Marta Montenegro: Start Fresh at the Gym, but Avoid Looking like a Newbie

You’re ready for fitness time. But you don’t want to look like a newbie when you step back into the gym.

Nick Kempen, Advantage Trainer Sports Club/LA Miami, says, “The new member might worry about what the other people are going to say or think of them during the workout.  Having that thought in the back of your mind and also being unsure of what machines to use or even how they are operated can definitely create intimidation in a new member.”

Not knowing how to operate some machines properly or how to perform some exercises are not problems just for the fitness beginners.  The new way that some gyms are laid out and the new types of exercise programs can make a person who took a hiatus from the gym look out of place when returning.

Look like an “old pal”

Maybe the last time you were in the gym, there were guys trying to look like the next Mr. Olympia and women wearing high tights like Jane Fonda. And even though you have one of those nice dry fit T-shirts that you got on Christmas day, here are some style tips that may be superficial, but will help you feel like you belong in 2012. These are some of my thoughts:

Gym fashion

Don’t be overly branded: You can’t wait to show off the Livestrong outfit that you got, but you don’t need to wear it all on the same day. Mix it up. Show off the new tennis shoes along with some old stuff.

1980s fitness clothes are not in fashion … yet: All fashion comes back after awhile, but short sweat pants and headbands marathoners used to wear in the ‘80s are not. If this retro gear is all you have, consider getting some new gym clothes.

Smaller is better: When looking for headphones, don’t use the same ones that you use for your home theater.  The new sports headphones are nothing more than tiny ear buds that you can barely notice.

Now, the real stuff to avoid

Lat pull downs and shoulder press behind the neck are a NO: A long time ago experts agreed that these two exercises, staples in the Arnold Schwarzenegger era, put a lot of strain in the neck muscles and the cervical spine. Make sure that you lower the bar to your chest, not your upper back.

Throw yourself on the floor for a good stretching: Going directly to the stretching area doing all type of twisting, extensions and flexions holding a static stretch to then starting to workout isn’t the best idea. Generally, static stretching best done after finishing your workout. Experts say warm-up first, followed by a dynamic stretching, before beginning your exercise routine.

Simple doesn’t mean easy: The free motion machines – cable pulleys – are relatively friendly looking. Everyone sees a cable and a handle and it easy to start pulling and pushing the cable in every direction.  The great thing about these free motion machines is that they allow the body to work on all different planes just like in daily life and sports. That being said, there are specific exercises to be performed in each plane. Some are pushing and some are pulling or both but you won’t do anything by pulling or pushing the cable randomly without knowing what you want to achieve. Don’t feel ashamed to ask to a trainer how you can use the machine or look for some reputable exercise sites to check on the techniques.

Move it all: One thing is that you have heard that muscles are supposed to move in conjunction rather than in isolation. There’s a place for multi-joint exercises and isolated moves. So, when performing a bicep curl, for instance, you don’t need to rotate the back, shrug the shoulders, lift your toes and on. If you want to do an exercise and notice that your whole body is moving in a weird way, stop and ask a fitness professional how to do what you want to do.  To get results, you need to concentrate on the muscle that you are working and apply proper techinique. Common sense matters: If you want to do a shoulder raise, the shoulders are where the main effort should come from.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuull range of motion: Supposed that you’re familiar with some exercise equipment and moves. Good for you! Just make sure that if you do a lat pull down and you can lower the bar up to your middle chest or if you can do a tricep kickback bringing the dumbbells up to your ears, you’re not challenging your body! Increase the weight! Likewise, if you used to do a 200 pounds squat two years ago, don’t expect to do the same in the first month of your return. Don’t even try it. The general rule: the last two reps – no matter the number- should be hard to perform.

Don’t read: The magazines in the gym are usually given for to them for free so that is the reason why they are there. You’re not supposed to work on the treadmill and read at the same time. Multitasking in the gym is not a good look, but also it will make you waste your time because you’re not working out hard enough.

Don’t hang: Handles on the cardio machines are supposed to be there for support when you need it but not to hold yourself up while exercising. If you need to hold to the handles to run, this means that your body is not ready to sustain the pace so slow down and do what you can do while keeping proper form. You’ll get up to where you want as long as you keep being consistency and have a program set.

Leave some room: A good number on gym injuries happen because of people dropping the weight on the floor so make sure where you put the free weights. Don’t put them on the floor. Give some room between you and the other person. Don’t walk in front of someone performing tough exercises where balance is a must such as squats, lunges, shoulder press, step-ups, etc.

No couch time: Balls, bench, and other stuff that you see in the gym is not playground stuff or a couch to rest or to have a nice chat. This equipment is to perform some exercises so you will not just damage them but also increase the risk of injury yourself.  For chilling out, there’s something called the smoothie bar. Have a seat and relax there.

Overdoing sports drinks: It’s understandable that with the bombardment of sports drink ads you think that you need the latest Gatorade energy fuel version.  But you don’t. In fact, this can hinder your goals. Gym rats are generally good just drinking water and having a good mix of protein and carbohydrates meal after working out.

There was a first time for everyone

In reality, once you read these tips and set into the gym you’ll be the one who will notice how people – no matter how many years they have been training regularly or not – make these mistakes. I have a lot of experience, I even ran a gym, but I also went through the same mistakes when started to workout.

As Kempen says, “Everyone at one time or another was in a gym for the first time and were in the same situation that you are or will be in soon.”

If you really want to avoid altogether or to make sure that you’re doing the best exercise program for yourself, if you’ve gotten up to here, hire a certified fitness professional at least for four to eight sessions. This is the best way to avoid all the hassle and to make sure that you’ll achieve your goals sooner. In the end, you’ll save money and the anxiety that the gym can bring in.

“Best tip for anyone is to be confident and not shy.  Don’t be too proud to try to figure everything out yourself.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  If you don’t know, ask someone for help.  That’s what the employees and trainers are there for, they want you to ask them for help,” says the trainer.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning, coach and master trainer who is an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, combines fitness, nutrition and health  tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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