You’re at a point where you think it’s time to start hitting the gym. Maybe you want to get in shape for a holiday, maybe you think it’s time you increased fitness, or maybe you’ve been inspired by transformation photos on Instagram.
Everyone starts somewhere. For me, I was a large teenager, with quite an unhealthy relationship with food. I lost weight by limiting myself to 2 meals a day, but was later struggling to keep the weight off. I’d essentially killed my metabolism, and couldn’t keep up such a low calorie diet long term. Having no nutritional knowledge whatsoever, I couldn’t understand why the weight was coming back on so easily after increasing my calories. I was also in denial over how much I had started to eat again.
I eventually joined a gym in an attempt to find a way to burn more calories. It was quite a shocker at how unfit and weak I was. I remember feeling dizzy with lights in front of my eyes after less than 5 minutes on the cross trainer. I also couldn’t jog for more than a couple of minutes without having to stop. I didn’t really know what I was doing at the gym. I had no knowledge of muscle groups, muscle imbalances etc. I just knew that I wanted to keep my weight down. However, now I had a new challenge – to increase my embarrassingly bad fitness level.
It took me a long time to get my fitness journey right, and to gain enough knowledge to make the most of workouts. I’ve failed and changed direction many times.
Is my next line to say, if you want to hear about my advice, hints and tips, sign up to my Online PT programme? No. Below is a summary of what I’ve learnt through the years. You may find all/ some of this isn’t new, but if it is, hope it helps!
You don’t need a gym – if you just want to improve general fitness, you’d don’t need to fork out for a gym. If you are completely new to an exercise programme, body weight may well be sufficient at first. When this is no longer the case, you can invest in a kettlebell, some resistance bands or a medicine ball (to name just a few options for home equipment). These aren’t overly expensive, and are a one off purchase. At home routines can be found on YouTube, Google etc. Shameless plug – if you subscribe to my mailing list, I send out a free monthly circuit plan that can be done at home.
To improve your fitness, you must shape up your diet – I’ve many times wondered why I couldn’t push past 10 minutes CV when I could complete a 30 minute session just a few days before. You aren’t going to lose fitness after a few days break – if you hit this sort of wall, its most likely down to diet or illness. You need sufficient calories to give you the energy to complete your workouts, but also sufficient nutrition. For example, B vitamins help the body convert the food you eat into glucose (energy).
If you want to shape up, be realistic with your diet – It’s actually quite a shocker how few calories we can burn off during CV. The average 20 minute run isn’t even going to fully burn off a 51gram Mars Bar. Don’t see CV as a way to fix a bad diet. If you’re looking for a leaner figure, CV should compliment a healthy, calorie controlled diet.
If you hire a PT, make sure they give you the right service – I’ve hired a few PTs, and almost all of them basically worked me for the session I paid them for, and that was it. If you get that from a PT, it’s really not good enough. In addition to the session/s you attend, a PT should be looking at your diet, and giving you homework (ie – what to do for your non-PT sessions). Without this, 1 session a week with a PT isn’t going to give you the results you are looking for.
Also watch for how the PT is interacting with you. It sounds hard to believe, but I’ve seen PTs playing on their phone during a client session! A good PT should check your health and injury status before starting a session, be fully focused on you throughout – correcting and/or commending form.
Don’t make it up as you go along – when you first start working out, you’ll want to get a feel for the equipment. However, after this initial introduction, wandering around jumping on free equipment, or doing movements just because you know them can cause you problems long term. For example, a good foundation of core strength is needed to support your back, muscles that work together should be strength balanced to avoid injury. If you’re a member of a gym, they should have experienced and knowledgeable staff who can provide an induction, advice and possibly (depending on the gym) give you an initial programme to follow.
Pushing yourself – If you are completely new to a particular movement, or to exercise in general, then use the first few sessions to get used to exercises – the right form, the equipment, the weights.
Past this point is where it can get tricky. If you push yourself too hard too quickly, or to the point of bad form, you are risking injury. The flip side is if you are not pushing yourself enough, your body will not be forced to adjust and improve. For CV, my general advice here would be to work at a rate of perceived exertion of 7 out of 10. If you ever feel short of breath or dizzy, then slow down immediately. For resistance, select a number of reps that you want to complete. When on the final rep, ensure you are 2 reps away from either losing form or not completing the rep. Stop if you ever feel pain or if you lose form – never push through this.
Rest! I never wanted to rest. I wanted to turn up at the gym everyday and be able to complete exactly what I did the day before – or even more. What happened? I over-trained, and my progress actually regressed. Always allow a day’s rest in-between a particular workout. You can work a different area of the body on subsequent days, but avoid working the same part.
These never seem important, but they are – I never used to warm up, cool down or stretch. What happened? I pulled muscles, found the initial 10 minutes of a CV session massively uncomfortable and got lower back pain via tight glutes and hamstrings. I was lucky enough to never experience blood pooling in my lower body due to lack of a cool down. Always allow time for the warm up, cool down and cool down stretches.
Always have a measurable goal – I have never been as demotivated at the gym as when I have no goal whatsoever. Even worse is a goal I’ve no interest in because it’s something I feel I should do. A goal will help structure what exercise/ movements you do, be something you can measure progress against, and motivate you when you’re finding things tough.
Even after a long and varied experience in fitness – having qualified as a PT, trained for endurance, strength, long distances races, bikini competitions, and working as a judge – I am still learning. Hopefully even just one of the points above can help you on your fitness journey.
If you’re interested in receiving a free monthly circuit training plan, then you can subscribe to my mailing list.
If you want to hear what online personal training can offer you, please feel free to contact me for a no obligation chat/ assessment.
And finally, if you have any questions on anything in this article, or on starting up a fitness programme, feel free to email me.