We’re doing something a little different today.
For all of our talk about diet and nutrition, we generally leave out the discussion around exercise. That changes today.
A lot of folks have been asking me about how to get back into the gym recently, and I’ve decided to write a post about the basics for people new to the gym (or returning).
Many people assume that going to the gym is this amazing feat, and have all of this fear and worry about it. Or they come up with reasons not to go, such as time, or money, or whatever.
Going to the gym, like most things in life, is as easy or as hard as you make it. It is largely a mental game. Why do you think pre-workout supplements, which are generally glorified caffeine, do so well? It’s because they help put people in the right mental state to have a good workout.
I do realize though that there will be some questions on … well what do I do once I get there? Don’t worry, I’ve got the basics covered, and it’s easy.
As mentioned, a large part of getting into the mindset of going to the gym is mental. An object at rest, tends to stay at rest, right?
We are a habit-driven species, and unused to change. This phenomenon is known as homeostasis. Our bodies adapt to the current situation – and if the situation is not going to the gym, we get used to that. An object in motion, tends to stay in motion – let’s get there. Thanks, Newton.
Treat the gym like other items you do in life. Set goals, but in a realistic manner.
If you are trying to improve your financial life, do you go ahead and jump to “let’s become a billionaire?”
You need steps, or milestones. The gym is no different – so start simple.
Your first goal could be as simple as: “Go to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and spend at least 20 minutes being active.”
Making the Gym a Habit
Studies show that it takes 66 days to form or break a habit. The gym has to become a habit for it to become part of your life. What habits do you have? Do you brush your teeth? Shower? These are things you do to take care of yourself. The gym is no different.
The key difference between some of these things and the gym, is that the gym takes time, effort, and causes pain. I’m not sugar coating it for you, being new to the gym is an uphill battle. But there are ways to ease into these issues and make the transition easier and more natural.
First off, a lot of my friends go into the gym and give it 110% on day one, and get super sore. They get hit with DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness), and can’t work out for another five days. There’s no reason to do this so early on. If you’re a seasoned gym warrior, then sure, you may be looking for ways to up your soreness and gains, but as someone new to the gym, this isn’t your goal. It will only serve to demotivate you from going regularly.
You need to take it easy. Your goal is to start making the gym a habit, and to do that, you need to train your mind to get over the pitfalls.
Don’t over exert yourself, take it extremely easy. On a scale of one to ten, work at a five initially. Don’t even push yourself very much. Maybe you won’t even be sore, or barely sore, and that’s ok. In a day or two – you can go to the gym again.
And after a week or two – when you’ve gotten closer to making the gym a habit, you can begin to push yourself.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you push yourself really hard the first time, you’ll get to your goals faster. You won’t.
Going to the gym can be daunting. It’s no different from any social situation that causes a little bit of social anxiety. And it’s OK to be a little scared, and natural.
But like any situation that is new to you, you have to get used to it at your own pace.
Be kind to yourself, and ease into it however works for you.
Find out what you need to focus on you. A lot of people, including me, like music. It helps me zone the noise out and focus on what I need to do.
Is it self-consciousness?
Listen, everyone is at the gym for different reasons, and many people are there to improve their self-image. You are not the only person there for this reason. Everyone there is training for improvement. You are not alone.
Basic Strength Training
Alright, so are we ready to do some training? I’m assuming at this point you’ve committed yourself to going to the gym two or three times a week, just for a short period of time. Maybe 20 to 30 minutes. Of course, as you get used to the gym, weeks down the line, you’ll slowly increase your training time. But for now, that’s not the goal. The goal is to make it a habit and to stay motivated.
But what do we do once we get there? Let’s go over some of the basics, like common sense.
Lifting Common Sense
Lifting common sense, like all types of common sense, is not that common. If you stop for a second and think about what you are about to do in the gym, you’ll be able to draw correct conclusions based on simple logic.
The easiest way to learn any movement is to observe what is called the “angle of pull.” The angle of pull is dictated by gravity, or which direction a cable is pulling the handles of the machine. You, in turn, push or pull in the opposite direction of gravity or the line of pull. It sounds simple enough but you’d be surprised.
For example, the other day I saw someone at the gym holding a dumbbell in each hand and leaning side to side. Presumably, they were trying to work out their oblique abdominals, the muscles along the sides of their abdomen.
The great failure in this is that doing such a movement provides no tension on the obliques at all. The movement is not dissimilar from that of a scale. Gravity pulls the weight down on one side, and your muscles on the other side need to fight the effect of gravity. But if you put a weight on the other side of the “scale” to counter it – well, then your muscles have to do very little.
By putting two equal weights on both sides of the scale, the effective tension at the center (or your body) is zero. It seems like common sense, and it is.
Machines are recommended for people new to the gym. Why? Machines assist in movements by limiting the imbalances of movements and providing stability. They also help to teach basic movements in the planes of motivation. There are really only five major movements you need to do to be effective in the gym. And I’m going to compare them to real life things:
Bench Press/Chest Press – You are pushing something in front of you, away from you. This movement, whether it be closing a refrigerator door, or getting up off the ground, works your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Mid Row – The exact opposite movement that balances out the chest press. You are pulling something in front of you, towards you. This would be akin to opening a door. Rows work your back, and biceps.
Shoulder Press/Overhead Press – You are pushing something above you, away from you. Think “raise the roof.” To be frank, this is a movement often neglected in real life. Most movements we deal with are in front of us. That is why overhead movements are so important – since these muscles are often underdeveloped in most people. Shoulder presses work, well, the shoulders, and triceps.
Pull-down – This is the machine variant of what would be considered a pull-up. How confusing, I know. The nomenclature became this way because you are pulling the machine handles down. And during a pull-up, you are pulling your body up. But the movement is the same. It is the exact opposite movement as the shoulder press – so you are pulling something above you, down to you. Pull-downs work your back and biceps, but at a different angle than rows. This movement balances out shoulder presses.
Leg Press – Any sort of movement when you are going from a bent-legged seat position to a standing position. The way the muscles in the legs work allows for them to balance themselves effectively. So this is all you need to start.
Many people become concerned with arm specific exercises out of social pressure and/or media. This is where that common sense I mentioned kicks in.
If we take a bicep curl for example, the movement we are performing takes an arm that is straight, and bends it. Simple, right? Well when we do a row, or a pull down, our arms go from a position that is straight, to bent. Biceps are covered. If you take a look at many strength athletes, they don’t even train arms directly.
These 5 movements, for several months, are all that you need.
I feel that for the vast majority of people, gym failure results from a faulty approach or improper goal setting.
Be kind and patient with yourself, and start slow. Really slow. If you are trying to learn a new language, do you start with difficult scientific jargon? If you are trying to study a new subject, say physics, do you start with quantum theory or rocket science? No. You start with the basics and build a foundation.
I’ve provided the main movements for you – that is all you need for months, and in a few, you’ll have developed the habit – and this is the most important part. You’ll notice I don’t provide any prescription, such as weight, reps, sets, or rest, or anything. Because who cares. The point is to go in, move, and develop the habit, and not go too hard. The rest will fall into place.