Getting to the gym is a win in itself, but then you’ve got to figure out what to do when you get there.
To make it worse, you’re probably going to be surrounded by people who all seem to look like they know exactly what they’re doing. Even if they don’t.
So rather than sitting on the bike for 10 minutes wondering how to spend the next hour, follow this 14-point plan on how to nail your gym sessions.
It includes everything from mixing up your workouts to ensuring you have enough energy – and it all counts.
Make a plan of when you’re going to go to the gym and make it easy for yourself to stick to.
“Pack your gym clothes the night before so you are prepared to go in the morning or straight after work,” said Arron Collins-Thomas, a personal trainer.
“Hitting the gym straight from work will always yield better results than going home to get changed. The temptation to sit on the couch is just too great.”
2. Turn your phone onto aeroplane mode.
Distraction is your worst enemy at the gym.
“When you get to the gym or once you start exercising, turn your phone on aeroplane mode,” said Collins-Thomas.
“Being focused in your session will mean better results. You’ve made the effort to put on your gym clothes and get into the gym, don’t let your progress be impeded by getting caught up on what Dave is writing on Facebook.”
3. Finalise your goals.
Working out exactly what you want to achieve is your starting point. Do you want to build muscle or lose weight? This will give you focus.
“Set out a clear goal,” said Collins-Thomas. “Trying to achieve too many things at once in any part of life can be difficult and often result in failure or lack of focus.
“It’s very difficult to dramatically improve your running time while trying to also build a serious amount of muscle. Choose one main goal and go for it, often the smaller goals will take care of themselves along the way.”
4. Start with a stretch.
Rather than jumping on cardio, start your workout with a stretch. This will loosen muscles and prepare your body for the session.
“Stretching out will also prevent spasming and aching, and will lessen the risk of pulling or straining muscles,” said fitness trainer, Chris Baxter.
5. Limit time you spend in the gym.
It’s unrealistic to plan to spend two hours in the gym – more time in there does not equal better results. Alex Chaple, a Fitness First PT, said: “Limit your total workout time to one hour.
“If you can’t get it done in one hour then it’s time to look for a new programme.”
6. Find your nuggets of inspiration.
If you’re looking for inspiration exercises to do in the gym, you can learn from other people.
Look on fitness apps, fitness bloggers’ Instagram pages, or scour online for ideas. The amount of content out there can often be overwhelming, so stick to two or three sites you enjoy and check these before you head into the gym that morning or evening.
Alternatively (and in a non-creepy way), observe what other people are doing in the gym and next time you’re there, try it out.
7. Get your friend involved.
“Plan to train with a buddy,” said Collins-Thomas. “Knowing that you have someone relying on you is always a great way to stay on track and make sure you get to your sessions.
“It’s also much more fun to train with someone, as well as possibly adding a little competition.”
8. Don’t continue doing the same workout.
“Keep your training varied,” said Collins-Thomas. “Don’t do the same workout day-in-day-out or you will just get bored of it. Make sure you alternate programmes or classes through the week to keep the body guessing and stop you simply going through the motions.”
Chaple reminded people to step away from the treadmill if that’s the only thing they use for cardio fitness.
“Tabata-style training is a great way to get your heart rate up through an intense combination of jump lunges, burpees, mountain climbers, jump squats, and push-ups, with short breaks in between each,” he said.
9. Prioritise large muscle groups.
Chaple said: “Prioritise large muscle groups and a big range of movement to capitalise on your time in the gym.
“Think: squats, deadlifts, military presses and rows. To get the best results, start with a load that you can just about perform 12 repetitions with.”
10. Keep track of your results.
“If you want to improve your strength, make a note of the weights you lift each week to see improvements,” said Collins-Thomas.
“You can keep a track of your body measurements, too. However, doing it too often can be detrimental to motivation as day-to-day, you will not see many results. Re-measure every three to four weeks to give your body a chance to change and really show you how you are progressing.”
Fitness First personal trainer Georgia Gray agreed, adding: “If you really want to get the most out of any workout (short or long) you need to be recording what you’re doing and trying to improve week on week.”
11. Book a session with a personal trainer.
Having a PT session isn’t realistic for everyone’s budget, but they can be a great place to start if you want to branch out with the equipment you use or bodyweight exercises to try out.
Often, an induction with a personal trainer is included free when you start a gym, so it’s worth checking it out before you splash the cash.
“A personal training session will allow you to discover new workouts and exercises that you can work on yourself, and you can discuss what exercises are best for the body parts you want to work on,“ said Baxter.
12. Try out a class once a week.
“I would recommend doing one class per week, if your gym offers them,” said Baxter.
“Choose something all rounded and ideal for your level. Cardio classes or spin class are always really good options. Also, it will allow you to practise and hone in on the skills throughout the rest of the week.”
13. Work hard.
“It sounds so obvious, but don’t go in the gym and just go through the motions,” she said. “Get the most out of every rep. Don’t text in your rest periods. Don’t chat during your set (you shouldn’t be able to).
“Don’t aimlessly drift from one piece of equipment to the next. Do everything with purpose and focus. Make sure you’re getting ready for your next set 10/15 seconds before your time runs out so that you’re ready to start on time.
“Don’t perform eight reps when you could have done the full 12. Basically, just work hard.
Use the last 10-minutes of every workout to focus on something postural or that improves mobility.
“It may not be the sexiest part of your workout but longevity is king,” said Chaple.
“I suggest a standing external rotation with the pulley or a powell raise. Both exercises are easy to find on YouTube.”