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Beginners Guide To Training In A Gym

This week marks the end of the latest small group personal training program.

With a few clients going back to work and moving on (we all have to return to reality at some point) I’ve been having some discussions around how to get started training on your own.

My goal for the transformation is that the mums leave not only stronger, healthier and more confident, but also with the skills and knowledge to go into any gym and train themselves.

Some of them have already joined the gym and I’m super excited they are continuing their transformations beyond the 12 week period and changing their habits for life!

But how do you know where to start when going to the gym for the first time??

I’ve put together a beginners guide to training on your own, to help you get the most out of your time - because efficiency really is key as a mum!

Start with what you know

Firstly if you’re unfamiliar with the gym, going in with a rough plan of what to do might help you feel less intimidated by the new environment.

At Strong Mums Club we follow specific programs for each phase so the mums can perform these exercises with great technique and confidence. My advice? Start with what you know whilst you work out where everything else is (and what it does)!

And if you're feeling a little self-conscious remember......

....... everyone was a beginner once and most people are far too worried about themselves to be concerned with what you’re doing!

A friend recently shared some advice from his mum which can apply to so many scenarios but definitely the gym…..

"Just walk in like you own the place".

Love this!

Make sure you’re hitting all your key muscle groups

There are many ways to split your training up and as your training advances you’ll progress to more complex training programs. As a beginner, I'd keep it simple and just ensure you train all your major muscle groups (chest, back, shoulders and arms, legs and bum, abs) at least twice a week.

I'd suggest alternating between two (possibly three) different full body workouts each time you train and then stick to the same workouts for four weeks to allow your muscles to adapt to the program, before switching it up.

Start with the biggest/most complicated exercises first

Place the larger compound exercises (exercises using most muscle mass) at the beginning of your program, when you have more energy for them. A barbell back squat will take far more energy and concentration than a set of seated bicep curls.

If you’re using a combination of machine and free weight exercises I would generally place exercises where you're supported by a machine (such as a leg press) towards the end of the workout as these require less skill and are safer to do when fatigued.

Try to hit all your main muscle groups/movement patterns

At a basic level your first four exercises in a full body workout could include:

a) lower body push i.e. barbell squat, goblet squat, lunge, split squat (machine alternatives - leg press, hack squat)

b) Upper body pull i.e single arm row, bent over row, cable lateral pull down, pull ups (machine alternatives - seated row)

c) Upper body push i.e. incline dumbbell or barbell bench press, press ups (machine alternatives - seated chest press, seated shoulder press )

d) Lower body pull i.e. Romanian deadlift, sumo deadlift, hip thrust variation (machine alternative - seated/lying leg curl)

Then depending on time you could:

  • repeat some/all of the movement patterns with different variations targeting the muscles in a different way (i.e lateral pull down followed by seated row); or

  • use the rest of the session to focus on smaller isolated exercises for specific body parts such as arms, shoulders, abs, glutes etc (i.e. bicep curls, plank, dumbbell lateral raises, tricep dips)

This will all be dependent on your specific goals.

If your goal is fat loss, I would generally focus on larger more compound exercises as these will have the biggest overall effect (see blog Want A Flat Stomach?)

Sets and reps

This will likely change as your training advances and your goals evolve but as a beginner you can’t really go wrong with three sets of 10-12 reps on each exercise. Keep it simple.

Straight sets or supersets

Straight sets are where you perform consecutive sets of the same exercise before moving onto the next set of exercises. Performing straight sets usually requires more rest to allow your muscles to recover before performing the same exercise again.

Supersets are where you alternate between two different exercises until you’ve completed three sets of each. This often requires less rest as you can work opposing muscle groups and therefore rest one muscle group whilst the other is working.

Which you choose to do may depend on a number of factors, but the biggest when training in a commercial gym will be availability of equipment and how busy it is.

It is easier to do supersets using free weights as you can select the weights you need, then guard them with your life while you train! Trying to commandeer two machines without someone jumping in and ruining your flow can sometimes be a little harder.

Personally I love supersets as I feel like I’m working harder and getting more done - efficiency is key!

How to select the right weight

Selecting the right weight may take some trial and error.

Firstly, look at the rep range (number of reps you’re aiming for i.e. 10-12) and then select a weight where you can perform that number of reps with good technique and control.

If you can't hit the minimum number of reps then the weight is too heavy and should be decreased for the next set.

Ideally you want to be completing the number of reps with a few reps still left in the tank (i.e. aiming for 12 but you could actually do 14-15 reps if you had to). This means you’re working within the right range.

If you're aiming for 12 but could actually do 16 or more reps then the weight is probably too light and you should increase for the next set.

You’re ready to increase the weight when you have reached the maximum number of reps (e.g. 12) on all three sets with good technique and control.

And finally......

Remember the key principle for building muscle and getting stronger is ‘Progressive Overload’

To build strength, you must ensure that every time you train you lift slightly more volume than the last session. This means your muscles are constantly recovering and repairing from your workouts.

As you increase the volume lifted, your strength and muscle mass will increase.

This principle is called 'Progressive Overload'.



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