If you've settled into an exercise routine that works for you the next thing you may struggle with is making yourself at home in the gym. We're talking about making sure you exercise properly, make progress, and don't hurt yourself. Luckily, there are plenty of places to turn for good advice. Let's look at some of them.
Dealing with other people and practicing good gym etiquette is a topic we've covered before. This time we're talking about the best way to make sure your workouts are productive, safe and fun. The whole affair can be overwhelming -- and the last thing anyone wants is for you to be so overwhelmed you go home and never go back. Here are some things to try and places to turn when you feel stumped or need a little help.
The Obvious: Check With Your Gym's Staff Or Trainers
Depending on the gym you've joined, the people who work there may be trained and willing to give you some pointers, and even lend a hand to make sure you're using the equipment safely. Some gyms are a bit more hands-off, and assume their clients don't need much help, but at the very least the staff should be able to tell you whether you're using a machine safely or have workout equipment set up the right way. They may not be able to critique your form or offer suggestions on how to improve your workout, but they can at least help you get off on the right foot.
If you do need help with your specific workouts, need someone to guide you, or want specific, personal attention, you probably need a personal trainer. Again, check with the staff -- odds are they either have a few they trust, know some who frequent the gym, or have a bulletin board or stack of business cards from trainers looking for clients. They may not be able to help you choose, but they can certainly give you options to pick from.
Use YouTube To Check Your Form
If you're not sure whether you're going those goblet squats just right, or if you're wondering whether your elbows should go lower than the plane of your torso on those dumbbell bench presses, it sucks when you don't have anyone to ask. Sure, you could ask around the gym, but approaching random strangers doesn't sound like a good idea. Instead, take a quick break, turn on your phone, and check YouTube. There are lots of videos of people just showing off their own skills, sure, but there are even more simple instructional videos that show you a few reps on a machine in the right stance, or the right form for those bench presses or squats.
Personally, I like to use Fitocracy's YouTube Channel as a quick guide. While videos like the one above are helpful for beginners, Fitocracy's videos are around 10-20 seconds (for example, here's their goblet squat how-to), perfect for watching at the gym before you start a set. A quick YouTube search for "incline dumbbell bench press fitocracy" (or whatever exercise you're checking) usually turns up the right video. Even if I don't find it there, looking at a few others is usually enough to point me in the right direction. Again, a trainer can give you personalised attention, but if you're new to the gym, odds are you don't have one to stand by and watch you work out.
Join Online Communities To Keep You Motivated
Speaking of If you're stuck with your workout, not making the kind of progress you'd like, or generally have questions about your workout routine ("How often should I up the weights? How much soreness is ok, and what's too much? Should I ever lower the weights or decrease my reps?") it can be a huge help to have a group of people who are in the same boat as you are to talk to. Joining a fitness group gives you people to talk to, bounce ideas off of, and chat with when you're feeling less than motivated, off the rails, or are curious if other people have been where you are right now.
As an example, when I travelled for a week, then came down sick for the better part of a week, I had to deal with whether I walk back into the gym and start working out like those two weeks never happened, back down from my previous gains and start smaller, or try to do what I did before I was away for a week. I talked it over with the community, and while the final answer was really "do what feels right but don't try to sacrifice your progress," I made up my mind and did that first week back the way I did the last week I was in the gym. It was tough, but I got through it, and got right back on the wagon again. In the absence of a professional trainer that sees you regularly, sometimes those words of advice and encouragement from others can mean all the difference -- especially when you see them hitting the gym too, and struggling with their own challenges in your fitness group as well. As well as Fitocracy, SparkPeople and MyFitnessPal are good options.
Use Workout Apps To Mix Up Your Exercise Routine
We've shown you how you can turn your Android phone or iPhone into a handheld personal trainer with apps, and many of those apps will offer suggestions to help you mix up your workout, try new things that you may not have considered before. Similarly, previously mentionedBodbot, or Sworkit , another app we love, will also generate workouts for you based on what you're trying to do, and help you keep a little variety and spice in your workout life.
Keep in mind though that you don't want to randomly switch exercises for no reason -- if you have days where you work out specific muscle groups, or do cardio, don't switch groups on the same day or switch from resistance training to cardio just to keep things mixed up. Try to find exercises that accomplish the goal for that day -- so switch out a leg exercise for another leg exercise, for example, or trade an outdoor run for the treadmill if you need to mix things up. If you need more tips, we have a whole guide on mixing up your workout routine so it doesn't get boring.
Join A Fitness Class Or Find A Workout Buddy
Depending on what you're looking to do at the gym, one great way to make sure you stay motivated is to join a fitness class that's doing the kinds of exercises you're interested in, or find a friend or coworker to go work out with. You don't necessarily have to have that "chat on the treadmills next to each other" relationship if you don't want it. When I was in college, the best thing that ever happened to my regular workouts was a good friend of mine who lived down the hall and would bang on my door to walk over to the gym together every other day of the week. We didn't do the same exercises -- he'd head to the weight room and I'd head to the heavy bags and we might pass each other on the way to the other's space. It was good to have someone to keep you in check, someone you'd have to make excuses to if you wanted to skip the gym, and someone you both can lean on when your motivation flags a bit.
The same rules apply to fitness classes. The big difference is with classes is ideally you'll be missed if you skip out, and you'll have an instructor who can offer some degree of personal attention. They will be in charge of making sure you and your class progress every week, do new and interesting things, and of course, do them safely and correctly. We've talked about a few fitness classes you can consider, but check with your gym or just Google for local classes. Whether you work out in a fully-staffed gym or an apartment block fitness centre, odds are there's someone holding a fitness class either right there in the same facility, or nearby that you can sign up to join.
Whether you're just getting used to new gym equipment, you feel uncomfortable because you're new or not in the same shape other people are in, or you're just struggling to fit in your workouts into a busy routine, it can be tough doing your thing amidst the hustle and bustle of people working out. Take it easy, stay calm, and relax. Get help when you need it, and remember, you're there to become the best possible you that you can be -- don't give up!