Starting and continuing your fitness journey can be extremely difficult; the gym is intimidating, it’s hard to stay motivated, and hiring a trainer or taking classes is costly. As an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and group fitness instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder, I know more about exercising than most people. While there is no wrong way to approach fitness (I tell clients as long as they are moving they’re doing something right), there are some things which can not only make the gym less mysterious, but also hopefully help you enjoy working out.
Everyone struggles with motivation, the spotlight effect, and loneliness in the gym. Even after years in the weight room, I wish I had a workout buddy not only to motivate me but to teach me new movements. So, I believe all beginners should take advantage of their resources: there are countless instructors, trainers, and teachers whose passion is helping people begin their fitness journey. Do not be afraid to ask for help, hire a trainer, or speak with a dietitian. There is no shame in not feeling comfortable or knowledgable about working out.
- Weights Are Your Friend.
Contrary to popular belief, lifting weights, especially as a female, will not make you too masculine or bulky. It takes a specific diet, lots of heavy lifting, and sometimes even supplements or steroids to look like athletes like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Simone Biles.
Bulking aside, resistance training is sometimes more productive than cardio. While I don’t know if there’s a better whole body workout than running or swimming, most of the programs I create for clients are based around lifting weights. Some of the main benefits of working out with weights include toning, weight loss, and preventing bone or tendon injuries. A resistance workout often can burn more calories than running for the same amount of time. When I lift weights I find myself more out of breath than when I teach a cycle class or go for a run.
Don’t be afraid to pick up some weights, count your reps, and get ripped. Being strong is so sexy.
- You Don’t Need To Do Sit Ups To Have A Strong Core.
Another fitness myth is the only way to get abs is to do sit ups. FALSE. Some of the strongest people I know either do ab workouts as a warmup or cool down, (I’m talking 10 minutes a day) or not at all. Outside of when I teach fitness classes, I can’t remember the last time I held a plank or did a crunch.
Instead, realize you can do an “ab workout” within another workout. Yoga challenges your core, lifting weights activates your abs, and cardio can improve abdominal strength. If you focus on sucking your stomach in while doing other movements, almost like you are trying to touch your belly button to your back, you will still have a productive workout.
Because a strong core is so important for injury prevention and success in other movements, I obviously recommend doing ab workouts, but there are ways to become strong other than laying out a mat and holding a plank.
- Less Is More.
Too often people in the gym try to fit as many movements into their workout* as possible. Instead, I strongly recommend repeating 3-4 main movements. By doing less movement instead of more, you can focus on perfecting your form and exhausting your muscles; this will ultimately lead to growth in muscle size and strength. Contrastingly, while doing 6+ movements is still a good total body workout, you will not give specific muscles the chance to feel challenged and you might see less progress.
So, I usually recommend doing 3-4 movements with 4-6 sets of 5-12 reps per movement (click this link to learn more about sets and reps). In simple man’s terms: doing a 4 movement circuit 5 times is going to produce more results in the long run than doing a 10 movement circuit twice. This is because if you push through and do 5 sets of 10 pullups, for example, instead of doing 10 pull ups and moving to a different machine, you are practicing endurance and more likely to strengthen those targeted movements. Below is a workout plan with less movements and more sets which would be great for a shoulder workout.
Bench Press (4 sets of 10 reps)
Overhead Press (4 sets of 10 reps)
Seated Dumbell Fly (4 sets of 10 reps)
Cable Row (4 sets of 10 reps)
- Routine Is Good Until It’s Not.
Finally, while I think it’s important to have a workout routine, sometimes you need to change things up. Working out at the same time each day is wonderful, but doing the same movements can not only become boring and cause you to lose motivation, but also pause your progress. As you continue your fitness journey you must also continue to try new workouts, target new muscles, and “surprise” the muscles. Below are some ways you can diversify your workout program without creating a mundane routine.
- Go to a new workout class once a month
- Manipulate weight, repetitions, and speed so your workout stays challenging and doesn’t become muscle memory
- Incorporate balancing and jumping to your program
- Try working with Bosu balls, TRX bands, resistance bands, weighted vests, and more
- Don’t be afraid to pick up some weights.
- A higher heart rate, more sweat, and more calories burned does not always make for a better workout.
- Your core works in almost every workout so don’t think you have to do sit-ups to activate your abdominal muscles.
- Form is more important than weight or speed.
- It’s better to focus on a few movements per workout instead of doing as many different movements as possible. (aim for 3-4 main movements per workout)
- Mix up your workouts to avoid plateaus in your progress.
* for convenience sake I am referring to an hour long workout