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I Got Myself to the Gym. Now What?

You took the plunge and signed up for a gym membership. You change into your workout wear, turn on the iPod…and find yourself completely overwhelmed surrounded by a sea of equipment.  Don’t worry, you’re not alone.  One of my best gal pals from Northwestern University, Molly, recently posed the following questions:

“My problem with getting/staying fit right now is not knowing exactly what to do with myself once I’m at the gym. Should I just focus on cardio? (I’d like to lose a few pounds.) If so, do I stick with one machine like the treadmill and work on building speed and endurance, or switch it up and try the elliptical sometimes? Should I start again with the weight machines, which I haven’t done in a while? (I’d also like to tone up and gain strength.) Take a class?”

Two important points to address right away:

1) They key to losing weight is burning more calories than you take in. That can be done through cardio and/or resistance training. Whether you’re an exercise novice or seasoned gym-goer, your body will benefit most from a combination of the two.

2) Find what you like to do at the gym, and you will stick with it. Then with some help from perseverance, self-discipline and motivation, you can get the results you’re looking for.

Reminding myself how good I feel after a workout fuels my perseverance and self-discipline.  As for motivation, if you’re new to the gym, I strongly recommend meeting with a personal trainer at least once. Aside from helping you get familiarized with the gym, a personal trainer will also conduct fitness assessments to determine if you have any postural distortions that need correcting as part of your routine. In the simplest terms, you will learn what areas of your body need to be stretched and which need to be strengthened.

Many gyms welcome new members with a complimentary training session. If your gym doesn’t offer this service and a personal training session is not in your budget, then recruit a friend who does know his or her way around the gym to be your training partner.

Group exercise classes can also be a great source of motivation. With classes ranging from cardio kickboxing to Zumba, there is something out there for everyone. To avoid boredom at the gym, I’m a big fan of mixing up group exercise classes with your own program during the week.

Cardio is a topic that warrants its own blog post. For now, I recommend newcomers try the treadmill, elliptical and stationary bike for 10 minutes each. Determine which one you like best, then work on being able to run, stride or cycle for up to 30 minutes where you notice a moderate increase in your heart and respiratory rates.  Doing this five to seven days each week with two days of resistance training is a good workout plan to strive for.

One final note: it takes six weeks before something becomes a habit.  So, your first trip to the gym is the first big step in making exercise part of your routine to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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