Five of Australia’s top personal trainers explain how to kick off your fitness regime so that it works and you enjoy it.
BEFORE YOU START
1. Set aside enough time
From the very start, schedule enough enough time for training. Trust us, people getting this wrong is one of the main reasons they don’t progress in the gym. Top personal trainers say that not giving enough time to the training commitment (or eventually letting other developments in their lives cut into is) is showstopper. “First and foremost, prioritise the habit of exercising regularly,” says personal trainer, life coach and author Mike Campbell. “Initially it doesn’t matter what you do in the gym, just establish and strengthen that habit. The rest can and will flow from there.”
2. Try and have a plan
Susy Natal, a PT at Fitness First, says success in your fitness journey will come if you have specific goals, backed by a plan and structure. Trainers note that many people go to a gym and just futz around, wasting their valuable time there. Make the most of when you are in the gym, and a training program helps, Natal says. “Invest in a training program so that you always know what you have to do when you get to the gym, and to ensure that what you are doing is tailored to suit your body, level of experience and specific fitness goals,” she says.
3. Be realistic
“It’s probably going to suck at times,” says Campbell. “Not always, of course, but to make big changes in your life — to drop body fat, gain muscle, improve fitness dramatically and so on — requires a lot of patient and consistent hard work. This isn’t going to be easy, yet most people want a quick fix and the work done for them. The sooner you can embrace the struggle and the fact that it’s going to be hard, the sooner you can consistently apply yourself to getting it done.”
STARTING YOUR JOURNEY
4. Ask questions when you start
When you walk into the gym for the first time, take advantage of the services provided to you, says Natal. “When you are signing up, ensure that you are given a full tour of the gym and don’t be afraid to ask simple questions. The staff member is there to help you and this is your best opportunity to prepare yourself for your first time working out in the gym.”
Another experienced Fitness First personal trainer and member of the Sculpt Sisters duo, Vanessa Gospel, agrees. “Get friendly with the staff, they are there to help,” she says. “There is nothing worse than walking into a gym for the first time thinking everyone knows what they are doing except for you. Make a friend, talk to reception or to a trainer and get them to give you a tour of the gym, even if it’s your first or 100th visit there. There might be a class starting soon so ask reception if someone is available to take you to where the group exercise studio is and introduce you to the teacher or another class participant that they know.”
(If you’re training at a Fitness First gym one thing worth bearing in mind is that Fitness First gym staff are specifically trained to look out for and assist new members. Take advantage of it).
5. Avoid gymtimidation
Every beginner probably experiences a feeling of inadequacy when surrounded by super fit gym rats with great bodies who seem to own the floor.
“Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing or thinking,” says Mike Campbell. “When you nervously step into the weights room thinking everyone is staring at you, just remember that they are on their own journey, trying to get their workouts done and improve themselves. Everyone’s in the same boat, so step up and own it. Don’t pass blame for not doing something on to a bunch of strangers.”
6. Consider a personal trainer
Experts can’t recommend the services of a personal trainer highly enough, at least in the beginning. There is a world of difference between trying to figure out the language and rules of a gym on your own and having someone explain it to you. Even more important, a personal trainer will show how to use the equipment and carry out the exercises with correct form, so you progress faster and avoid injury.
Campbell says, “I can’t stress this enough for people who don’t know what they’re doing. You wouldn’t attempt to build a house without a builder if you had no knowledge on how to do it. The same applies to building your body (but you know, much more complex and important!). Invest in an expert and you won’t be blindly trying to do it yourself, which often just leads to injury, frustration and stagnation.”
Vanessa Gospel points out it’s OK to get a PT for only a couple of sessions. “You don’t have to sign your life away and pay for a year’s worth of personal training sessions,” she says. “Most trainers will be more than happy to help you even if it’s for a short time or if you have a strict budget. Be clear with what you want. If you can only afford six sessions for now ask the PTs if they are able to help you in that time frame. They could assess your posture and and coach you through various exercises which you can then do on your own, and they can write a plan for you that you can spend time doing.”
7. Keep it simple and get comfortable
Most of all, keep the start of your fitness journey simple, agree the trainers. Natal says the one thing that causes many new gym members to drop off is thinking things must be complex and fancy.
“Until you are able to remember where everything is, focus on getting comfortable in the space. Warm up on a rower or other cardio equipment, or foam roll and take the time to have a look around. You should already know what you are going to do in your workout that day, so locate all of the equipment that you will need in this time, so that once you are warm you can move confidently to your first exercise,” she says.
Campbell adds any initial training program, regardless of whether it’s in or outside the gym, should utilise the basic movements: squat, lunge, bend, push, pull, twist and gait (be it walking, running or sprinting, depending on your ability).
“How to make this the most effective program is to move with intensity and purpose and stick to it. Consistency and patience will see it work,” Campbell says.
8. Go slow to avoid injury
You should start off slow to avoid injury, says Gospel. “If you have never done weights before start off light so you can practice good form and posture before progressing to heavier weights. Machine weights are best to start off with and then progress to free weights or cables as more control is needed for those.”
9. Avoid peak times at the start
Natal points out you should try to avoid peak gym times in your first week until you’ve had a good look at the layout of the gym — it can be overwhelming to try to find your way around a space that’s packed with people. Ask people at the desk when those peak times are.
10. Don’t go it alone
“Find a friend, a class, a trainer or anything that doesn’t leave you alone in the gym,” says personal trainer Mike Battaglia. “There is always safety in numbers. I liken this to walking into a party, nightclub or any social situation, if you are with a friend or group it takes the focus off yourself and you instantly feel more comfortable about your situation. The added benefit of having someone to meet is the accountability and motivation that comes with meeting your friends or class for exercise.”
11. Invest in the right gear
Invest in some good gym tights, says Gospel. “Daggy old baggy T-shirts are OK but see-through gym tights for women are not. And most of the time you will never know your gym tights are too sheer on your backside unless a close friend dares to tell you.
Save the embarrassment by investing in a good brand of technical wear. This may cost anywhere from $60 to $120 but a lot of good gym wear will be sweat wicking and quick drying and will last from washing it constantly after all your sweaty workouts, so you really only need one or two really good pairs. My favourite brands are Nike, Lululemon, and Under Armour but there are heaps out there.”
Susy Natal adds you shouldn’t buy crazy outfits that are going to make you self-conscious. “Find gym gear and shoes that are comfortable to move in and that you feel comfortable wearing. If you only have very old trainers then invest in a new pair — the last thing you want is to start your fitness journey in old shoes that will either allow you to slip or be unstable. Nobody wants an injury or to topple when working out!”
12. Do compound for most effectiveness
Vanessa Gospel says compound exercises burn more calories and maximise return from your time spent in the gym. “Doing a full body workout using as many muscles as you can at once will burn the most calories. If you are not sure what to do then join a class, especially small group training classes, as they use a lot of full body dynamic movements and are fun and motivating at the same time. Always tell the instructor if you are new or returning to the gym so they can keep an extra eye out for your form and posture.“
13. Try resistance training
Mike Campbell suggests you start with resistance training (weights) as soon as you’re comfortable. “This is vital to a healthy body and strong muscles, bones, joints and connective tissue. Plus it helps to regulate or lose body fat. Just be conservative with your weights to start with and slowly increase them as your strength and confidence increases. You must, however, progressively overload your body in order to ensure progress continues.”
14. Claim the equipment
“A lot of people are frightened of asking to share equipment in peak times, says Susy Natal. “In a public gym people do not actually have the right to hold equipment unless they are using it at the time. That being said, sometimes people will be super-setting with very short rest periods, and if this is the case then it’s generally polite to allow them to go first, but the good news here is that because of the intense nature of such exercises, they tend to be done fairly quickly. If you spot someone holding a piece of equipment but taking longer rest periods between sets, I find that the request that sits best with members is: ‘may I please jump in while you rest?’”
15. Exercise your weaknesses
“Realise what your weakness is and work on it,” says Gospel. “Avoiding what you need to work on will only result in an injury or an imbalance later on. One of my clients, Gordana Drakulic is doing everything right. She is eating well, she’s training hard on her own and she has actually achieved her desired look, strength, health and energy. However she has scoliosis, a curvature through her spine, so she sees me once a week for Pilates to help correct her posture and stay lengthened and flexible. This means Gordana can keep progressing through her training and stay safe from injury.”
16. Set specific goals
“Be specific about what you want to achieve,” says Campbell. “Do not just haphazardly go about ‘getting better’. Be precise and set measurable goals that you can check on and actually achieve. Set big, outlandish over-the-top goals, then intermediate goals and then week-by-week short term behavioural goals that you can action and tick off as your progress.”
“Goals are essential, but most of us only set superficial and body image related goals. This is fine, but what will really make these happen is knowing why we want to achieve these things. Herein lays the biggest anchor for your ongoing behaviours — the things that will dictate what your body and life becomes. Take your goals and expand on them with a full, vivid and inspiring vision of what you want your life to be. Include where your fitness and health goals fit in, then read it daily. Thus you ensure you start acting consistently in ways that get you closer to that vision and all of your goals.”
17. It’s about purpose, not motivational clichés
Don’t rely on feeling highly motivated each time you go to the gym, says Susy Natal. ”Nobody is motivated all of the time — it is something that naturally fluctuates from day to day. If you are only going to go to the gym when you are motivated to go then you will not succeed for the long haul. Rather, find your purpose. Really spend some time thinking about the changes that you want to make for your health and fitness, and why this is important to you. This will provide you with a purpose to keep going to the gym, even on the days when your motivation is lower.”
18. Challenge yourself
Do the Lolly pop lottery, says Calum Wilson, at PT from Balgowlah, Sydney.
“Write 12 different challenges on blank ice lolly sticks and place them in an empty jar next to your bed. At the beginning of each week, grab one of the sticks and try to complete that weekly challenge. Example of challenges could be: ‘complete 3 x 4km run’, or ‘attend 2 spins classes’, or even ‘swim 1km 4 times’. This will keep your training interesting as you have a new challenge each week. You can even do the same with nutrition challenges.”
19. Get others to push you
Don’t try and do it all by yourself says Mike Campbell. “If you could do it by yourself, you would have done it already,” he says. “The best way to go about this is actively seeking external accountability. Find a friend, colleague or someone also on a fitness journey and share your goals with them — all of them. You must be vulnerable and share the big ones, then each weekly short term goal, and ask for them to hold you accountable, while you return the favour. Also put the big ones on social media. “
20. Ensure variety
Try one new class a week, says Calum Wilson. “This is a great way to really see what the gym has to offer and to find out what type of exercise works best for you. It’s far too easy to fall into the same old routine, so trying new classes will keep things fresh and interesting,” he says.
21. Don’t go home first
It’s common to get home after a long day at work with the good intention of going back out again to the gym, says Wilson, but in his experience most people go home, sit on the sofa and don’t get up again. “My advice is try and go to the gym straight after work and avoid that tempting sofa altogether,” he says.
22. Be active anyway
If you can’t make it to the gym, or don’t feel like it, don’t beat yourself up but still try and do something active, says Susy Natal. “Find a scenic walk that you enjoy, or organise to do something active when you catch up with friends such as rock climbing or tennis. Also remember that the gym offers many options — if you feel like a quiet day then look up when the next yoga class is scheduled.”