Let’s be real. Getting into the gym can be tough. There’s time commitments, financial commitments, dieting commitments, motivational commitments, etc. Even the effort it takes to simply move the weights or sweat it out on the treadmill is a huge consideration to make. But, once you’ve gotten yourself to a place mentally where you’re ready for all the effort, now what?
I couldn’t tell you the number of people I’ve seen firsthand that just float around the gym, aimlessly moving from machine to machine without an actual sense of purpose. Is that to say they’re wasting their time? Well, no, not quite. But are they making the most of the time they’re putting in? Absolutely not. Would an Army General march into battle without a plan? Would a coach in the Super Bowl wake up on game day and say to himself, “Meh, let’s just WING IT!”. Not a chance!
Proper preparation is just as critical an ingredient as any other element when committing to a fitness regimen. Here are six things to consider before you hit PLAY on your Gym-Time Playlist:
So, what do you want to do? Lose weight? Put on muscle? This first step is critical because your GOALS are what set the pace for the routine to follow. Figure out what’s most important to you, set your sights on it, and build a routine to help you achieve it.
There’s any number of available big box gyms at just about every corner of town nowadays. Take a tour of a few and take note of the amenities available (this is ALL a matter of preference). Can you justify the cost for a higher-dollar membership to a luxury location with saunas and masseurs on staff? Or do you simply need a warehouse with weights and benches and no A/C?
An often-overlooked area of fitness is proper equipment and clothing. Find something comfortable that allows for maximum breathability and flexibility. Ill-fitting garments can restrict movement, blood-flow, and range of motion. Gloves can be a lifesaver (or at least a hand saver) when doing body-weight movements from a high-bar, or most any barbell work in general. Grab knee or elbow pads if joint comfort and support is something you know you need as well. Try and grab a stopwatch if your watch or phone doesn’t have one so you can time your sets and rests too.
Ok, so you’ve made it this far, and you’re ready to kick off your new routine Monday morning, but the fridge is full of soda and left-over birthday cake. The pantry has four rolled-up bags of chips and popcorn and sugary cereals. Time to PURGE your food stores and replace sugary snacks with fresh produce, lean proteins, and healthy alternatives. Set yourself up for success on ALL fronts.
The routine itself is instrumental in sculpting whatever physique it is that you’ve set out to achieve. Just doing three sets of 10 on whatever machines are available is a dated, antiquated school of thought. Try and cluster like-muscle groups together to maximize your time and really achieve max exhaustion. Generally, a three- or four-day split is ideal. For example, on Day One, work your chest and triceps. Day Two, back and biceps. Day Three, legs and core. Then take the fourth day to focus on cardio, stretching, and recovery.
The rule of thumb is a higher number of reps per set equals a higher heart rate, which tends to burn more fat. Take as little rest as possible between sets (30-60 seconds) so that you can still complete a full set with good form. The inverse is, a lower number of reps keeps the heart rate lower, which allows for less cardiovascular effort and tends to break down and develop more actual muscle. Here, we can allow for 90-120 seconds of rest between sets to fully return our heart rate to a resting level, promoting the maximum muscular effort. Build your routine around those basic guidelines and modify it as you see fit for yourself.
Fitness experts are a dime a dozen nowadays, and a huge majority of them would be MORE THAN HAPPY to charge you a subscription fee to their services and email you their programs and advice every month. The downside is, these types of routines are VERY generalized and written to accommodate most any type of person. The best you can do for yourself is taking time to research and ultimately determine what works best FOR YOU. If you need a little extra boost, consider hiring a certified personal trainer to push you past what you think are your limits, as well as take a personalized approach to your diet and regimen. A good trainer will also hold you accountable to the commitments you make and motivate and encourage you when your motivation wanes.
Proper preparation is the difference between a good workout and a GREAT workout. Equip yourself with every tool necessary to give you every possible chance to succeed. Don’t sell yourself short: your own worst enemy is just ignorance. The answers are all out there, and you owe it to yourself to find them and apply them. Take the time to change your life today, and you’ll thank yourself tomorrow.
Steven is a music nerd/car buff/fitness junky/dog dad who’s found either grinding it out in the weight room or passed out on the couch with a pint of just finished ice cream still in his hands. He’s passionate about health and fitness, and aims to simply help people achieve the best version of themselves without sacrifice. Specifically, without sacrificing ice cream.