Going to the gym and working out is my favourite drug. It is safe to say that I’m a gym junkie.
I have way too much energy for the lifestyle we are forced to lead in the modern world – sitting by a desk all day or in meetings – and unless I work it off, the excess energy turns against me in the form of negative thoughts on short term and even depression on the long run. All this is quite normal, I think we all forget how normal it is.
Why working out and any physical activity is good for you
Our bodies designed to work out, it’s part of our natural defence system. If you’re in a good shape, you can run away when there’s danger. Naturally, not everybody who suffers from depression could solve their problems by going to the gym or start working out. But even mental health professionals would recommend physical activity as part of a treatment. Having said that, exercise has tons of benefits such as:
- Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
- Helps you control your weight
- Strengthens your muscles and bones
- Reduces risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- Reduces risk of some cancers
- Improves your mental health and mood (told you so!)
- Improve your ability to do daily activities (and prevent falls for older people)
- Increases your overall chances of living longer
10 Key tips to make your time at the gym worthwhile
1. Listen to pod casts and e-book while you work out
I often feel that I don’t have time for reading, especially after spending a whole day in front a monitor. Listening to audiobooks have become my main method for reading, somehow it works much better than actual reading, the text sticks more and it makes more of an impact. Listening to audiobooks on Audible or iBooks (you can find my favourites here) or podcasts (some recommendations here) while doing cardio is a great way to combine two brilliant activities. I actually look forward to running, cycling or working out on the cross trainer simply because I can listen to a book or a podcast while doing it. It takes a little while to get used to and keep focus on the exercise as well as reading but it’s so worth it.
2. Have a goal and work out an A, B, C training plan
If you keep doing the same thing it doesn’t just get boring after a while, it actually reduces the impact of the exercise significantly. Simply put it, your body gets used to it and the exercise stops having an impact. My gym offer a re-focus program that you can take advantage of. The way it works is that a personal trainer who works for the gym shows you around, explains how some of the machines work, discusses your training goals and helps you create a plan that you can follow. If you don’t have this service available in your local gym, you can research online and do it yourself. You can find some information on Bodybuilding.com, or download Freeletics to create your personalised routine.
It’s best to have a variety of programs that focus on different body parts – core, arms, legs – so you and your body never get bored of the repetitiveness of your exercise plan.
3. Have a day of fun at the gym
Physical exercise should be fun. It’s not all about suffering and pain – although that can be fun, too, in a challenging kind of way. I like to have a day of fun, when I only do exercise that I enjoy such as hoolahoops, my favourite cardio machines, skipping rope and some feel-good yoga postures. Put on my favourite tunes and have a fun hour of exercise instead of following my usual routines. It’s a great reminder that physical exercise can be as much fun as a useful and necessary thing I do for my health.
4. Go with a partner in crime
Like most things in life, working out is better with a friend. Now, I know how hard it is to find a friend who has the same schedule, lives in the same area (especially in London) and wants to work out. It’s almost impossible. Strangely enough, there is a website to solve this problem: Find a fitness buddy is like the match.com of sports people – you can find someone to work out with based on gender, age, type of sport and level of fitness.
I’ve personally never tried it but it’s definitely worth a try. Working out with somebody – not all the time perhaps but once a week is a great social experience. It’s a pleasure that your brain will recognise and attach it the the activity – in this case, working out.
5. Find the best time to work out
The most common advice is to avoid rush hour but it is busy for a reason. Most of us can’t just pop to the gym any time of the day. We can do it in the morning, on your lunch break or after work. And so can everybody else. If you have any flexibility on this, try to avoid rush hour or find a gym that’s big enough to cater for the masses. There can be, however, a difference between acceptably busy and busy busy, try to figure out what the busy days are and do something else on those days such as running or cycle to work (and if you live in London, be safe, it’s a jungle out there).
6. Utilise technology – use apps
There are so many of them and they’re great? If you have an apple watch, you can even take most of them a step further and be a proper gym nerd. You can find some recommendations for free apps Useful stuff section of the site.
I’m sure you all heard how great stretching is and there’s an urban myth that if you don’t stretch after working out, you’ll have a greater chance of pulling a muscle or injuring yourself in any other way. Although this particular belief has no scientific proof, stretching still should be an important part of your exercise regime. Stretching is good for you for various reasons: it helps you develop better balance, good for glutes and for your thoracic spine and helps you gain a better posture. If you don’t know how to stretch properly, there is plenty of info on the internet (some dos and don’ts available here) and there’s a whole stretching section on the Sworkit app including demo videos to give you clear instructions.
8. Create a playlist
If you tried the podcasts and audiobooks but decided it’s not quite for you, you can always listen to music. There are some amazing playlist available on Spotify and some apps, such as Sworkit or Running actually allow you to choose music for your workout while you do it. It’s best to have a set playlist that is dynamic and in rythym with your exercise, some fast songs. Listening to music while exercising is a great way to keep yourself motivated and also helps you keep focus by blocking out the over-friendly fellow gym goers from chatting you up. Here’s some inspiration from Spotify:
9. Fuel up and keep hydrated
It is evident info but I wanted to include some nutrition basics anyway. Most people don’t work out hard or long enough to need additional fuel while they train so you don’t need any specific info on what you can and cannot eat. If you are interested in workout nutrition, you can find some basic info here. Two important things to keep in mind – don’t go to the gym hungry or with a full belly. Always leave at least an hour after you finish a meal. Some people feel sick and bloated at the gym, mainly because they had a huge meal right before it. Don’t do it, eat something light and leave an hour to digest, or even better, have your big meal afterwards. Always have a healthy snack such as Naked bar, Original Peanut bar or Cliff bar in your gym bag in case you need extra energy. Keep yourself hydrated while training as water doesn’t only hydrate—it can fight fatigue too. Two hours prior to your workout, try to drink half a litre to a litre of water. During your workout, try drink half a litre every 20 minutes. Drinking electrolyte-enhanced liquids while working out is also a great idea – Lucozade or similar sport drinks include it and if you’re a fan of organic diets, coconut water naturally filled with electrolytes.
10. Try a personal trainer
We all need a little help with exercise sometimes, whether we’re just starting out or we’ve been at it for a long time. A personal trainer can help you to create a new workout program that suits your goals and needs, can help you to refocus or to get started with things. Where to find one? You can try to search on the National Register of Personal Trainers or try PT Hub. Alternatively, you can ask the staff at your local gym as most gyms employ personal trainers – or work with freelancers so they can possibly recommend a trainer for you.
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