By: Matt Weik
For those just starting their fitness journey, it’s going to be just that—a journey. Your path isn’t going to be a straight line, in fact, it’ll be like putting a crayon in the hands of a 2-year-old and asking them to draw a line from one side of the paper to the other—the line is everything but straight. Just like with life, there are no guarantees that everything will go as planned, and you can’t get frustrated. Part of the fun is figuring out what works for you as an individual, because there is no manual for fitness that works for everyone. And for those reasons, here are some tips to get you started on your journey and to ensure that stay on track for the long haul.
Be sure to warm up properly
If you want to maximize your time and results in the gym, you need to make sure your body is properly warmed up. Jumping right into a workout without doing so will increase your risk of injury. There’s nothing more deflating than starting off on your fitness journey and getting injured right away. It will totally deflate your balloon and the chances of you jumping back on the horse after that are slim.
To warm up properly, find a piece of cardio equipment such as a bike, treadmill, or elliptical and go at a low-intensity for 5-10 minutes. Again, this isn’t a cardiovascular workout or a time to focus on burning calories—that comes later. This warm up is a way for your muscles to warm up, get loose, and get the blood flowing into your muscles.
After your low-intensity cardio warm up, decide what body parts you will work during your workout and you’ll need to warm those muscle groups up. To do so, complete 2-3 sets using a light weight that you can lift for around 15-20 reps to really pull the blood into the working muscle groups. It’s more important to feel the weight and get the blood flowing into those muscles than it is to worry about picking up a heavy weight at this point.
Ensure proper form before increasing the weight
Too often egos come into play when someone walks through the doors at the gym. This unfortunately is an easy way to get injured. Make sure you understand how to correctly execute exercises before even thinking about increasing the weight and going heavy. Without proper form, you put yourself at a lot of risk for injury if you are putting your body and muscles into compromising positions.
As a beginner, it’s common for your strength to improve quite quickly. However, don’t add another plate or move up the dumbbell rack without mastering the movement. If you aren’t sure if you’re completing an exercise correctly with proper form, find one of the trainers on site and ask him or her to watch you perform the exercise. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Focus on the contraction
To go along with proper form, you need to make sure you are feeling the contraction on the working muscle. Don’t go so heavy that form is compromised and you’re using other muscle groups to complete the movement. Focus on the contraction. In the fitness industry, we like to call it the “mind muscle connection”. You should feel your muscles fully contracting during each rep by completing the movement nice and slow and controlled. If you are moving too quickly during the movement, there’s a good chance you’re using accessory muscle groups to complete the movement since it’s being forced rather than controlled.
Progression is key
The key to forcing your body to make a change is to constantly be progressing in your lifts and weight. This can be done two different ways—through more reps or through more weight. As an example, let’s use the bench press. Let’s say you’re benching 135 for 10 reps. Your next workout you could push for 12 reps. Then once you hit 12 reps bump the weight up to 145 and try to get at least 8 reps. Then keep going through that progression and keep pushing yourself.
Outlift yourself, not others in the gym
Once you have some time under your belt in the gym and are gaining strength, it’s common to look at others lifting around you and want to show them up by lifting more than they are. Refrain from doing this! You are not there to compete against anyone other than yourself. This isn’t a powerlifting meet. There’s no need to pound your chest and establish dominance over anyone in the gym. You are all there for the same reason—to improve your health and fitness levels. Worry about you and the weight you’re about to lift, not what others are moving.
Skip the bodybuilding magazine workouts
I’m not saying they are bad programs, but if you’re just starting out, they aren’t for you. Many of them are specialized programs for novice or advanced lifters. Focus on improving your compound movements before you start worrying about any specialized program for strength or bodybuilding. At this stage, your body simply isn’t ready for that just yet—in due time though, so don’t feel defeated.