Are you sick and tired of going to the gym but wandering around aimlessly as you move from one machine to the next, but never really achieving anything? Do you want to know what you should be doing in the gym and finally figure it out once and for all? Read on to see what you should be doing in the gym.
Asked about the best ways to lose weight most people would go straight to some type of cardio and often include the elliptical and stationary bike or treadmill.
If the question was how to grow your muscles the answer would revolve around weights and if you were asked how to improve your overall fitness, the answer would probably be a combination of weights and cardio.
Thing is, when most people go to the gym they have no idea what they are doing, or any clue if what they are doing, is actually correct, but in this article, we are going to clear up once and for all what you should be doing when you go to the gym.
Establish Your Goals
First, it’s worth introducing the three main goals people have when they go to the gym, whether they know it or not.
Buzz words like ‘toning’ have muddied the water and confused people more, but for the most part, when you go to the gym you’re probably there to do one of three things.
- 1Lose Fat
- 2Gain Muscle
- 3Maintain Performance / Improve Fitness
There are of course other things you could be working on, injury rehab, flexibility and balance, sport-specific movements, but for most people, it’s one of the three areas mentioned above, and when you figure that out, you can start to get results.
It applies to more than you might think.
Once you’ve figured out where you stand, you can start to plan your way forward.
Clarify What You Want to Achieve
With all the miscommunication and fitness myths out there it’s hardly surprising that so many people don’t know what they want.
Buzzwords such as tone, lift, rip and cut have become common terminology even though nobody knows what it means.
For that reason, people often say one thing, when they mean another, and they hold negative associations with some things, when actually, it’s not bad at all.
Adding muscle doesn’t mean you want to look like a bodybuilder, it just means you want to add more muscle to your frame.
The bikini model with the ripped abs and perky butt, she got that through resistance training and by adding muscle to her body, not by cardio and skipping meals.
Just like the latest Marvel superhero transformation that seems to come out before each movie, the actors in those films pack on muscle but they also lose fat to reveal the muscle and make their physiques pop more.
When you start to understand what it is you truly want to do, you can start to focus on how to do it.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the right way to achieve each goal when it comes to the gym.
Despite the countless claims that some random new exercise is the best for burning fat, the truth is, there isn’t one. When it comes to losing fat the best exercise is the one which you enjoy doing and can stick to as part of a fitness regime. It should burn calories, as all exercises do, and it should contribute to your overall fitness and well-being.
However, when it comes to losing weight, exercise isn’t as important as you think and the majority of your results will come from your ability to remain in a calorie deficit with your biggest chance to do that being by eating less, not working out more.
Where exercise does help is by increasing your calorie burn and helping you to shape your body, but 60 minutes on the elliptical isn’t going to cancel out the extra-large pizza you consumed the night before.
So what should you do?
Resistance training will shape your muscles and give your body the look that you desire, whether that by a perkier butt, defined abs or stronger looking arms.
Although it doesn’t burn as many calories as a spin class it does increase your calorie expenditure post-exercise, which cardio sessions often do not, and it will help your body to look better as you lose the fat.
By continuing to perform resistance exercises you are also telling your body that you want to keep your muscle mass, ensuring you minimize how much muscle you lose, as your body changes.
Therefore to successfully lose fat, you should be lifting weights AND adding in some higher intensity cardio sessions at the same time, but most importantly, you should be eating in a calorie deficit as that will bring about the most change when losing fat.
It goes without saying that to build muscle, you need to work and overload that muscle, and that is best achieved through resistance training.
Although good gains can be made with bodyweight alone (the push-up and pull up are still two of the best exercises out there) actual weights can fast track the muscle-building process, however, just like with cardio, there is no ‘best exercise’ as each individual has different goals and limitations.
It should not come as a surprise that if you want to add muscle to a body part, you’re going to need to train that muscle group, bigger arms will require arm exercises and bigger shoulders will require shoulder work, but is there a ‘best way’ to train?
Too many people get caught up in the light-weight for many reps or heavier weight for little reps argument when they should be focusing on how much they’re training and the amount of work they’re completing.
The biggest factor in building muscle is the overall volume of work being completed over the training period.
Sticking to a bro-split and training your chest and arms twice a week but leaving everything else will result in muscular imbalances and possible overtraining, instead try to reach a minimum of 3 full body sessions a week, training all muscle groups in each session and progressively overloading the muscle as you progress through the training program, meaning you lift a little more or do it for more reps each time you train.
Maintain Performance/Improve Fitness
Maintaining of improving your levels of fitness and conditioning will require you to complete much of the same work that you’re already doing, however, you must also take a closer look at your goals.
If you’re trying to improve your 5k time then simply cycling on an indoor bike at a steady pace won’t do it. You need to look at including additional, advanced training measures into your program such as interval work to train your different energy systems and ensure that you develop and improve over time.
There’s a popular saying that if you’re standing still, you’re really moving backward and when it comes to maintaining your fitness and performance, this is the truth.
Whatever level of performance you are currently at, you must be pushing yourself harder to ensure you don’t start to fall behind. Goal depending, the principles of progressive overload still apply, you should be trying to do more, lift heavier or run faster, or eventually, you will start to fall behind. Including a mix of weight training to retain and develop muscle mass, and cardio training to improve your CV endurance, will help you to make the improvements you want.
Watch Your Mouth
When it comes to fitness goals and the work you do in the gym it’s also worth considering that the real results will come from your diet and what you eat.
Working hard to lose weight and completing intense resistance workouts, such as a barbell complex, will only help you to get results if you’re in a calorie deficit, similarly, if you’re trying to build muscle, but you aren’t eating to fuel your body and grow your muscle, your body won’t change. When it comes to fitness, what you put into your mouth is often the big equalizer that will truly impact how well you do.
Walking into the gym and having no idea what to do should be a thing of the past.
Once you have an idea of what exactly you’re going to do and you’ve got some clarity on your goals, you can start to put it into place and get the results that you deserve.
Building muscle requires resistance training and progressive overload, losing fat requires a focus on calorie-burning exercises and where possible, they should be based around resistance training to ensure you shape your body as you would like, and improving your fitness and conditioning is going to require you to push yourself a little harder at whatever it is you’re trying to do.
There is no situation where you will be asked to walk on a treadmill for 20 minutes or just work your chest 3 times a week and by adopting a smarter training program and aligning more closely with your actual goals, you will soon be able to enter the gym with confidence and get the results that you deserve.