You've been going to the gym three times a week for what feels like forever - and yet you're still not making progress. We might have found out why...
With the exception of the ten years that you spent doing PE in the rain, when was the last time somebody actually taught you how to exercise? From spending hours on the crosstrainer to little or no effect, to being too scared to try out anything new, the gym is a daunting – and confusing – place. So, with that in mind, we we caught up with personal trainer Helen from Virgin Active, and asked her to talk us through the most common #GymFails we’re all making on a daily basis – and how we can overcome them.
NOT WARMING UP
You have new workout clothes and you’ve managed to wear them to the gym. Well done! Obviously as soon as you walk through the door, you jump right on to the first machine that’s free. But, er, hold on: what about warming up? A good warm up gets the blood flowing, warms and loosens the tissues around the joints, and (sometimes most importantly of all) it gets your head in ‘the zone’. Start with 5-10 minutes on a cardio machine at a steady pace and finish with dynamic stretches, squats, lunges, reaches, roll downs. Focus on what you can feel stretching and working as you move and you’ll be well on the way to an efficient workout!
NOT HAVING A PLAN
How much of the following sounds familiar? You move from one free machine to the next available machine. There, you do a mindless 15 to 20 repetitions, probably losing count along the way, and you might do that twice before move on. In other words, you don’t really know what muscles you’re working – you’re just pushing the handle away in the direction the machine goes! Go and have an induction or program setting session with a gym instructor, book a taster session with a PT (most gyms offer an induction when you join) or ask a friend what they are working on. When you have a plan you’ll not only work harder, but you can focus on what you’re doing and you’ll even see results in the weights you’ll be able to lift and the distance you’ll be able to run! These results tend to improve long before you see results in the mirror, so they can be very motivating!
YOU AVOID ‘THE MAN ROOM’
Free weight areas tend to be dominated by men, yes. However, more and more women are using them and breaking down that stereotype. Ask a gym instructor to help you the first time you go in. When you know what to do and you’re in ‘the zone’ you won’t notice anyone else. (You’ll realize that most men in the free weights are watching themselves in the mirror, anyway!)
YOU’RE SCARED OF BULKING UP
Sorry, you’re wrong! Lifting weights won’t make you bulky, simply because women do not naturally produce enough testosterone to build or maintain that much muscle mass! Muscle can give your a body a good shape – think firm thighs, perky chest, shoulders to make your waist look smaller and not forgetting a great round booty. If you want to tone up, lift some weights!
YOU JUST DO CARDIO
Great, you’re burning calories! Unfortunately, you’re not maintaining any shape. You’ve heard the term ‘skinny fat’? It’s someone who looks great in shape when you see them in their clothes, but as soon as you spot them in a bikini, their body is flabby and soft! If you want your figure to be firm then you need to include weights. You don’t have to go slow and stop sweating – try Kettlebells for a whole body workout, and add sprints in between each weight set you do. Or, if that’s not your thing, go to a boot camp or circuits class. The possibilities are endless!
YOU HATE BREAKING A SWEAT
Hands up who read the last tip and thought, sweat? me? NO WAY! Granted some people work hard and don’t sweat that much, but if you’re not working hard and not sweating, what are you doing? You could have gone for a leisurely walk outside or spent an hour sifting through the Topshop clothes racks. You’re at the gym… push yourself! Sweating or working hard can not only boost your metabolism then and there, but if you work hard enough, it can keep it racing afterwards too! That means you’ll continue to burn calories after your workout. Try interval training, 30 seconds of hard work and 30 seconds of steady exercise is the best of both worlds – and sure to make you sweat!
YOUR TECHNIQUE IS TERRIBLE
You don’t want to do more harm than good or simply just build up bad habits. So start the way you mean to go on. Unless you’re doing a crunch, keep your spine long: lengthen your tailbone away from the crown of your head. If you’re squatting or dead lifting, lead your movement with your hips. But most of all, if you’re unsure, ask someone for help – that is what gym staff are there for!
YOU’RE NOT LIFTING HEAVY ENOUGH
You’ve started using weights, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, TRX… But you’re not feeling it. If you’re confident with the movement, take your weight up a notch. If you’re still not sure, try using a rep range of 12-15 reps when you start. 12, 13, 14 and 15 should feel hard, and on your next set, you might only be able to do 13. That is good! Your body adapts to a stimulus, so stimulate it.
COOL DOWN? WHAT COOL DOWN?
You’ve worked hard, your muscles have been contracting for an hour, and then off you go to sit in the office or on the sofa. Your muscles then stay contracted, and you feel like you can’t walk the next day! Instead, add 5-10 minutes of stretching at the end of your session. (You can even take this time to congratulate yourself for working hard and enjoy the release of endorphins!) Start simple: lie on your back with one leg in the air to stretch your hamstrings, then twist it over the top of you to get your lower back, then take a seat and work on some chest stretches. You can build up your stretching vocabulary as you go and remember, again, you can always ask for help!
YOU’RE NOT EATING ENOUGH
You train really hard and you eat really well! Unfortunately, a banana for breakfast, a chicken and leaf salad for lunch and a green vegetable smoothie in the evening will only clock up between 800 and 1000 calories. You might lose weight for a couple of days, but then your body will go into ‘starvation mode’ and hold onto as much weight as possible because it doesn’t know when the famine is going to end! Yep, ‘starvation mode’ is not a myth and it is that dramatic! You are likely to hold on to fat stores and use lean tissue as fuel – that’s muscle mass and sometimes even your organs. So to maintain your firm muscles and keep your sexy, fit shape you need to fuel it! Try incorporating healthy snacks into your day and use a calorie tracking app like MyFitnessPal to help you.
YOU’RE GIVING UP
The more you train, the better you will feel, the faster you will see strength and fitness gains, and the quicker you’ll SEE results. So train at least twice per week and work on building that up to three times. Unfortunately, it takes 21 days to see results, but only a week to lose them, so keep going! You will feel fitter, will sleep better, will be happier, more motivated at work, feel better in your clothes, and a million other amazing things. Now you’ve started, keep it up!