I remember the first time I step foot into a gym. I had been lifting weights for a year or so in my basement using the weight set my parents had given me one Christmas. I was basically reading magazines and working out each night doing whatever exercises that could be done with dumbbells, a barbell and a bench. Soon I was hooked and working out became a passion of mine. I loved the feeling of lifting weights every night as it fulfilled me in so many ways.
Eventually I asked my father for a gym membership and he said yes. I was so happy. Now I could use everything that I saw in the magazine as I was no longer restricted by my simple weight set. The first day I arrived at the gym I was overwhelmed by all the weights, machines and other gadgets they had. Looking back I realize that I made many mistakes that can easily discourage many people from continuing to go to the gym. So here is a list of ten things I wish I would have known back then.
1. Ego Lifting
This is by far the biggest mistake anyone can perform when they are at any level of training. Lifting with your ego is the act of, lifting or pushing too much weight without the conscience effort of keeping form in the hopes to impress your friends, the opposite sex or a more experienced lifter. I can tell you from personal experience, nothing makes me laugh more than when I see a young guy using improper form to try to impress someone.
Take it from me, though your friends might think it is cool, you are usually putting yourself in a dangerous position and injury is at high risk. Secondly, the majority of all ladies could careless how much weight you can move. Finally, the experienced guy is laughing and not impressed as they are well aware that lifting using perfect form is more beneficial and a lot more difficult than tossing weights around like a maniac.
The gym is a place where hundreds of people a day are all sweating and sharing the same facility. This makes the gym a perfect place for the spread of bacteria. It is critical to make sure that you are as hygienic as possible. This means, when you use a machine and or bench take the time to wipe it down when you are done. When you use the bathroom wash your hands.
Have a little common sense. Would you like to lay on a bench that was dripping with sweat? No, so why should someone else have to. Do your part and help stop of the spread of germs by being health conscious and wiping equipment down. Last thing you want to do is become sick and miss workouts. Remember that the best form of teaching is through example.
3. Putting Weights Away
All levels of trainers are guilty of this one. As my mother always told me, if you learn something when you are young you will always do it. Not putting plates and dumbbells away in the right places is a pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand having to put away someone else’s mess as I already have a hard enough time cleaning up after myself.
It is so frustrating to search the gym for weights every time you want to do a set. It is bad gym etiquette to leave weights around but it also can be dangerous. People can trip, fall and easily hurt themselves. Don’t leave your weights around. I view them as my toys. When I was a kid I was told to put my toys away so it is second nature to put my weights away as they are my new toys.
Your number one goal when going to the gym should be to get a great workout. I understand that the gym is a place where people commonly go not only to workout but also to socialize. Make sure the socializing doesn’t take over and your workouts come second. I see way too many beginners in the gym taking way too long in between sets because they are socializing and having full length conversations while someone else is waiting for a piece of equipment.
Also remember that other people are there to workout and if you disturb them mid-workout you might be taking them out of their zone. There is no way to focus on the workout if your mind is somewhere else. What I tell beginners is find a friend or friends that have the same goals as you. When you are at the gym small talk is fine but never to the point where you stop the flow of your workout. Friendly banter is fine but too much socializing will lead to no results.
5. Use Collars
Free weight training is the most effective form of training period, but it also is the most dangerous. The reason for both are the weight is not on a fixed plane. The weight is free to move as it likes, so balance comes into play. When you are new to exercise the balancing of a barbell while squatting or bench pressing could be tough as many beginner lifters favor their dominate side. This could lead to one side coming up faster than the other and woop there goes the weigh sliding off the weaker side. That would not have happened if you used collars.
I have seen some crazy things in the gym but nothing frightens me more then weight I see trainer lifting a weight all lop sided that is not using collar. I know that one side is going to dump but cant do anything about it. The last thing you want to do is put yourself in a dangerous position. Collar up the weight and press away.
6. More is better
The old rule of more is not always better is also true in weight lifting. More weight, more sets, more reps. I am a big believer in quality over quantity. I do like my fair share of volume when hitting the weights but there is always a limit. All beginners should start out employing a full body workout split and use a maximum of 5 sets for larger muscle groups. At this point your rep range should be between 8-12. Rest periods should never exceed 90 seconds.
It would be beneficial to rest only 60 seconds between sets but you will have to work up to that. Finally the amount of weight you lift should not always increase from one workout to the next. You should be able to easily perform a set using proper form with a certain weight for a couple of weeks before moving up. Never just add weight for the sake of trying more. Quality is the name of the game.
7. Proper Exercise Form
As a personal trainer It was interesting to watch what I call the “the new years resolution gym goers”. These are the people who rarely attend the gym but commonly use improper form. Using improper form will likely lead to injury or nothing at all. One common example is watching people do what I call “partial pull-ups”. Instead of going all the way back down, many people just go down till their arms are at a 90 degree angle and back up. You are pretty much not doing much of anything.
It is extremely dangerous to perform exercises such as squats or lunges with improper form as the chance of major knee injury is quite high. Muscleandstrength.com offers you a visual library of all the exercises that you will ever do. Look at the pictures, read the descriptions, watch the videos and see how the exercise is performed using perfect form. If you can afford it, employ a personal trainer at least for a little while until you get the hang of it. As I mentioned above quality is key. Use the quality form and get quality results.
8. Balance Weight Training and Cardio
Here is where the ladies and the gentlemen differ. When young gals come into the gym they usually go right to the cardio machines. They are known as the cardio bunnies. When young guys come into the gym they go straight for the weights they are know as guys. No cute name for us guys we are just guys. Guys hit the weights and the ladies do the cardio in the hopes to achieve their goals. I am here to tell you that each sex is missing out when they don’t balance the weight lifting and cardio.
Ladies you can’t get tone lean muscle by just doing cardio. You will burn up all the muscle that you have and end up looking skinny without the curves that us guys love.
Guys you cant get lean and ripped by just hitting the weight you need to do cardio to help melt away some of that body fat so the ladies can see your six pack. “I just want to get big” some guys tell me. Understandable, but you should know the most important muscles of all is your heart and lungs if they are not conditioned you will have to stop on sets shorter than you would otherwise had to if your cardiovascular system was in good condition.
I would perform 3 full body weight workouts a week with 3-4 30 minute cardio sessions a week.
9. Have a Plan
When you step foot in the gym you should always have a plan of what you are going to do. I tell all beginners to keep a journal and write everything down in it. They should have a workout split. Which tell you what muscle groups you will be hitting on each day, a cardio schedule and also a detailed log of training results including sets, reps and weight.
Beginners fall in the trap of not planning ahead, they wait till they get to the gym and just do whatever they want. This leads to a lack of direction and results will fall short. Muscleandstrength.com has 100's of great workout programs to choose from. Pick one out or email what you have come up with and I will see if it is the right choice for you.
10. Nutrition is Critical
Now I know this article was supposed to be about the gym but I always have to bring up nutrition when I give advice to a beginner. Nutrition is simply 90% of the puzzle. You can work your but off performing the perfect workout plan, using the best form and the most intensity but unless your nutrition is sound then you will not get anywhere. Training and nutrition go hand and hand. One can not succeed without the other.
Muscleandstrength.com has a quality selection of articles about nutrition, what you should eat and how much. Put together a plan, email it to me (Stewbid@comcast.net) and I will look it over and tell you what you need. Don’t make the mistake of working hard in the gym only to waste all that hard work because you didn’t want to eat a necessary healthy diet. Take the time to eat healthy and the results will be two fold.
There you have it 10 things you should look out for as a beginner. Not only will this advice help you reach your goals quicker and without injury but it will also help you become a positive part of the gym community. If you ever have any questions regard training, nutrition or supplementation use the search button on Muscleandstrength.com as they have information on everything. If you can’t find it drop me an email (Stewbid@ comcast.net) and I will do my best to answer your questions or point you in the right direction. Good Luck and lift smart.