How to get the most out of your gym
As my dear coworker who is sitting right next to me is just starting out in fitness again after university and I have been there I thought it would be helpful to write up some tips on how to get the most out of your gym based on my experiences. Main tips are having a goal, a plan, staying local, keeping distances short & paying a little more than average to have trainers and equipment available when you roll in to get clanging and banging. Hope you enjoy the read, leave a comment if that is the case.
Have a goal
The most important thing to get the most out of your gym time is to have a goal. Without the goal, the whole routine of going to the gym loses its purpose and therefore you will feel lost and just do some repetitions here and 20 minutes of running there, making it up along the way.
If your goal is to get away from home as long as possible you are already on a good track with this approach. Having a target will enable you to decide which exercise fits this need and which do not. This keeps you from wasting time on machines which are not helping you fulfil your desire and falling into the trap of being active for activities sake.
The goal you are shooting for should be SMART. Getting fit or slim is not a SMART goal, as these concepts are not measurable.
Have a plan
Once you have your stars aligned towards a purpose, break it down into smaller chunks that you work on bit by bit, day by day. Plan in advance what you will do on a certain day and what type of equipment you will need.
This takes a bit more thought and preparation up front but avoids that you will drive to the gym without the necessary equipment, be mentally prepared for the task at hand and exclude any possibility of you standing around in the gym for five minutes asking yourself what to do next.
In this way, you will also ensure that you are less easily sidetracked by other gym members, the new fitness craze of the day or the breaking news on the treadmill.
Know the layout of the gym
Some commercial gyms are quite big and I sometimes get the feeling that the owners place the machines inside in the order of when they arrived and unpacked them when they opened the gym, rather than thinking about which machines should actually be grouped together for certain exercises.
When making your plan take the availability of machines into consideration and where they are. If you do a routine where you have to switch the machine after each set and they stand in each corner of a vast gym that might not be the best use of your time.
Cluster your exercises
Doing exercises which are similar to achieve something like a bigger biceps all together in the same area of the gym will also save you setup time. Therefore start with the most complex setups for a certain body part and work your way down from there, depending on what your plan says. This will minimise the time you lose between sets for getting ready and adjusting your equipment.
Use few machines
To think that you get the most out of your gym by using as many of the machines that are available as possible in each session is a false economy. I fell into that trap myself when I was a teenager. Use only those machines which help you to get to your target. Nothing more, nothing less.
Check rush hour
Depending on where you go and what kind of clients your gym has there will be hours where it is most busy. Maybe even ask staff when the most demand is to be expected. Once you get the picture, try to avoid rush hour as much as possible depending on your own schedule.
Pick a gym near you
If you have to drive for an hour to even get to your gym you might have found yourself the shiniest, newest and most “hip” gym in your area, but you are wasting a lot of time. Of course, if your main interest is to be seen by the right people who are attending those facilities, be my guest, drive two hours a day to exercise. If that is not the case, I would reconsider a less shiny, less expensive gym around the corner which provides everything you need.
Check the parking
Especially in urban scenarios a point which might get overlooked. Check whether there is enough parking available close by, if you are taking the car (ideally your gym should be in walking distance of your home). Nothing is a bigger waste of time than searching for a parking spot for 15 minutes and then still having to walk for ten minutes. On some days I am done with my entire routine in that amount of time.
Check the class schedule
If you want to attend classes like Zumba or water aerobics, check whether the schedule meets your daily routines. Sometimes opening times and schedules will not meet your target. Use your test day (most gyms have one) to talk to other members who attend the classes and ask them how many trainers there are, how often classes are moved or not done and how full they usually are. It is one thing to have a schedule on the wall which looks nice to get customers on board, it is another thing whether the schedule is kept.
Use the personal trainers
The duty of most personal trainers which I have met in my life seems to be to get you trained up as quickly as possible on how not to kill yourself in the gym so that your insurance won’t blame it on the gym owners if you break your neck and then leave you to your own devices (most gyms that
The less you pay for your subscription the more likely this is to be the case, as labour, especially highly involved, trained and skilful labour, is costly. You have to realise that therefore in most gyms consultations are an “ask for” rather than a “brought to you” service.
This false economy here would be to believe that you are your own best advisor. Most likely there will be at least one personal trainer who cares in your facility. Chances are high that this person has the experience of seeing hundreds of people follow hundreds of different programs based on the nature of their job. Therefore he/she will be able to understand your goal, which plan gets you there the quickest and what adjustments have to be made to the template to accommodate for your needs.
If you figure all of this out on your own it will most likely take more time and will be riskier than tapping into this available knowledge. So make use of the personal trainers around to get even more out of your gym. Ask and you shall receive.
Another option which in my opinion is often underutilised based on the discussions with my friends and co-workers are the free check-ups you can get in a gym. A regular free check-up will hold you accountable and will enable you to switch programs when it is actually time. This cuts out guesswork in the game and also makes sure that you know about the latest offers in your gym.
Pay a bit more
Paying a bit more and going for the local premium option will mean that the gym can survive with fewer members per employee. Higher fees keep those out who cannot afford them, leads to fewer people on the roster overall and therefore decreases members per employee. What this does for you is that slots for free check-ups are more readily available, the queue for the power rack is shorter and there is no music blaring out of a smartphone in the free weight section. This leads to time and stressed saved and getting more out of your gym.
All in all, it depends on your budget and goals what you pick and how you will get the most out of your gym. The more you think about your gym time in terms of best value for money aligning it to the big picture, the more you will get out of it. This does not necessarily mean that more expensive is better. Just make your choices for how to train, to train and when to train deliberately rather than randomly. If you do that you are already ahead of the curve and a lot more likely to reach your dream weight, become chiselled or bring up your cardiac system for living healthier.
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