If you are just getting started on anything in life (including working out), you expect to learn a lot as you start. While strength training and exercising you will always have opportunities to improve. To achieve your fitness goals, learning more about how to workout is just as important than training consistently. As you pick up additional education and knowledge, your training will be more efficient and breaking through plateaus will be much easier!
To get started, here are some gym tips that many people overlook when they start working out. This guide will get you started and help you to optimize your time training. Many of these tips will be common knowledge for advanced lifters, but it doesn’t hurt to spend a few minutes reading these tips to help round-out your knowledge.
- Increasing the weight you are lifting does not mean you are maximizing your strength training. Although tempting, measuring your progress by the amount you are bench pressing, squatting, or curling, that number alone does not mean much. Often times, especially when just starting, it is easy to sacrifice form in an effort to quickly progress up in weight. Although it is good to increase weight, it is crucial that your form is correct. Otherwise, you may not actually be getting stronger while also exposing yourself to unnecessary injury. More tips below on how to keep track of your form and safely increase the weight you are lifting.
- As you get stronger, be aware of your mobility. As you add on muscle mass and start to see a change in your body as a result of training, always try to be aware of how your mobility is being affected by lifting. Without proper warming up and stretching, your body will decrease in mobility. This will decrease your range of motion, and ultimately impede your ability to lift heavier weight and perform exercises’ full movements.
- Dynamic warmups are key. You will will probably see people hit the bench press and do some static warmups to stretch out their chest, and call themselves “warmed up”. If you want to get a full warmup to increase your mobility and prevent injury, dynamic warmups are going to help you get to the next level. For bench press, this may be as simple as doing some light dumbbell presses or bench pressing the barbell without any weight. It’s not a difficult to tack into your workout and your body will thank you for it!
- Compound movements beat isolated movements. Many beginners will get into split routines while training (eg: back and biceps split one day, chest and triceps split one day, etc.). Although these splits aren’t bad, compound exercises to target Push, Pull, and Legs split will help you not only improve your workout results and efficiency tremendously. To get the most of a Push, Pull, and Legs day, focus on exercises that will train your strength, stability, and coordination. Some key exercises to achieve this are dumbbell lunges, pull-ups, dumbbell shoulder press, dumbbell bench press, dumbbell squats, dips, barbell bench press, and barbell deadlifts and squats. If you can master the form for these exercises and consistently perform them every time you go to the gym, you will see incredible amounts of progress.
- Training your core is way more important than training your abs. Your abs are just one part of your core. It is actually made up of three parts that support your whole body. If you want to achieve the soreness and progress in your core that ultimate results in having sculpted abs, then you will benefit much more from hanging knee raises, planks on a bosu ball, wheel and stability ball rollouts, boats, bird dogs, back extensions, dragonfly’s, rotational throws, Dumbbell plank drags, wall planks, and any other exercise that boosts your core stability and coordination in addition to strength while also hitting more than solely your abs. Because your core supports the rest of your body, you additionally will see gains in lifts you never thought would be affected by your core. The core supports your abs, obliques, shoulder joints, hip joints, and your lower back muscles. If you strengthen the core, your trunk rigidity will improve. This ultimate allows your limbs to lift heavier and more independently from your body.
- Try incorporating kettlebells in your routine. It’s pretty easy to overlook or be intimidated by kettlebells. However, if you incorporate them, you open up a whole new training tool. Kettlebell movements, such as kettlebell swings will help you boost your glute strength and power, teach correct hip hinge mechanics, and help you perform high intensity conditioning. The freedom of movement used in kettlebell exercises, such as swings, goblet squats, one-arm rows and presses, and chest loaded swings will give you a unique challenge and are a must for training.
- Your cardio routines can be fun (and not dreadful). It is pretty easy to get stuck doing the typical cardio routines while lifting, such as hitting the treadmill or elliptical machine before or after your workout. In case this kind of exercise feels a bit monotonous to you, there are some great ways to take care of cardio while not feeling bored. Specifically, it is worthwhile to consider some circuits and the use of HIIT workouts to breathe new life into your cardio routines. It’s not only less time-consuming, but it also is fun and will keep you interested in your cardio. A few options include… butt kicks, jump squats, burpees, mountain climbers, alternating side lunges, jumping lunges, and forearm planks. In addition to getting an intense workout, these exercises hit the full body, as opposed to just legs as you would get from doing traditional cardio exercises.
- Creating or following an in-depth workout plan to see progress towards your goals. Once you have a little knowledge about the gym and have a few routines that you follow, it is way too easy to just go into your gym and start hitting machines as you see them become available. You might end up getting some progress from this, however it is difficult to make considerable progress with this free-form approach to training. If you stick to a pre-made routine, you will have a much more efficient workout. By planning in advance, not only will you save time choosing what exercises to do, you will know how many reps and sets to do each time you workout. Also, following a plan, will keep you accountable on how much you workout and prevent you from not doing the appropriate amount of exercise while at the gym. If you take pictures weekly of your progress and track your lifting as well, this will help you build the discipline needed for hitting your goals.
- Anatomy is your friend. Once you have a workout plan, it’s pretty easy to follow along and make progress towards your goals. However, researching and learning about how specific muscles are responsible for specific body movements will help you will have a new perspective on lifting weights. By knowing how each muscle functions, you will have a better idea of how form and technique affect the exercise you are doing. This will give you two huge benefits. One, it will help you know that you are training the correct muscles efficiently. Two, it will help you know when your form is improper and you are activating the incorrect muscles. This will lead you to making faster progress in addition to helping you avoid injury caused by straining muscles that you shouldn’t have been using on certain exercises. By understanding “why” certain exercises work specific muscles, you will be able to know which exercises you can substitute or add on to your workouts as you become more advanced.
- Without proper nutrition and rest, your gym efforts will be unrewarding. This may come off as a common piece of advice, however, it is too important to skip. Nutrition and rest are the fuel to make your body run, and you will not see as much progress (or even see regression) if your diet is unhealthy or you are not getting the amount of sleep your body should have. Stay focused on managing these two factors as you train. If you don’t see progress and you are following a good workout program, rest and nutrition are two common culprits you should look into.
- Breathe with you diaphragm instead of chest. In addition to exhaling and inhaling on your concentric and eccentric movements, you also want to make sure you are breathing through your diaphragm. The diaphragm breathing will improve how you exercise and will help improve your exercise habits. If you need help with this, a quick YouTube search on 90/90 breathing exercises will help you out.
- Record videos of yourself working out. Often times, we don’t have the ability while exercising to critique our form and how we are performing our exercise. If you want to really improve your form, try to film yourself performing the exercise from the side. Look at your body position and form to see if you are actually performing the exercise with the proper form. Also, pay attention to the time you are spending on the concentric, eccentric, pause, and rest of each exercise. You may be rushing the exercise and not even know it during your workout. If you want to improve your form, try to reduce weight or use no weight at all while modifying your form. Changing your from may feel strange at first, so taking weight out of the equation will help you adjust.
Training and lifting is an ongoing learning experience. Just like sports, there is always room for improvement. Try to continue reading and learning (check out other articles on this site) as you become more experienced and you will undoubtedly be on your way to achieving your fitness goals!