If you haven't used a gym before, or haven't used one for a long time, it's understandable that it can feel a bit intimidating. Working out at a gym offers many great advantages over going it alone. This post addresses many of the common concerns people have about using the gym.
You start thinking things like:
I'll take each of these points one at a time.
Do I even need to go to a gym? What's the point?
Of course you don't need a gym, there are other ways to exercise and to get into better shape. I would say for me, the biggest advantage I see to using a gym is the variety of services and equipment it offers. I could never afford to buy all the kinds of equipment at a gym. Sure, I can buy a treadmill and some basic home weight equipment, and yes, those will work just fine. However, one of the principles I have learned from my own experience is that to maximize results, it helps to change up your exercise routine every 3 weeks or so. It keeps your body and your mind more engaged and more challenged and a bit more sore, which is a sign of progress. Your body is good at adapting to a normal routine and becoming efficient at it, so if you can keep changing things up, it's good. Having a large variety of equipment makes it easier to change up your exercise routine on a regular basis.
Also, in order to maximize fat burning, it's good to build muscle. Having more muscle on your body actually helps you burn more calories (and fat) throughout the day, even when you aren't exercising. The best way to build muscle is through resistance training (i.e. working with weights). Cardio exercise (walking, aerobics, elliptical, biking, running, swimming, etc.) is great for cardiovascular health, and can help with fat loss as well, but resistance training is important if you want to maximize your results.
So no, a gym isn't necessary, it's just a convenient way to implement a constantly changing resistance training program that incorporates a variety of equipment.
Can't I just walk and do my exercise videos?
Absolutely! ANY kind of exercise is good for your health. You don't need to dive right into using a gym. If you're really out of shape and haven't exercised in a long time, work up to going to a gym.
First, just get moving more than you have in the past. If necessary, go to a doctor, tell her you want to start an exercise program, and listen to what she says. If you're in a good position to begin an exercise program, start by just taking walks. Don't just do a leisurely stroll, walk at a pace that makes you breathe hard, but not too hard. Then perhaps buy a few exercise videos. They range from beginner level to P90 X3, so you can get pretty much any level of workout you want. I suggest looking on amazon.com at exercise videos, look at the level that is right for you, read the reviews and choose some that you find fun and interesting.
When you're in a position to take your health and fitness goals to the next level, you might want to consider the benefits of using a gym. Give it a try for a good three months on a regular basis (at least 3 times a week) and gauge your results.
Everyone is so fit there, and I'm so fat, it will be embarrassing
This is a good point. There are different types and styles of gyms. There are gyms that totally cater to people who are seriously into bodybuilding. There are gyms that are mostly for women. There are neighborhood or city gyms that are more general purpose and you'll see all types of people at varying levels of fitness. I would suggest asking around, visit the gyms in your area and find one that feels comfortable to you. If you're at the right kind of gym, then you shouldn't feel self-conscious. I was very fat and out of shape, but I never for a moment felt out of place or judged by the people around my in our city's rec center. And now that I'm in better shape, I admire the fat people I see there on a regular basis.
I might injure myself
This is true, you have to be very careful. As I said, consult with a doctor and get their advice. If they give you the go ahead to start an exercise program, just listen to your body. If you have a weak knee or a bum foot, be careful not to over-stress them. If you feel like you have injured yourself during a workout (you'll know, it will feel different), then stop, go home, put it on ice and if necessary get medical attention. But if you listen to your body (challenge yourself, but don't overdue it), you will avoid injury.
For years I lived with an old leg injury that made it hard to do certain kinds of equipment, like leg extensions. I found that if I didn't avoid exercising it, but also didn't try to hurt or over exercise it, that it actually became stronger over time and was finally able to heal.
Yes, some gyms can be expensive, others are more affordable. Shop around and find a gym that you're comfortable with, including price. My wife and I committed to a year at our city rec center and end up paying about $30 per month for both of us, so about $15 each per month, or about 50 cents per day. I can fit 50 cents per day into any imaginable budget. There are much fancier gyms that will be more expensive. If you can afford them and they excite you, great. I would suggest trying the gym out for a few weeks before making a longer term commitment.
It's too hard to use the equipment, I am too out of shape
Again, work with your doctor, but if she tells you it's ok to get started then get started. You don't start with heavy weights, you start light. Whether using free weights or machines, you want to use an amount of weight that you can do about 10-12 repetitions, but feels challenging, especially the last few reps. If you put it at the lightest weight and proceed to do 50 repetitions, it might might make you feel good psychologically, but you're doing nothing for your body. The idea is to stress your muscles, then allow them to rebuild between workouts. You should feel some soreness afterwards.
I don't want to "bulk up" and become all muscle-y
This is typically a concern for women. Let me put your mind at rest. There isn't any chance that you'll bulk up. You'll develop muscles and improve tone, but you're not going to bulk up. All of those pictures you've seen of buff women body builders - they are doing some extreme things to get those muscles, none of which you are doing. It's similar with men. I have definitely put on muscle during my journey, but I think it looks good, and I'm definitely nowhere close to bodybuilder territory. Don't worry about this. Did I say you shouldn't worry about this? Well, don't.
I don't know where to begin
Well, as I said early on, a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step. It's ok to go outside of your comfort zone. Especially if that comfort zone is a couch in front of a TV. If you're ready to change and have made the commitment to better health, it means that you're ready to take action. That action includes eating better and moving more. You don't need to start by going to a gym. Take baby steps. Start going for regular walks. Use exercise videos. If you really aren't sure exactly what combination of eating and exercise will work best for you, consider a personal trainer who will sit down and create personalized goals with you.
When the time is right to get more serious about weight loss, one critical factor is resistance training. Gyms are a great way to have access to a wide variety of exercise equipment with a fairly low cost commitment. Of course you'll need a workout plan. I'll post more about that later, but in the meantime you can just click here for various web sites that can give you ideas.
Don't know how to use all of that gym equipment? I'll share a secret. If you have a smart phone with you at the gym, go to YouTube. Type in the name of the machine or the exercise you want to do and you'll see a number of great videos showing you exactly what to do. If you don't have a smart phone, watch the videos at home on a computer before you go.
What have you got to lose? Oh yeah, fat.
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