10 Tips for Optimizing Gym Time & Experience
After last weeks Feature Friday post, now you may spent the last week contemplating entering the gym, but you have no idea where to start. Or, perhaps you already gave the gym a go, but the environment was overwhelming, intimidating, or you felt lost and discouraged. If this is you, then this is the perfect follow-up guide to get you going!
- Have a set amount of time set aside for the gym, whether that be 45 minutes or even 2 hours.
- Have a plan or establish a workout split. Know what you are going to do when you walk into the gym. Are you going to workout full body, lower body, upper body, or a specific body part? Or, are you doing a push day or pull day as part of push, pull, legs split for example. There are dozens of different “splits” and workout plans that can be found online. I recommend searching for different ideas on Bodybuilding.com if you are completely new to the idea of structured workout plans or splits.
- Once you know your plan or split, know which exercises you are going to perform once you get into the gym.
- Have alternatives in mind for each exercise in case a machine or rack is taken, and if you may have more than a 5 minute disruption to your workout. You are better off keeping yourself moving through the workout with a different exercise, rather than waiting around for 5-10 minutes.
- For each of your exercises, already have it planned out how many sets you are going to do, and have rep ranges in mind. Rep ranges can be 1-3, 3-5, 6-8, 8-12, 12-15, and 15-20+.
- Understand that every workout must involve a dynamic warm-up beforehand and static stretching afterward. This is important for performance, injury prevention, and most importantly, long term health. We aren’t concerned with only the health of our muscles; we want to keep our joints, ligaments, and tendons in the best possible shape for years to come.
- The warm-up you choose to do should be specific to the workout you will be doing. For example, if you are going to be working out your legs, you could run, walk, or bike for 5-10 minutes, or you could use bodyweight or resistance band exercises to warm up before hitting the weights. For upper body parts, I recommend taking 3-5 minutes to warm up using your choice of either light cable exercises, light dumbbell exercises, or bodyweight exercises. A critical point of warming up is that the warm-up should be easy. It is meant to warm your body up and get the heart rate elevated a little. You should feel zero level of fatigue after your warm-up.
- The stretching you choose to do afterward should focus on the muscles worked during the workout, along with their opposites. If you workout your chest, you need to stretch your chest, back, and shoulders after the session. If you workout your legs, you need to stretch out all parts of the leg: calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, and glutes. Stretching afterward can take anywhere from 3-10 minutes. The larger the muscle group, the more stretches will be needed and the longer the stretches will need to be held for. For example, I recommend stretching the hamstrings, glutes, and quads for 30 seconds, but the chest only needs around 15 seconds.
- Take a water bottle (small bottle or even gallon bottle) with you to the gym. You may have to fill it up every now and again, but having a water bottle beats having to go to the water fountain after every few sets.
- Leave the phone at home, in the locker, or in the gym bag! You have come to the gym to work towards bettering your mind, body, and overall health, so social media and work can wait for later. There are two exceptions to this: music usage and workout tracking. I like to use Spotify for music but still put my phone on airplane mode. As well, I have used either my notes page or various apps (Rep Count, Iron Pro, Gravitus) to track my lifting progress.
BONUS TIP: Lastly, the one thing that will make the largest difference in how well you make use of your gym time. TRACK YOUR REST TIMES! Rest timing is something that I have found only the very small minority pay attention to, yet it plays such a crucial role. Rest timing can determine how your body responds to training (gains in endurance, strength, or size). There is a lot more science into this topic but for most people, I recommend sticking to somewhere between 1-3 minutes. The larger the muscle group or heavier the weight, the more time you will need in between sets. For instance, I’ll rest around 3 minutes in between heavy squats, but I’ll rest maybe 30-45 seconds in between sets of bicep curls. Please keep in mind I have been working out for 7 years and I am much more conditioned than the average person.