With the New Year approaching, you may be contemplating joining a gym. Here’s how to make the most of it!
You probably decided you need to sign up because you want to lose the extra weight that you’ve put on this year. Maybe you used to work out and liked how you felt back then. Or maybe you’ve never had a gym membership before, but you get the sense that your health and happiness will improve with exercise.
All of those are GREAT reasons to join a gym. But for all those good intentions, two thirds of people never actually use the gym memberships they sign up for!*
Don’t let that be you. There are plenty of things you can do to make sure you stay motivated long after the shiny new-ness of your gym has worn off, so that you actually use your membership.
Here are the five ways to make the most of your new gym membership:
- Have a plan.
Don’t just walk into the gym thinking, “I’ll go do some cardio today.” Be very specific with your intentions for your workout. How long will it take you? How intense would you like it to be? How are you going to warm up and cool down? Decide your goal for the session. Do you want to burn off some steam from work and get sweaty so you feel accomplished? Great. Are you looking to burn fat, lean out, get stronger, or train for the 5k race your friends convinced you to sign up for? Have a plan and execute it so that you move closer to your goals. This will help you to stay motivated and feel like you’re working toward something, rather than punishing yourself for the cookies you ate earlier in the break room at work.
- Record your workouts.
This is the number one thing that will drive your results! In exercise science, there’s an important concept called “progressive overload.” That’s a fancy way of saying that adaptations in your body are driven by consistently and progressively doing more work each time you exercise. You can accomplish overload in a number of ways: using a heavier weight, doing more repetitions, doing the same amount of reps for more sets, resting less between sets, or pushing yourself to a higher intensity. By writing down what you do in the gym today, you can look back and add to your workout tomorrow. This is the ONLY way to drive progress, avoid plateaus, and keep you moving toward your goals.
- Familiarize yourself with all of the gym’s equipment.
Most people get stuck in the same routine of treadmill, leg press, sit ups, stretch, go home. But not you! Learn to use all of the machines, and utilize a variety of exercises for your entire body. There’s nothing worse than injuring yourself because you only train one body part. Repetative motion can lead to injury by creating imbalances between the muscles in your body. This is why a lot of guys who only bench press experience shoulder pain. Too much pressing creates an imbalance of the muscles around the shoulders, pulling them out of alignment; balancing pressing with pulling movements, like rows, creates muscular balance, and a better-looking physique. This is also why a lot of runners experience knee pain or injury. People tend to be quad-dominant (doing a lot of work with the fronts of their legs because sitting all day turns off the posterior chain), and adding squats and lunges to the equation without working the glutes and hamstrings exacerbates this imbalance, pulling the knees out of alignment. Adding posterior chain exercises like bridges and deadlifts to your routine can prevent injury and improve your running.
- Establish accountability and a support system.
Far and away the reason most people stop going to the gym is because they “get too busy.” Prioritizing your workouts by putting a reminder in your phone can help. This is a form of self-accountability. Create a deadline for your goal, and put that in your phone as well. For example, let’s say you want to lose ten pounds by summer so you look great in your new swimsuit. Put your pool’s opening day in your phone, and each month, add a reminder to weigh yourself or take a progress photo so you stay on track.
You can also create external accountability by finding a workout buddy. Ask a friend to come to the gym with you three days a week, and plan exactly which days and times you’ll meet. Having a “date” means you can’t back out of a gym session just because you don’t feel like going that day. You wouldn’t want to let your friend down. (Note: Choose your gym buddy carefully. If you pick that friend that always talks you into sitting at home eating Ben and Jerry’s while binging on your favorite Netflix show, chances are they won’t be too keen on hitting the gym with you. You want your gym buddy to be motivating, not enabling of bad habits.) Another accountability strategy is to simply tell friends or family members that you’ve joined a new gym and plan to workout on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays (for example). Tell them you’re excited about your plan, but you may need support along the way because getting into the routine will be hard.
- Take advantage of introductory training sessions.
Most gyms have personal trainers on staff and offer free introductory sessions to new members. As a trainer, I find that new members are weary of taking advantage of these sessions because they don’t want to be “sold” on personal training. That’s okay. I don’t want to sell you something you don’t want, or to work with an unwilling client, either. But by skipping the session, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to pick the brain of an expert who can teach you how to use the gym’s equipment, explain the best training strategy to accomplish your goals in the quickest way possible, and demonstrate how to correctly perform exercises so that you don’t injure yourself. Even if you’ve been exercising for years, I’m confident a personal trainer can teach you something or show you an exercise you didn’t know before. Even if you aren’t interested in working with that trainer, you’ll leave the session with new information, and you’ll have made a friend at your gym who you can reach out to for advice in the future.
Need help getting into a new routine in the New Year?
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*According to Statistic Brain, a website which curates stats from numerous government and industry sources, 67% of gym memberships go unused. http://www.statisticbrain.com/gym-membership-statistics/