If it's your first time back in the gym in a while for whatever reason, it’s almost going to be like a reset for many of you. If you've been working out at home for a while, getting to workout around actual weights can be especially exciting after month off. While the excitement is good and can give you the seemingly rare and precious "oomph" you need, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind so that you don’t injure yourself.
- Don’t run around like a kid in a candy store.
Stick to a few key exercises, just like when you were at home and limited with the number of movements you could do. You might have noticed yourself getting tonnes better at pushups? Well that’s because you weren’t getting distracted by all the equipment providing opportunities to do 20 other different pushing movements.
What you’d be even better off doing is finding ways to use the gym to add weight to the same movements you’ve been training so successfully at home. These movements are now very well “rehearsed” and you have an opportunity to build strength in them in a different rep-range. What this means is that pushups now become machine-guided presses. Banded rows can be substituted with cable rows. The water bottle on your bicep can be swapped for a heavier dumbbell. You can load squats or split squats with a dumbbell or barbell. Now this might not sound all that exciting but, unfortunately, in the gym, boring is the key.
- Pay attention to progress. You have been either using your own bodyweight or a small selection of weights, and while your body wasn’t changing in weight (hopefully), you had little choice but to focus on increasing the number of reps you could do with that weight. The same applies in the gym. Write down which weights you use for each exercise and track your progression with reps. Set a target to hit before moving up a weight and starting the process again.
Also, don’t start at your maximum weight capabilities - that’s not how any good coach would design your program. Give yourself room to make improvement, starting well clear of failure and building towards it over time. See our article “How Personal Trainers Build Muscle” for more information on program variables and design.
- Prioritise convenience. If you suddenly found yourself exercising more often, there were two factors at play:
1) you were just bored, or 2) you had removed the barrier to entry which was the difficulty of finding time to get to the gym. Assess where your gym was located.
Was it a membership from nearby your old office/home and it’s no longer ideal for you? Cancel that membership and register at the one nearest to your home.
Is the process of leaving your house to go to the gym difficult irregardless? Start training in your condo gym or even invest the coming year’s membership costs in improving your home setup.
- The X-factor. There’s actually a third factor not mentioned above – the human aspect. If you found yourself tuning into group classes online with your friends 3 times as often as you ever worked out before, then it looks like you’re just a social bunny. Find a friend you can go to the gym with and keep each other accountable for attendance. Or find a handful of exercises that everyone is comfortable executing and track your progress as a group to make things competitive
- Dawdling - 1.5hr sessions, chatting with mates, scrolling and swapping on your phone; many people found joy in the aforementioned convenience because they were able to train more frequently in the week, and as a result not as intensely on the days they are in the gym. There’s a tricky balance to strike with training frequency, that arguably only a coach can really help you individualise. Many people include far too much volume in a single session because they’re trying to make up for the fact that they haven’t been in a week. With many gyms now only allowing a maximum of 1hr sessions per person, don’t waste time working out what random stuff you’re going to do and having a chin-wag catch up. Schedule a post-workout shake with your iron-pals afterwards: get in, and get out.
- For the general, gym-going population - looking to stay healthy on a blood report, to have the cardiovascular ability to jog to the bus, and strong enough to carry a ridiculous Lazada order upstairs - the key is movement under moderate resistance and doing so regularly, with a few select sets in movements they have mastered being close to their limit.
If your personality or lifestyle makes it very difficult for you to find the motivation to push yourself to get to the gym and then push yourself once you’re there - booking a session with a personal trainer will strongly encourage you to show up, and your coach will keep you accountable during and between sessions.
And it goes without saying, practice safe measures in the gym to keep yourself and others safe. Happy working out!