How To Get The Most Out Of The Gym

How To Get The Most Out Of The Gym

Think back to when you were growing up. Taking the afternoon off and heading to the park with your friends. Jumping around on the playground, maybe throwing around a baseball or playing some basketball.

As a kid, you grow up with the idea that exercise is inherently fun - you’re not trying to get in shape, you're just playing with your friends.

As we grow older, this arena for exercise starts to diminish. You get into the daily cycle of working and maybe doing a yoga class here and there. We lose the idea of play and fitness through activity.

For a moment, think of the gym not as a place to get into shape, but as a place where you are allowed to be slightly childish, without people thinking you’re a little crazy.

I mean, be honest, if you’ve been to the gym you’ve probably seen some people doing some pretty strange exercises. Thing is, a gym is a place where you can bring out your inner child again - in a structured way.

You may not want to run and jump on the playground - but isn't that what box jumps are? Is a pull-up bar not anything different than a jungle gym? The only difference is that this time around you are doing the particular exercises to hit a specific goal.

Understandably, the gym is a place where you can go to lose weight and build muscle, but it is also a place where you can again find some form of physical freedom from the constraints of your desk chair.

From the perspective of health and fitness, the gym is organized in such a way that you can utilize a vast array of equipment to specifically train different systems of performance. Let’s talk about the different areas in the gym.

Areas of The Gym

Fit Woman doing shoulder press with barbell in a gym

If you’re new to the gym scene a modern gym may look quite daunting when you first walk in. They’re massive and the equipment is quite complicated (and heavy).

Free Weights

This section is full of dumbells and pre-set barbells that you can use to train with resistance. Your goal in this area is primarily to train for strength. You can use the benches to hit a vast array of muscles in the upper body, but this section is generally not used to train legs.

Rack Section

Tall and wide racks are used primarily for those that want to train with heavy weights, usually for the legs. Using the rack you can safely pack on up to 800 pounds on a standard barbell to hit deadlifts, squats, overhead presses and much more. This area will have far fewer people walking around behind and around you so it is usually the best choice for compound movements.

Cross Training

Most modern gyms will have a section with turf where you can do cross or interval training. Many people prefer this section for quick workouts although it may not be the best section for those that are training for strength.

This section is generally quite congested and makes for a difficult workout over 20 minutes.

Machines

Stationary machines are one of the best ways to isolate a muscle and train purely for strength in one plane of movement. Whereas free weights are not grounded, a machine is limited to one specific range of motion - biceps curl, hamstring curl, etc.

This is the perfect section for those looking to specifically target one muscle in a very isolated way - although this is not the best section for those looking for a high-intensity training session.

Cardio Section

Hamster wheels, bikes, ellipticals, rowing machines - most modern gyms will have a wide array of machines that are built to train your cardiovascular health. Get on a stair climber for an awesome workout, or jump into a cycling class with a bunch of people for a perfect communal training session.

The Culture

Depending on the gym and the franchise of the gym you will always have classes and a great community setting that emphasizes communication and togetherness. With that said there is nothing wrong with putting on some headphones, bumping out to some beats and crushing a workout on your own.

Some things you should consider are:

Watch Out For Weekend Warriors

The weekend is the busiest time to go to the gym. Generally the gym becomes full of people who couldn't get to the gym during the week try to get in a quick, high intensity workout in. Unfortunately, these are generally the people who have little knowledge on how to use the gym space effectively. In a busy gym, make sure you have space to train during the weekend - no need to get injured because the gym is too full.   

Learn From The Veterans

The gym is also a learning environment. Learn from some of the biggest guys in the gym, chances are if they’re a veteran of the studio they won't be afraid to answer your questions - just make sure you ask on their rest time.

Don't Hog The Weights

Some small gyms will have the issue of weight stealers or weight hoggers. Don’t be that guy, when you’re done with the weight put it back and let others use it. There is no need to grab 5 different sets of weights just because you are doing a drop set.

How Long Should You Spend There?

This is not a simple question - but the answer will generally lie with what specific goal you have and how much time you really have.

Are you capable of taking 2-3 hours of your day for a complete workout or do you only have a half an hour at lunch?

Let’s split this up into goals:

Weight Loss Goals

Here you have some flexibility. You can either engage in HIIT style training or standard strength with cardio afterwards. The first method being quite short (around 30-40 min) while the second being much longer (around 90-120 min).

Strength Goals

Strength goals are ones that require a lot of time in the gym. You will likely spend upwards of 90 min for each workout. Either way you swing it, after you are done with your warm-up, stretching, rolling, training session and corresponding cool down you might even be looking for more than 2 hours.

Something everyone should understand is that if you are concerned with how much time you are spending in the gym it might not be the best option for you.

Of course, any training is better than no training but in order to achieve the best results, you will need to be completely focused and dedicated to your goal for the entire training session.

Common Mistakes

Body Builder resting on workout bench

A gym is a place for learning. Understand that you're not going to get it right the first time. It might take you months to perfect your routine and find out what your body responds to best.

Here are some common mistakes that you can avoid in order to make the most of your time in the gym:

Not Warming Up

The most common mistake for many people. Whether it's because you’re rushed in the gym, or you just don't feel like doing a warm-up - it’s an unrealistic excuse.

Warming up will help to prime your body for your workout and, effectively ensure that you are avoiding injury.

Starting Too Heavy

Understandably, everyone wants to lift heavier - and form the perspective of hypertrophy, lifting heavy is one of the most effective ways to grow your muscles. With that said, lifting heavy is also one of the most common ways to become injured - something we need to avoid in order to maximize our long-term strength.

Instead of starting heavy you should consider training at lower weights and perfecting your form. Not only will this help you to stay clear of injury, but a strong foundation will lead to massive lifts in the long run.

Skipping Cardio

Most guys have the idea that cardio is detrimental to strength gains. This simply isn't true, and in fact, jumping on the treadmill for 20 min every workout can be one of the most effective ways to ensure consistent weight loss and an even stronger heart.

How To Get Started

Getting started is challenging. Finding a workout regimen that works for you is challenging. Staying on track is challenging.

Here are some simple things you can do to best ensure you are ready for the lifestyle ahead of you:

Grab a Journal

Most people quit because they cannot see results. Using a journal or logbook of all your workouts will help you to see the numerical changes in your training and can be a useful tool for motivation and success in the gym.

Realistic Expectations

Strong results come slowly. This is an idea you may hear personal trainers preaching. The idea is to take this literally - each exercise should be done in a slow movement. Squat slowly, bench slowly, pull-up slowly. This way you will train every muscle, including stabilizers, to work perfectly without breaking form.

Have Fun

Perhaps the most important concept that many people forget about when they are training.

Think back to your childhood days on the monkey bars - were you having fun? Bring that same concept over to your current training program and watch the process come together.

One of the hardest things to do is get started, but with a little background knowledge on how the gym operates, what to avoid and the best methods that work - you’re in the clear and on your way to a strong and sexy physique.

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