BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO FITNESS
So you’ve decided to improve your health or grow muscles by visiting a gym a few times a week? Here is our guide to essentials you have to keep in mind while working out.
As obvious as it is, let’s go through some basic equipment we should have with us at the gym:
WATER BOTTLE – Hydration during workout is essential. A 2% loss of water can lead to 20-30% decreased performance, so stay hydrated! The best workout drink is plain water – it gets absorbed quickly and effectively re-hydrates our body. If our training lasts more than 90 minutes, our body starts to lose important minerals through sweat, which are essential to replace. So if your training lasts more than 90 minutes consider using hydration drinks to replace the lost minerals. As for the materials, we would recommend glass water bottles, because most plastic items release a tiny amount of chemicals into the beverages or food they contain. So in order to stay healthy, we would recommend using glass bottles.
TOWEL – Essential equipment in every gym. Not only for your health, but for the safety of everyone using the gym. Gym equipment is known to contain a large amount of viruses and bacteria, simple due to the fact that there are a lot of people sweating on and around that equipment. A simple bathroom towel is more than sufficient for gym purposes and we would strongly recommend that you wash it on 60-90 degrees Celsius (140-194 degrees Fahrenheit) in the washing machine after use, since this is considered the temperature range that is the most effective at killing the bacteria.
INDOOR SHOES – There are shoes for every taste on the market, but we would strongly recommend sneakers and not a regular walking shoes at the gym. For the safety of your ankles (to prevent sprains and offer stability if you step awkwardly), for the safety of your toenails if you happen to drop a weight on your toes (it happens even to the best of us) and for the stability while performing the exercises (you wouldn’t want to chase a large weight above your head because your shoe with bad sole slipped on the floor). We find indoor sport’s type of shoes the best for stability and strength, but you wouldn’t make a mistake with a nice pair of running shoes either.
Let us now follow through a training process and outline some important steps in the process:
Often overlooked, but good warm up is essential for good performance in training. Important thing in warm up is to include all or most of the large muscle groups in our body, so running, walking, jump-rope training or medium-intensity team sports are excellent examples of a good workout. The purpose of a warm up is to bring your body on the “operating temperature”. This enables for important hormones in the body to be released, which enables our body to start our workout at a higher level, hence the body can perform better, because it is better prepared for training loads. Some dynamic stretching exercises are encouraged to prepare the muscles and joints for full range of motion (avoid static stretches at the beginning of the workout) and our warm up should last 10-20 minutes, depending on the intensity and preferences.
ORDER OF EXERCISES
In every gym session your order of training should be – first exercises that involve more muscle groups and larger muscle groups, then exercises that involve smaller muscle groups. There are three main reasons for that.
First – fatigue factor. At the beginning of your workout you are fresh and capable of doing harder exercises, so it’s only sensible to spend that energy on hard exercises that involve many muscle groups, such as snatches, squats or cleans. Doing full body exercises at the end of the workout and performing them with bad form because your muscles are too tired to perform them properly is not only energy-consuming, but also dangerous. You are not doing yourself any favors if you injure yourself and can’t workout for weeks, because your tired muscles weren’t able to perform the exercises properly.
Secondly – explosiveness. If you are already skilled enough to perform Olympic lifts (snatches and cleans) you are aware that those are explosive, fast exercises. They utilize fast twitch fibers and short bursts of maximum power. It would be completely contra productive to perform them at the end of the session, because your muscles would be tired and you will be essentially training them to perform at 70% speed, instead of producing maximum speed and lifting the heaviest weights.
And lastly – increased performance and growth. Performing full body exercises and including large muscle groups (legs, etc.) at the beginning of your training is directly correlated to your growth. Exercises that include a lot of muscle mass trigger a strong hormonal response. Following those exercises by more specific exercises for smaller muscle groups means the hormones released by the previous exercise are still in your blood flow and are therefore contributing to the performance when working on a smaller muscle group! And consequently increasing the effectiveness of that exercise and eventually growth of the muscles. So start with the squats and continue with isolated leg exercises for front and back leg muscles (quadriceps and biceps) for maximum growth.
TYPES OF EXERCISES
Should I squat or should I go for leg press machine? Should I bench freely or in the rack with safety hooks? Should I do leg and arm exercises together? The type of exercises and order you perform them mainly depend on your goals and fitness level, so we can’t give you an universal answer. But we would recommend the beginners to start with the exercises on the fitness machines, which provide you with a number of safety features and ability to control the range of motion, so you can prevent potential injuries and safely strengthen your muscles. If you have mastered the basic exercises in the machines, you can start performing some basic free-weight exercises to even further increase your fitness.
So what is the main difference between leg press and a squat if there even is any? The dynamic stabilization. When you are in a leg press machine, your range of motion is limited and most of the weight is sitting on your legs. Your torso doesn’t have to stabilize the body, nothing is interfering with your balance, and you can perform the exercise in pretty consistent position. But when you are performing the same exercise as a free weight exercise (squat), the weight that sits on your shoulders has to be stabilized, to prevent you from falling over with it. Large legs as well as small core muscles must continuously work to stabilize your torso to keep your spine in a safe position. Consequently, you are not only training your legs, but also stabilizing muscles in your torso, which provide support for your spine and maintain your proper posture throughout the day. So natural progression for every beginner would be to start with the leg press and slowly progress towards free-weight exercises such as squats because of the added benefits. Just be sure to perform them with safety measures in place.
Gradual cool-down is as important as warm up for an effective training session. Perform some light running to help body flush out the waste substances that accumulated in your blood flow during the workout and complete the workout with nice refreshing shower. You could try a popular regeneration method athletes use after the workout – contrast showers. Alternate warm and cold shower to help your body passively flush out the waste substances. Stay under warm water for 3 minutes. The warmth stimulates an increased blood flow to the muscles, hence “picking up” of the waste substances. Switch to cold water and stand under cold water for 1 minute. This stimulates the contraction of blood vessels and thus “deportation” of waste products away from the body and towards the organs that will break them down to maintain the balance in the body. Repeat the process 2-3 times and keep an eye on the temperature of the water so it doesn’t get too warm or too cold. This is a great technique for passive regeneration of the body after a hard workout.
Do I need a regeneration supplements like proteins? If you are a beginner, there is no need to go for an expensive food supplements, but we would recommend a protein based meal after workout, to help your muscles to repair themselves. It has actually been proven that a chocolate milk within 20-30 minutes after workout can have almost identical effect as an expensive protein shake. But if you are training hard and keeping up with a lot of other responsibilities (work, family), good regeneration supplement can really help you recover after a hard workout.
In short a proper warm up and cool down are a must for balanced training including protein-based food or drink after the workout. Start with hard, full-body exercises and continue towards smaller more specific muscles. Stay hydrated and keep your workplace while you work, as well as after you leave, because nobody wants to come to the sweaty workstation with weights lying all around it. And don’t bother with others…half of the people have just barely started who look at he machines as they are rocket science, there are former professional athletes that are throwing around the weight of a small car and there’s a lawyer with millions in the bank, who just dropped a weight on himself. Nobody cares! We were all beginners once, we all made mistakes and you are writing your own story. Go to the gym, start working out and find a pace that suits only you! Post your questions about going to the gym below, and we will make sure to add the answers to your questions in the article!