If it’s one of your first times working out, you probably have more questions than answers. What exactly does one do with a kettlebell? How do I go from walking to actually racing a 5K? Why do running shorts have that little pair of built-in underwear? These are all very valid questions, and there is no way to answer every single one — mostly because there are way too many contradicting opinions out there. Please, though, don’t lose all hope of ever understanding the gym.
The best thing you can do for your health is listen to your body. It is the ultimate advice-giver. It tells you when you didn’t eat enough, when a certain weight is too heavy, if you should get more sleep, or if you can push it just a little harder. You should always listen to those hints, and follow suit ASAP. Part of the fun of getting into working out is discovering a better understanding of your body. In order to get the most out of your gym workout (you are, after all, probably shelling out a bunch of cash to go there), here are eight tips for first-timers.
1. Work In Some HIIT
HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. For simplicity’s sake, that means going really hard for a short amount of time. It’s efficient time-wise and virtually requires no equipment. According to a 2011 study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting, just two weeks of HIIT improves your aerobic capacity as much as six to eight weeks of endurance training. So hop on your bike, elliptical, or simply hit the road and give anywhere from eight to 20 minutes of some serious sweat.
2. Invest In The Right Shoes
If you’re taking up running for the first time, you might not know exactly what kind of footwear will cut it. Obviously, sneakers are where you should start, but exactly what fit and style can get confusing. If you don’t have the right shoes, you might be more prone to injuries which can set back your gym progress big time. The best thing you can do is pay your local sports or running store a visit and ask their advice. But whether you’re on your own or have a professional’s opinion, know a few things: What matters most is how it feels to you, “breaking them in” is a myth (your sneakers should feel comfortable right away), and go to get fitted during the time of day you plan on running because your feet actually swell during different times.
3. Make Rest A Priority
You might think the more you work out, the more progress you’ll see, but that simply isn’t the case — and it’s actually a great way to get hurt. “What people need to understand is that exercise stresses the body, so in order to ensure the positive things you’re seeking you need to allow recovery time,” says Dr. Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise. “Everything needs time to recover, rebuild, and rejuvenate before exposed to stress again.” So in order to build more muscle and improve your overall fitness, you actually do need to sit back and relax once in a while.
4. Learn How To Hydrate
There is a lot more to staying hydrated than simply chugging a full water bottle. If you aren’t drinking enough water, it can seriously affect your workout and even curb results. You should be drinking enough water that your pee runs clear, but pay attention to how your body feels all day prior to your workout. If you’re working out outside for less than an hour, you probably don’t need to bring a water bottle on your run with you. If it is for more than an hour, bring one — but fill it with a sports drink to restore electrolytes. That way, you won’t feel fatigued and can push your workout to the fullest.
5. Perfect Your Posture
For plenty of beginners it can be hard to master the right form. There’s a lot to learn, especially when it comes to lifting weights. James Grage, co-founder and vice president of BPI Sports, says: “I see people arching their back in the shoulder press, bench press, and biceps curls. This may help you get through the exercise, but it’s not efficiently working your muscles, and it’ll ultimately lead to the biggest enemy of gains: an injury.” By getting your posture right, you will develop more defined muscles at a much speedier rate and can avoid stress along the way. If you aren’t sure exactly how to do that, either check a reliable source like BodyBuilding.com or ask a trainer at your gym.
6. Take A Break Between Sets
You might be tempted to crank out 20 push-ups in a row, just to get them over with, but that is an easy way to wear yourself out and potentially get injured. “Like good comedy, when it comes to working out, timing is everything,” says Joe Stankowski, C.P.T., a trainer in Delaware, “In other words, the amount of time you rest between sets can have a major impact on how the exercise you’re doing affects your body.” With strength training, he recommends 60 to 90 seconds between sets (one set typically includes eight to 15 reps) and for circuit workouts (involving a series of unrelated workouts like squats and sit-ups), 30 seconds should be enough recovery time.