I’ve worked in and around many a private/council/corporate gym since I started out in 2008 and my golden rules prevail no matter where I find myself working or training.
1 Warm up
Even if you do just an easy walk on the treadmill, warming up properly can save you weeks or months of missed training sessions due to an injury. Not only does it lubricate your joints, it also gives you heart and lungs the time to prepare for the next hour or so’s worth of hard slog. Your heart and lungs react instantly to exertion, it’s similar to starting your car and then accelerating as fast as possible in first gear without letting it warm up and accelerating carefully through each gear. 5-10 mins is all it takes. A lot of people describe starting and “hitting a wall” after a minute or two where they can’t breathe and it all feels like too much hard work. Building up gradually could help avoid that feeling.
It’s worth noting that if you suffer from heart problems or take medication that affects your blood pressure it’s very important you take an extra few minutes to warm up-usually 10-15mins, and it doesn’t have to be all on the same bit of kit, a 5 min gentle cycle followed by a 5 min gentle walk can still count as a 10 minute warm up as long as you increase the intensity very gradually. Always ask your specialist or a trainer qualified in that field of exercise prescription.
2 Use the RPE- “rate of perceived exertion”
In English–How hard you feel you’re working. This is a great tool for self-pacing, especially if you have a heart condition or other medical condition. Take a look at the scale to the right. I would normally recommend a 7/10 for the main component of a workout. Not so hard that you can’t maintain the intensity-not so easy that you’re not working to your potential. Now, we all have good days where we smash a personal best, but we also can have tired or lazy days where we just don’t have the energy to beast ourselves.
By tuning into how your body feels during your workout, whether it’s a good day or a bad day, you can still feel motivated and pleased with your session. Goals and targets are great but if you don’t hit them one day due to feeling tired it can get you down and put you off going altogether. If you aren’t in the mood to put in some hard slog and you just think “today I will work out for 30 minutes at 7/10” you’ll feel better for it at the end because you will have hit your target for that particular session. Which takes me to my next point:
Many people I come across from day-to-day have the attitude that a “good hard work out” will last 1.5-2 maybe even 3 HOURS. Who really has that much time for the gym? I could not spend that much of my time in there…is it because I spend every working day in one therefore by the end of my shift I feel I need to just get in and out? No! I just couldn’t bare working at an intensity that means I can sustain a 2 hour gym session, what a plod! I like my workouts short, sharp and brutal (like me). No wonder people think they don’t have time for exercise! Working hard to a shorter time limit calls upon training systems such as:
- Tabata: perform an exercise for 20secs with a 10 sec rest, repeat 8 times and move onto the next)
- High intensity interval training (or HITT): one minute sprinting one minute jogging,
- Supersets: perform one exercise followed immediately by a second without a rest in between, it could be two isolation exercises such as tricep dips and tricep kickbacks OR something a bit more cardio-based such as jumping squats and ice-skaters.
- Tri-sets: basically supersetting only with 3 exercises without rest in between.
Good form is the key to any exercise. If you go into a deadlift or squat without good form you may as well call the physiotherapist now because you’re going to do yourself some serious damage. Ask a trainer to check you have the positioning correct! Even personal trainers check each other’s technique. If your wrists are bent, your back is arching and/or you’re using the whole of your body to do one simple movement- chances are you’re doing it wrong. Some exercises require variations on range of movement (bicep 21’s for example) but as a general rule you should be using the full comfortable range of movement for the joint without going so far as to lock the joint out. Leave your ego at the gym door.
We challenge our bodies and basically damage our muscle fibres when we train. We heal when we rest and become stronger and more able to meet physical challenges. Rest is vitally important and without it, we won’t run further or lift heavier. Simple as that. Unless you split your routine into separate muscle groups so when you work one set on one day the ones that are tired and aching are resting. I’d recommend a day’s rest between heavy training days of the same muscle groups. Eat protein to aid muscle repair, vegetables for their anti-inflammatory properties (avocado!!), lay back in the bath or in a sauna and just take a moment to RELAX. Your body will thank you for it.
Oh the bane of many a PT’s existence! Watching people act like cavemen and women in the gym they are so very proud to work in and having to clear up after grown adults. Here are my main bugbears, feel free to comment yours:
- No one needs to hear you grunt or screech, an ample “urgh” or sharp breathing will suffice, seriously, we’re all working just as hard thank you.
- Throwing weights around and crashing machines about do not make you look clever. You just look inexperienced and like you can’t control it because it’s too heavy for you.
- Sitting on a machine doing a billion sets of one exercise because you think you need to be in the gym for two hours just irritates people who are in for a short sharp workout and need the machine, no one likes a machine hog. At least move around and let others play for a while, you’ve got all day anyway it seems!
- If a trainer corrects your technique, please will you just listen. They know what they’re doing and they can see you’re doing it incorrectly…enough so that they’ve felt the need to walk over to you and correct you. You could do yourself some serious damage so please take heed and appreciate that they care enough to help.
- If you’re ill, no one else in the gym wnats to catch it! Stay home and focus on getting better. Sharing in this circumstance is NOT caring!
…is the spice of life! Sticking to one programme for your gym life can be dull, monotonous and even worse non-progressive i.e.-you won’t achieve much from it in the long run. The human body is an amazing thing; people who have lost limbs are able to adapt to cope with the extra work load. So it’s no wonder our bodies can so easily adapt to a short workout routine, right? Change what you’re doing approximately every 6-8 weeks, depending on how regularly you train. You can even try doing your exercises in a different order if you don’t want to replace them completely.
8 Gym Clothing
I’m not saying everyone should be in cropped lycra vests and hot pants; and I know people struggle when it comes to gym attire. Just go for loose, comfortable clothing (t-shirt, tracksuit bottoms and some good quality trainers). It should be common sense really. The amount of people I’ve seen approach the treadmill wearing jeans, sandals, work shoes/boots or even skirts. How on earth do people think they will perform at their best with such restrictive clothing on? Your skin can’t breathe, your body can’t move and the impact can’t be absorbed.
Sub-note: For the ladies:
Speaking of absorption, ladies…please invest in a good sports bra! Our mams move in 3 different directions when we exercise, left to right, up and down, in and out! Plus with the opposing movement of our arms with most exercise, they tend to do alternating figures of 8’s on their side across our chest. Poor things. Ladies of smaller proportion can benefit from a compression sports bra; larger busted ladies like myself however, need individual support for both of your baps and sometimes additional compression as well. Be willing to spend £30+ on a good quality sports bra and save £3000+ on an augmentation and uplift in later life!
My recommended sports bra of choice is the Royce Impact free sports bra. I’d never workout without mine on! It has thick straps and does up via Velcro AND hook & eyes! It’s a high fit so no one gawps at your cleavage and the bust is thick and comfortable. I’ve linked each picture below to amazon if you wish to purchase while/after reading.
9 Cardio and strength
Guys- big muscles will not protect you from heart disease and other problems that come from lacking in physical fitness. Cardio won’t kill you, nor will it shrink your muscles if your precious “guns”.
Ladies- doing weights won’t turn you into Little Miss Muscular. You generally need very little body fat to achieve the muscly look . Also, women generally don’t tend to produce enough testosterone to achieve any massive gains like a lot of men can. However, any muscle gain a woman can achieve will only help burn more calories sitting watching Jeremy Kyle as well as during exercise Win!
Take a few minutes at the end of your workout when you’re muscles are nice and warm to stretch. Not only can it be relaxing and a nice calming cool down, it also helps with posture and therefore performance when you train. Muscular imbalances cause bad technique which can cause injury. Due to our lifestyles we spend a lot of time slouching/sitting in chairs and generally have rounded shoulders, tight hip flexors and tight hamstrings as they just don’t get to use their full range of movement much. Classes such as yoga can help with your flexibility, you needn’t be flexible to start with. I remember my first yoga class I wasn’t expecting a great deal but I was so pleasantly surprised with what I could do, I forgot to focus on what I couldn’t do.
Do you have a rule or must-do when it comes to gym training? What makes you pull your hair out when you’re in the gym? Please do comment below!