It’s nearly the end of February and if your gym is anything like mine, it is starting to thin out a bit. Some of the New Year’s Resolution-ers have fallen by the wayside (a moment of silence for our fallen comrades) but those of you that have stuck it out, you’ve punched your ticket to Gainsville!
I want to share some nuggets of wisdom I’ve collected over the years in the gym, be it mistakes I have made, exchanging war stories with other gym goers, or in doing reading and research on health and fitness topics. This little collection of tidbits is what I wish someone would have shared with me when I was new to the gym. No matter what your goal may be (more on this in a minute), you will likely be able to take away something from this post.
First things first — What are your goals?
You would think this is a pretty obvious one, but after seeing thousands of folks run through the gym over the years, I can tell you many come in and have absolutely no plan. Even if you have already started and haven’t set any goals, do that now. Why are you lifting? Are you trying to get stronger? Are you trying to lose weight? Are you trying to improve your physique? Once you pick an overarching goal, do research and formulate a plan on how you plan to achieve it.
For example, if you want to become a powerlifter, you’re likely going to use a plan like Starting Strength, StrongLifts, or something similar where you’re doing high weights at low reps. Meanwhile, if you’re wanting to focus on physique, you’re going to be lifting much lighter at high reps. Bottom line, no matter your reasoning for being in the gym, put something tangible down on paper that you would like to accomplish so you have something to strive for and measure against.
If weight loss is the goal, the fork is mightier than the dumbbell.
It doesn’t matter how much cardio you do, how many reps you throw up, unless you’re handling your business in the kitchen, you’re not going to be successful with your weight loss goal without changing your relationship with food. It also doesn’t have to be difficult, either. No matter what eating plan appeals to you, it could be the Cookie Monster chocolate chip cookie diet, as long as you calculate your accurate total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and eat fewer calories in chocolate chip cookies than that number, you’re going to lose weight.
Calories in, calories out. You may be one of the ultra rare instances where the law of thermodynamics doesn’t apply to you, but odds are you just can’t put the fork down. I know, I was that guy for a long time. Still am on occasion, too. For me, when I’m honed in on my eating, the ketogenic diet works best for me because the high amounts of dietary fat keep me full longer. Find what works for you, but the only way you’ll be successful is if you’re honest. Track your calories with MyFitnessPal religiously. Track everything. Yes, even that dollop of sauce.
Just as an example, your average BBQ sauce is about 70 calories per serving. If you ate at caloric maintenance and had a single serving of BBQ sauce (I mean, it’s only an ounce) as excess calories, that would lead over 7 pounds of fat over the course of a year. In 10 years time, that’s 70 plus extra pounds. A pound of fat equates to 3,500 calories so even just 10 extra calories per day can put on over a pound a year. You can pick that up plus some just by licking your spoons clean when cooking dinner. Track everything.
Just because you can pick it up, doesn’t mean you can lift it.
I’m going to start with this one because it is likely the biggest offender I see in the gym for new lifters. They come in, see other (and sometimes much smaller) guys throwing around heavy weights and think they should be doing the same. What they haven’t seen is that guy is in the gym five days per week and has worked his ass off to get to that point. He’s lifting that weight because that is what he has worked up to.
If you’re using momentum to jerk weight up, you’re not lifting it. I award you no reps, and may God have mercy on your soul. Seriously though, you’re just cheating yourself out of your potential gains, which are amplified as a beginner to boot. If you’re going to put the time in, don’t you want all of the results you deserve? Now, if you’ve banged out 8, 10 or 12 good reps and want to push yourself past failure, feel free to throw in a couple cheat reps at the end.
Speaking of which… Form above all else. Period.
You’re not in the gym for anyone but yourself. If you’re jerking weights around that are too heavy for you with poor form, not only are you wasting your time, but you’re on a fast track to injury. Trust me, nobody in the gym is laughing at you when you’re doing 20 pound curls with perfect form but you can damn well bet you’re getting snickers if you’re spaghetti arming up 40 pound dumbbells. Check your ego at the door and try your hardest to lift with good form. You’ll find that this along with consistency will see more weight fly onto the bar.
One last thing… You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Ever see someone in the gym that is standing with one foot on red, has one hand on yellow, and is doing a tricep kickback. Way too often I see people making simple exercises difficult for no damn reason. Unless you’re an advanced lifter and absolutely need different stimulus to progress, stick with the basics and ignore all of those boutique (sic: junk) lifts YouTubers are trying to sell so they can keep pumping out content every Tuesday. Check out MyBookshelf and pick up the Strength Training Anatomy books which will give you all of the lifts needed to look good naked.
Gym etiquette goes a LONG way, baby!
If there is anything your fellow gym goers disapprove of most, it’s the lack of gym etiquette from fellow members. Re-racking your weights and wiping down the equipment you just used is non-negotiable. Also along those lines, most gyms are not gigantic, wide open fields so spreading out or using multiple machines is generally frowned upon, too. Now, if it is an off peak time and the place is dead, by all means, knock yourself out.
One of my pet peeves that I don’t see mentioned often is walking in front of someone currently in the middle of a lift. I have yet to see a gym where you cannot walk on both sides of a rack, for example. If someone has 400 pounds on their back, a momentary lapse in concentration can easily cause injury. In addition to concentration, they may be using a mirror to study their form or to recall cues at certain points of their lift. Same goes for dumbbell row — either walk behind their bench or wait to re-rack when their set is complete.
Bring your cell phone on the gym floor? If you’re use your cell phone to listen to music while lifting, awesome, but don’t get in the habit of sitting on a machine for 3-5 minutes checking social media or picking out your next song. Also, nobody else cares you listen to Norwegian Death Metal so if you forgot your headphones, forget your phone in the locker room. And don’t even think about taking calls on the floor — take your ass to the lobby.
The bottom line is if you’re in there working and being respectful of the gym and other members, you’ll likely never have any issues. Treat the gym like you would an airplane or any close quarters shared space.
Have gym anxiety? Surprise! We all do!
One of the biggest complaints I hear pretty often is how anxious the gym makes people and how they feel people are staring at them, judging them, or making fun of them. First, let me get it out of the way if someone is verbally disrespectful to you in the gym, you need to immediately go report it to the gym staff. With that out of the way, let me clue you in on something — everyone in the gym has anxiety, insecurity, or other issues, which are probably the reason they’re at the gym in the first place.
In terms of people staring at you, this one is usually pretty explainable in one of a couple ways. First, I routinely stare off into space in between my sets because I’m just trying to breath and stay alive. Secondly, sometimes people stare because maybe they want a better look at your shoes (I’m guilty) or maybe they want to compare form if they think they may be doing something wrong. Now, if you’re doing one of the things I mentioned previously in the post like ego lifting, all bets are off.
The bottom line is don’t get into your own head when it comes to anxiety or your insecurities. I’ve been lifting consistently for years and I still am as insecure about my body as the day I stepped foot in the gym 150 pounds heavier. Wrapping everything up, formulate some goals, reign in your eating and be consistent and you can truly do anything you set out to do.
If you’re just here for the music video, I hope this one doesn’t scar you for life.