As a coach, I cringe when I see gyms offering those “Attend as many classes as possible in a month” challenges. These are structured to improve the gym’s retention rate and has absolutely NOTHING to do with their desire to improve your fitness. Chronic classes, no different than chronic cardio will stall out your changes in body composition. While these classes can be fun, if you are looking to maximize your time in the gym, an hour long class that is simply a more entertaining version of steady state cardio isn’t your best bet. Plus, don’t be fooled by the group classes that tout themselves as “strength training”. Light dumbbells, moved repeatedly to music is not strength training. So if you have been going to the same barre, aerobics or spin class for years, your body is no longer being challenged. Hit the weight room instead and cut your workout time in half!
Try Free Weights instead of machines
If you are not familiar with a weight room, I completely agree free weights can be intimidating! However, free weights will challenge you and allow you to develop far superior strength and lean body mass than machines. Moving a weight freely will allow you to recruit more motor units, giving you more bang for your buck. Additionally, machines often put you into unnatural and non-functional positions and allow you to merely go through the motions rather than challenge your fitness. Have you ever noticed who has the most defined physiques in a gym? Yep…those hanging out in the weight room!
Move through full range of motion
Whether it be with body weight exercises like pull-ups and squats, or weighted movements like bench press and bicep curls, partial range of motion equals partial benefit. Moving through full extension and flexion will improve your functionality as well as avoid shortening of the tendons. Chronically moving your joints through partial range of motion will tightened your joints and put you at increased risk of injury. Plus, there’s nothing sillier than someone cranking out push-ups, squats or pull-ups while moving about 2 inches in each direction;)
Don’t Be afraid to lift heavy
First off, lifting heavy does NOT make you bulky! A crappy diet is the cause of that, period. When it comes to building lean mass (which remember, is how we improve our metabolism and thus lose fat) we need to push the limits on reps and load. Ladies, this is especially important for you! A lot of women shy away from pushing until they can no longer lift the weight and thus do not see the full benefits of weight training. If you are able to lift your dumbbells comfortably until the last rep, you’re not lifting heavy enough.
Another critical factor to pushing the limits in the weight room is avoiding loss of muscle strength with age. While we cannot expect to be as strong in our 80’s and 90’s as we were in our 20’s, we can work to maintain strength. Significant loss of strength leads to loss of quality of life from chronic pain and limited mobility. If you want to age gracefully, hit the weight room with gusto!
Don’t worry, nobody is criticizing you
Our egos can hold us back in so many ways. When we speak about ego, far too often we think of those who are overly proud or boastful. But the fact is, shying away from going to the gym because you feel intimated is yet another form of allowing ego to run your life. The truth is, nobody gets up out of bed each morning to head to the gym to make fun of you! Sorry, you’re just not that important. Truth be known, most people who frequent the gym are encouraging to one another and applaud one another for the hard work being done. Strike up a conversation with someone next time you’re at the gym and you will see this for yourself.
So grab your gym bag, get an intelligent program to follow, get outside your comfort zone and get to work!
Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach/Owner, Creator EML