As we focus on getting fit for 2010 (have you entered this week's challenge?), I'm sure many of you first-time gymgoers are getting into the groove and learning to navigate all the group classes and cardio machines. So why not take it to the next level? Here are eight tips to help you make the most of your time at the gym.
- Start With Something You Like: After you're warmed up, start your gym routine with the part that gets you most jazzed up. Love doing crunches? Hit the mat before you hit the machines. Love bicep curls? Get lifting first. It'll motivate you and put you in a good mood for the tasks ahead.
- Identify the Down Times: Obviously, avoiding peak times at the gym can get you in and out faster. But you should also take note of more surprising days and times when the crowds are sparse; at my gym, it's often Thursday nights. I'm also a big fan of sneaking in workouts on Friday afternoons.
- Share a Trainer With a Friend: If hiring your own personal trainer seems too pricey, split a session or more with a few friends. Many trainers will offer special small group rates, especially now, since they'd rather train a group of people rather than no one at all.
- Spy on a Class Before You Try It: Don't waste your time in a class that's not for you. Before you try a new group exercise class, stop by the studio a week prior. About 10 minutes into the class, position yourself outside the door and observe five to 10 minutes of the action, enough to get a sense of whether or not you'd like it.
- Get Competitive on the Cardio: On the treadmill, the bike, or the elliptical, look for someone near you who is clearly working hard and try to run a little faster or stay on the machine a little longer than that unsuspecting gymgoer. Just be sure you don't push yourself past your limits.
- Break Down Your Sets: When faced with a set of push-ups, crunches, or strength training moves, break the big set down into smaller sets. If 20 push-ups seem impossible, count them out in four sets of five. The smaller sets seem easier to conquer both mentally and physically.
- Stretch Between Strength-Training Sets: If I am waiting in line for a machine, I like to sneak in a few squats, crunches, or lunges. You can also pass the resting time between weight-training sets by stretching. You can stretch muscles you've already worked or do complementary stretches for muscles you're working.
- Finish at Least Three Hours Before Bed: To make sure you're well rested for your next workout, be sure to wind down your physical activity at least three hours before your bedtime, since it can take that long for your body to cool down and your heart rate to slow.
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