Have you been away from the gym for a while and now want to go back to weight training? Were you perhaps subject to a government mandated lockdown that closed down all gyms in your area and forced you to become a recluse, shunning all forms of human contact? And has that lockdown now been lifted, but it’s been so long you’ve forgotten how to wear pants and shoes let alone what you should be doing at the gym?
Or maybe you’ve never been to a gym before and want to start a new weight training regimen.
Then read on, my intrepid soon to be gym goer. Here are 10 tips to kickstart your gym routine.
1. Have a plan. Plan out that day’s workout. Know what muscle groups you’re working and what exercises to do. This includes having alternate exercises in mind in case the machine or equipment you need is unavailable. Wandering aimlessly around the gym doesn’t count as a workout.
More broadly, have an overall workout plan that spans at least 2 months and maps out your workout split. A typical split would be: lower body day – legs and glutes, upper body pull day – back and biceps and upper body push day – chest, shoulders and triceps. Sprinkle in some abdominal work and cardio a few times a week as well.
2. Warm up and stretch. You’ve heard it before but it bears repeating: warming up and stretching before your workout are key to avoiding injury, activating the day’s working muscle groups and improving mobility. You don’t have to be a Cirque du Soleil level contortionist but do give some love to the muscles you’re targeting before you beat them up for an hour. They’ll treat you kindly in return and won’t force you to collapse in a broken whimpering pile as you try to make your way down the stairs and to your car post workout.
3. Know your limits. Maybe you were able to squat twice your body weight pre-lockdown but you haven’t been able to do weighted squats since then. A challenging weight, rep and set range is important but more so is not injuring yourself. Start off with lighter weight and go from there.
4. Take breaks and hydrate. Your body is already freaking out enough. No need to further punish it with fatigue and dehydration. This is also a good way to kill time while you wait for the machine or equipment you need.
5. Track your workouts: weight, reps and sets on a spreadsheet on your phone. Not only will this help you plan your day’s workout but will also show the progress you’ve made.
6. Actively assess what your body is doing at all times. Establish a mind muscle connection while performing exercises. Be mindful of your form and technique to avoid injury and to maximize the benefits of that particular exercise. Recruit the right muscles by bringing your focus and awareness to the specific muscle group the exercise is targeting.
Another aspect of this is paying close attention to pain cues. Know when the pain is from usual muscle soreness due to appropriate load and reps and stop before it gets to, “Oh, I have mistakenly detached parts of my body due to poor form and/or too much weight, and now I am lying in a heap of agony on the floor drenched in my own tears.”
7. Mind your own workout cause everyone else is minding theirs. In general, ain’t nobody looking at you so there’s no need to feel self-conscious. Everyone is in there to train. They should be anyway. If anyone is creeping on you, report that person to gym staff right away. On the other hand, if you’re the creeper, stop that. Stop that this instant.
8. Be prepared for your workout to be tougher than you remember. Your body likely isn’t as strong and/or flexible as it was before. Don’t let this frustrate or discourage you; instead use it as motivation to improve. Give your ego some Benadryl and put it to sleep. Focus on the day’s workout and don’t get so bogged down with where you are in relation to where you were. Strength and endurance can be built back up with time and effort.
9. Be patient and have fun. Enjoy being able to do a normal routine thing again.
10. Feed yourself something healthy, delicious and protein packed post workout. Your muscles just did all this work for you. Reward them with nutrients. Don’t undo all your hard work by depriving your body of much needed sustenance.
When in doubt, always seek the help of a professional. All gyms have at least one trainer on staff available to answer any questions you have or help you create a workout plan.
So get back in the gym and get those gains!