What Sort of Exercise Should I Be Doing?
So, you’ve decided you want to start going to the gym, but you’re not really sure where to begin. Do you hit the cardio machines, give the free weights a go, or try out the classes in the studio?
The key to answering this question is to decide what your goal for exercising is. Once you know this, you can devise a plan that is best suited to you and your needs and keep you motivated long term.
With this in mind, I thought I would put together a classification type post, to give you an idea of the sort of exercise that may be best for you. Now, before you take my word as fact or argue with me stereotyping, please note that this is only a brief overview and yes, I am barely touching the surface with matching goals to training styles. But for the most generic of goals, and for those not sure where to start, please feel free to have a read and take what you like from this information.
You want to exercise to be healthier, get a bit fitter and losing some excess weight would be a plus. You are fairly self-motivated, want to use the gym as time to let go of your stresses and have some ‘you’ time.
The majority of gyms invest heavily in their cardio equipment, bringing in the latest versions of the classic Treadmill to help you get your heart rate up, body warm and sweat dripping. They allow you to work at your own pace, choosing a specific programme setting to suit you (speed play, interval, mixed terrain etc) and burn some calories. They can be a good stress release as you plug in your headphones and work consistently for a set period of time.
I would say the clue is in the name –cardio machines are designed to increase your cardiovascular efficiency. In the past, this is exactly what they have done for me – they got my heart rate up, made me sweat a little (or a lot) and made me feel good about myself for doing some exercise (afterwards, not during). They were a perfect complement to my lacrosse training, helping me to keep going for longer in matches. I never saw particular fat loss or changes in my body shape from cardio training, no matter how often I engaged.
You also want to get a little fitter and healthier and lose a little excess weight. You want some variety to keep motivated and are not always sure what to do exercise wise. You prefer external motivation, someone to make you work harder and people to share ‘the burn’ with.
I can’t sing the praises of group exercise enough for this goal. Having spent a good few years with the mic around my head, I have seen the power of group exercise. The smiles on faces as people look across the room to their panting friend, is one that always filled me with joy. There is no doubt exercise classes are a way to help people enjoy exercising and with so many varieties of class, there is something to suit everyone.
Group ex made me love working out and I always left a class feeling amazing about myself and what I, and everyone else in the room, had achieved. It taught me great technique, loads of different exercises (body weight and weighted) and got me super fit. I wish I could say that it helped me to get the body I wanted, but classes only went so far for my fat loss, strength gains or body toning, no matter the style of class I tried. They did however help me to build a strong level of all round fitness.
You want to build muscle, burn calories and get fitter. You enjoy the feeling of exercising hard, sweating lots and feeling your heart rate lift. You want to drop body fat and look like an active gym go-er.
High volume, weighted circuits or HIIT sessions are the one for you – whether this be in the form of a class or a self motivated session. Performing a mixture of 4-5 body weight/ weighted exercises back to back in a round with short rests in between, can really get you panting, racking up the calorie burn. The weights will help increase your strength up to a point and the endurance based workout will help to get you fitter.
HIIT circuits definitely got me super fit, super quick and they suited my training style down to a tee. I love an intense workout and the feeling of knowing you pushed through the mental barriers to complete that extra rep. This kind of training set me well on my way to dropping the first layer of body fat and the weighed elements improved my muscular endurance levels to the point where I was able to perform a high volume of reps with ease. However, I hit multiple plateaus with this training style fairly quickly – I never really got much stronger or lost more fat after a certain point.
Forget ‘fitter’ or ‘healthier’ – these aren’t your main reasons for training – yes they will come with the territory - but you care mainly about looking fit and improving your performance.
My friend, my option for you is to lift, and I mean weights, heavy weights.
In my opinion, and through my own experiences, the key to serious weight-loss, tone and strength gain is to get yourself in the free weight section. By working with heavy weights, you activate protein synthesis, helping you to build muscle, speeding up your metabolism and losing body fat. You’d honestly be surprised how high you can get your heart rate pumping and how out of breath you can be through even one rep, if the weight load is right. And the best thing about weight training is you can adjust for your specific goals (strength gain, strength endurance, muscle mass development), through changing reps/sets/weight loads, so you never hit a plateau.
I couldn’t emphasise the amazing results weight training has had for me enough– and no girls it won’t make you bulky – it will make you beautifully lean and amazingly strong. It gives you the muscle definition/size you want and because of the huge variety of training styles, exercise combinations and training loads, it is easy to change up when you get a little bored.
Now, I said it at the beginning and I will say it again. This post is not meant to be taken as fact. It is not my aim to concretely categorise goals with the perfect exercise answer, nor do I wish to advocate only using these training styles in isolation - of course a combination is ideal if that’s you want. For those of you who are lucky enough to know what works for you/what you want to do in the gym, then of course, feel free to ignore me. But for those of you who know your goals, but are unsure of where to start, I hope this post has provided you with a little bit of help.
For more information on any of these training styles, please feel free to get in touch, or indeed, do your own research online or through experimenting. You’ll only find what truly works for you by giving it a go!
Happy exercising J
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