Getting Started

In common with lots of things, getting started with exercise is not easy.

It often helps to work out why you want to train- to get stronger, quicker, lose weight etc?

There are some basic principles which will help: Strength training generally uses heavier weights for fewer repetitions, whilst cardiovascular endurance uses lesser loads for longer periods. The obvious example of the latter is to do an exercise by time (walking, running, rowing, cycling) carrying no extra weight. There are many factors at work, but one is that strength requires more “fast twitch” muscle fibres, whilst endurance aims to develop “slow twitch” fibres. Both will improve strength and heart/ lung function in the end.

So, for pure strength training, it is usual to use approaching maximum weight (maybe 85-100% of your best single lift) and just 5-8 repetitions made in an “explosive” way; be careful, this has a higher risk of injury. To develop size and definition more reps are needed, so the weight must be reduced- say 70-85% maximum and 8-10 repetitions, whilst for toning 50- 65% best lift, and 10-15 reps. To lose weight or purely improve the duration of exercise 20+reps of light weight (whatever can be managed) or pure cardiovascular exercises as above.

Of course, it is actually much more complicated, but we are talking about getting started.

Similarly, you need to decide how much time you have available for training? 2 sessions of 30-45 minutes a week will help, 3 will definitely make a difference. As things improve you may want to do more, and it can help to divide the exercises into broad groups, maybe back & legs 2 days, and arms and shoulders 2 days a week? With 3 sessions a week it may make more sense to just do the same broad set of exercises every time.

You will see some people doing one exercise, over several sets, to exhaustion and then moving on. This is fine, but time-consuming. By picking a simple series of exercises, going from one muscle group to another it is possible to work each area well but not waste time recovering- that is done for one group whilst exercising the next.

For best results, work opposing muscle groups (flexors and extensors) and have a solid frame to work from ie good core strength. This develops from exercises working the postural muscles of trunk and legs. For the trunk, opposing groups means both back extensions and abdominal exercises such as knee or leg raises, and sit-ups.

Exercises should ideally be completed slowly, under full control in both directions, and using the full range of movement of the muscle. If this means you can lift less weight, or do fewer reps, it also means you were probably trying to do too much, too soon, anyway. Remember, for weight training “less is more” and for technique “good is good, bad is bad”. You will never look silly using lighter weights properly; you will by trying to do too much badly.

When picking exercises, start with larger groups, or activities that use all the muscles of an area. The green frames for core strength training are good for this, and working down the row is a reminder of useful exercises. When you get to something which is too hard (perhaps pullups, or dips) move across to the Multigym and use the equivalent station (lat pull-downs or bench-press). Generally, a wider grip or stance uses more muscles, and a narrower one is more specific- so do the wider grip ones first and add the “isolators” if you still have energy left!

As you get to the treadmills this is a reminder to do some cardio work, either here or on one of the alternatives- cycling, cross-trainer or rowing. These can also be a good way to warm up and get started. When moving down the gym, as you pass the dumbells take it as a reminder to do something with them- anything is good as it just adds resistance to arm movement. As you try different things you will find exercises you like, those you are good at, and some that don’t suit. Select accordingly, there is no right or wrong.

Don’t try to do too much, too soon. Pick 6-7 exercises and build up slowly; allow a day off for recovery between sessions. As you improve, going for longer, doing more reps and increasing the weight, you will start to feel good, so enjoy it. And be prepared to ask, the members are all friendly and will be pleased to offer advice. If something looks interesting ask why it is being done, and how it should be done.

What you pick is your choice, but here’s a suggestion to start. Consider doing at least 2 circuits, and initially it is not necessary to do each exercise every time round.

Warm up on the spinning bikes, or one of the exercise bikes.

Do knee raises on the green frame (core strength and gets the shoulders warmed up).

Back extension at the next station.

Multigym bench-press.

Multigym leg extensions.

Multigym lat pull-downs.

Multigym hamstring flexion.

Treadmill walking or running (or possibly cycling if not done to warm up).

Dumbells, one or two choices of bicep flexion , lateral or forward raises, above head presses.

Rowing is a good all-round exercise to finish a circuit.

A word about weight loss. Some equipment has “fat burn” programmes, and you will hear advice on doing specific exercises to lose weight in particular areas, eg sit-ups for the tummy. This is misleading - muscle has an energy store called glycogen which it uses preferentially.

This lasts for about half an hour, so irrespective of what exercise you do, you will not burn fat until you have been exercising for at least 30 minutes. Then, unfortunately, the body mobilises fat to preserve its reserves, so it will tend to use peripheral fat rather than central stores, meaning that specific exercises over fat areas don’t help - although it is all good and goes toward the necessary 30 minutes plus. The real truth is that to lose weight you must eat less.

There is way more energy in food than often realised, or needed , and unless you are doing sustained exercise (such as running for several miles) activity alone will not be enough. For example, a standard potato has roughly enough energy for a 3 mile run. So take in less energy, but exercise to burn off more.

Get going…