As we all strive to live healthier in the New Year, getting fit is often a top priority.
Whether you're heading back to the gym after a long hiatus or are new to the fitness scene, here are a handful of tips for tackling the gym.
Hopefully they will help you maintain your fitness enthusiasm for months to come.
1. Fuel yourself
Timing is everything when it comes to eating and working out.
If you're too full, you get cramps, and if you're too hungry, you can't work your hardest. Keep pre-workout snacks, eaten 30 to 90 minutes prior to exercise, mostly in the carb family.
These foods should be easily digestible and should contain about 40 to 100 grams of carbs with a low amount of fat. It's also a good idea to keep the fiber content to a minimum since high-fibre foods can be difficult to digest.
2. Avoid peak times
Gyms are crowded in January. To ensure a good workout, avoid peak times like right before work, lunchtime, and immediately after office hours.
Mid-morning and mid-afternoon are great times to hit the gym.
If you can hold off until after 7 pm, the crowd will have diminished - just be sure to have a healthy, fueling snack around 5.30pm.
3. Don't trust the calorie counts
Cardio machines are a great way to get your heart rate up, but they are notorious for overestimating calories burned.
The most accurate way to measure your caloric output is to wear a heart rate monitor, which calculates based on your heart rate rather than averages based on the speed of the machine.
While we're on the subject of cardio machines, don't hold on to the handles of the treadmill, since it truly undermines your workout and compromises your posture.
4. Ask the staff
When confronted with a weight machine that confuses you, don't skip it or plow ahead and hope for the best - many injuries begin with this attitude. Instead, ask for help.
The gym staff is there to help you and should be happy to show you how to work the equipment.
5. Don't forget to breathe
- Cardio: Avoid shallow breaths since they are often an indicator that you are working too hard. Shallow breathing also indicates that you haven't established a suitable breath pattern for your activity. You want to take stronger and deeper breaths when doing cardio, so take the time to find your rhythm.
- Strength training: Generally, you want to breathe out on the difficult part of the lift or move to help stabilize your body during exertion. Exhale when you are lifting a hand weight to your shoulder during a bicep curl. This helps you engage your core to prevent you from swaying into your heels, which is cheating and could set you up for a lower-back injury. Think: "Inhale to prepare."
- Stretching: Slow, steady breathing is preferable when stretching and will help you relax. Try to focus on breathing from your diaphragm, which will make your belly move out on the inhale and not your chest and shoulders.
6. Don't fear the free weights
Working out with weights is essential to achieve toned, strong muscles. Lifting weights can also decrease overall body fat by three percent in 10 weeks if you lift twice a week.
Weight machines are fine, but they tend to work just one muscle at a time. You get more bang for your buck working with free weights since you can work multiple body parts in one exercise.
7. Work with a Personal Trainer
If you feel clueless about what to do in a gym, you should splurge and work with a personal trainer for at least five sessions.
You will learn new exercises, how to work the weight machines, how to push yourself, how to monitor your cardio, etc. Having a trainer takes the guesswork out of your fitness life. It could be the kick start that you need.
8. Know when to push yourself and when to chill
To make changes in your strength, you do need to push yourself, and you might experience delayed onset muscle soreness, aka DOMS. This type of muscular pain means you challenged your muscles, and it comes on after a workout.
However, if you feel a sharp, shooting pain, especially in a joint or your lower back, this means stop and check your technique. Try the motion again a little more slowly and thoughtfully. Same pain? Then try the motion smaller. Same pain? Stop. You experimented with your options, so stopping does not mean wimping out.
9. Wear wicking gear
Cotton absorbs your sweat, keeping you wet, but wicking fabrics pull the sweat away from your body and dry quickly.
Not only does wicking gear help prevent breakouts, but it also makes an hour-long sweat session much more enjoyable.
10. Be reasonable with post-workout treats
If you're heading to the gym to lose or maintain your weight, don't fall for the temptation of treats after working out.
It is easy to rationalise eating fattening foods after spending 30 minutes on the treadmill, but it's also easy to consume more calories than you burned.
The best food post-workout has carbs and protein, but you don't need much, and you really only need this if you worked out for over an hour. Be sure to drink plenty of water while at the gym.