3 Steps for a Successful Start at the Gym

by Sasha Reddy

So you’ve decided you want to start hitting the gym. Or maybe you’ve decided you’d like to go more frequently, or that you’d like to be more focused and intentional with your exercise regimen. That’s great! But when it comes to exercise, there are so many factors that come into play and so many variables to consider. How much time can you actually spend at the gym with such a busy work schedule? What machines are right for you to use? What exercises can you do that will help strengthen the ACL you tore in high school? As the questions pile up, the frantic thoughts bubble over, and the objective seems further and further away. To avoid feeling discouraged and overwhelmed in the gym, you need to hunker down and make a real plan of action.

Think SMARTer, not harder

The undeniable first step to achieving your fitness goals should be establishing what your goals actually are. After all, how can you make and measure “progress” if you don’t know what your starting point is? Here’s a helpful goal-setting acronym: SMART. It stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely – all qualities that a good goal has. So long as you have a SMART goal and the will to stick to it, you’re golden. Maybe you’re feeling challenged by the frighteningly large task of developing such a goal for better health and fitness. No need to worry: all the tools you need are present-at-hand.

If you want a seamless start to your fitness journey, a personal trainer can give you a huge leg-up. Your first two free personal training sessions at HAC, known as your Fitness Health Appraisal sessions one and two, are about identifying and making a plan to achieve the body and health you want while keeping your individual preferences, strengths, and limitations in mind. With the help of a trainer, you’ll be able to develop a schedule that works but still pushes you to take ownership of an exercise plan that will work. You’ll also have a personal motivator and cheerleader to keep your morale high when results happen.

Here are 3 steps to getting started in the gym.

1. Know your numbers

Breaking down the SMART criteria, let’s first focus on the “measurable” and the “specific”. Many people come to the gym seeking changes in their waistline, muscle definition, or number on the scale. But when it comes to exercise, external physical changes are often not the best indicators of progress. The stuff going on inside your body should be your primary gauge for success. To get accurate, clear-cut insights on your composition, there are a few different tools we can use. The InBody machine is a great example.

The InBody measures BMI, percentage of body fat, water weight, and other contents of your body using bioelectrical impedance. It runs an electric current through 8 electrodes – two on each hand, two on each foot – and it measures the electrical resistance created by the various parts of your makeup. Water, muscle tissue, and different types of fat all produce different levels of resistance; the InBody uses these differences to accurately record the percentage of each within the different major segments of your body. Best of all, the scan is extremely non-invasive and takes just 30-seconds to carry out.

To have a full understanding of your progress as you work toward your goal, knowing more than just your weight is important. “Unfortunately, weight loss is not always a linear progression,” says Bridget Baldwin, Elite Personal Trainer at HAC, “especially for those people who are just starting to work out, or just restarting after a long break, or adding something new to their routine.” In many cases, people training to lose weight will reach a point when the needle on the scale slows or stops moving for a few weeks. This shouldn’t be discouraging; what’s likely happening is that fat weight is being replaced with muscle weight. Your bathroom scale can’t tell the full story; an InBody scan is necessary to be able to see the real healthy changes occurring behind the scenes.

2. Know your limitations

SMART goals also are attainable and timely. What exactly does this mean? In terms of working out, the plan you create to achieve your goal must take into consideration your physical strengths and limitations as well as any potential time constraints or objectives you may have. During your first personal training session, we take stock of this information using the FMS, or Functional Movement Screening, and a PAR-Q, or Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire.

Attainability in fitness usually refers to physical capability. No matter what goal you set out to achieve, safety should always be a key concern. Especially for new gym-goers, the opportunities for injury can be significantly reduced by first taking time to see the lay of the land. This means taking time to reflect on your medical history and evaluate your movement patterns with a skilled professional. Maybe you’ve recently been experiencing some soreness in your knees, or you have scoliosis, or you’re still in the throes of healing after surgery. These are all things a trainer must consider when developing your workout plan so as not to accidentally inflict more pain.

While safety is paramount, getting to know you also allows your personal trainer to tailor a fitness routine that plays to your strengths and interests. You wouldn’t expect a trainer to be able to write you the perfect workout plan without first getting to know you, right? Of course not! Developing an effective routine for you means taking you into account. Maybe you’d really like to focus on cardio work, or you’re interested in trying deadlifts for the first time. So long as safety is prioritized, doing what you can to make each trip to the gym enjoyable is absolutely encouraged. After all, you’re more likely to hit and even exceed your goals if you enjoy the process of achieving them. Playing to your strengths can ultimately make you stronger and finding opportunities to try the things you want to try is a great way to spice up your gym trips.

There’s also the matter of time. Limited availability is arguably the most common excuse given for not making healthy lifestyle choices such as going to the gym. If you’re operating on a busy schedule with a small window for workouts, that’s not a problem. Having to come up with a routine that works within a shorter timeframe and still produces results is something trainers deal with all the time. Whether you have all the time in the world or just thirty minutes per week to spend at the gym, it’s never impossible to formulate a plan.

3. Try some stuff

Even after honing your goal down to be specific, measurable, attainable, and timely, it still may fall a bit flat. Your goal must also be realistic. But most times, it’s hard to fully know whether your exercise plan-of-action is realistic for you until it is actually put it into practice. Human bodies are so complex, plus there are so many options for equipment and routines at the gym. It’s difficult to know how all the different factors will change the way you respond to a certain exercise, stretch, amount of weight, number of reps, etc.

A personal trainer does for a client essentially what a doctor does for a patient. The job of a trainer is to use his or her knowledge and expertise and the information that you provide about yourself to “prescribe” routines that will best help you achieve your goals. Implementing all of the information gathered about you and your body in order to develop your ideal training regimen is what makes personal training “personal”. But as is true with prescribed medications, the workouts we are given aren’t always the most effective ones for us. To determine what a realistic routine looks like for you, trial and error (and therefore patience) are often required. Your second free Personal Training session at HAC is there as an opportunity for you and your personal trainer to start some exercise experimentation. “Almost 100% of the time, something comes up during that first workout that was not revealed in all of that information gathering,” says Bridget Baldwin. What marks the success of that second session is the new information that comes out of it. And if you have to tweak your goal a little bit as a result, so be it.

No one’s born an expert

There’s a common misconception that you need to already have familiarity with the gym to start working with a trainer. Personal trainers are there to help and educate no matter your background. “Coming to us is a great way to start. There’s so much that you can be doing at the gym; we try to illuminate the things you need to focus on to achieve the things you want to accomplish,” says Elite Personal Trainer, Clayton Emory. And even if you’re no fitness novice, it’s okay to assume a beginner’s mindset. There’s never a bad time to re-familiarize yourself with your body and reframe your goals to assess your current needs. Plus, having a second set of experienced eyes to watch and correct your movements can help you in ways that a mirror on the fitness floor just can’t. All it takes is a start on the right foot to set and achieve greater goals in the gym.

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