Make sure your workout works out with these fitness tips

My first time at any gym was last year when I decided to wake up at 7 a.m. and take a trip over to Rutgers’ very own Sonny Werblin Recreation Center on the Busch campus. As someone who has struggled with self-esteem, weight and health their entire life, even making the effort to go to the gym was a huge step for me.

I walked into the gym with no knowledge of anything and was incredibly terrified to approach the people squatting 300 pounds to ask for any tips. It took meeting a few friends at the gym, doing my own research and getting comfortable in my own skin for me to figure out a routine. Even still, as I progress toward my goals, I’ve had to find new ways to train my muscles and move my body to keep things exciting.

I managed to turn a lifelong fear into a habit that continuously allows me to improve myself and work toward my goals. I haven’t been seriously lifting for very long, so like many beginners, I am still learning.

But if you struggle with the fear of the gym like I once did, here are some tips, exercises and other things you can do to get used to the environment!

The most important thing to understand is that you have to make room for fitness in your life — you can’t expect fitness to just fit into yours. I’m a fairly busy person with a lot of responsibilities, and I found that blocking out my gym time helps me stay consistent.

Typically, people who work out more than once or twice a week have specific days where they train certain muscle groups, and have different sets of exercises that either train multiple muscle groups or just one. The exercises that train multiple groups are called compound exercises (bench, squat or deadlift). The ones that only train one muscle group is called isolation exercises (bicep curls, leg extensions and lateral raises).

Planning is key. Know what you are going to do before you walk into the gym. Start off the workout with some light dynamic stretching (where you actively move your body) and jump into whatever you have planned.

There are people who say cardiovascular activity before strength training is better, and vice versa, but it’s really a matter of what works best for you (I prefer to use my energy to lift heavy and then hit the treadmill or the StairMaster, but again, to each their own!).

If you are an absolute beginner, four to six exercises per day are optimal. Some do more, others do less, but I’ve found that between four and six is satisfactory for me. The goal is to target all muscles in the group you are working on that day.

Two terms that get thrown around a lot by people who work out are “sets” and “reps” (repetitions). A rep is how many times someone does an exercise, and a set is how many repetitions you do before taking a break.

Three to four sets is usually a good number for any exercise. Try any more, and you risk hurting yourself. As for reps, it depends on several factors, including energy levels, goals and working toward failure (where your last two or three reps should be very hard).

Say today is your leg day. A sample workout may include three sets of 12-15 reps (3×12) of bodyweight squats, three sets of 12-15 reps of hip thrusts (or glute bridges), three sets of 12-15 reps of lunges (with weights) and three sets of 15 reps of calf raises (with weights).

Form is also incredibly important with exercise. If someone lifts something too heavy with improper form, they risk injury. If you lift incorrectly with lighter weight, you’ll make little to no progress. Be sure to look up and practice a proper form (with lighter weights!) before you move on further. When I started doing Romanian deadlifts, I messed up the form, lifted too heavy, hurt my back and couldn’t do them for about two weeks.

Don’t be afraid to try out everything! Your first time at the gym may seem very intimidating as you watch people complete perfect muscle-ups and hip thrust 400 pounds, but the truth is, everyone is working toward some kind of goal.

Also, don’t be afraid to talk to people who look like seasoned gym-goers! I was terrified of the ultra-strong people at the gym, but they’re often the nicest people you will ever meet.

They will likely give you tips, advice and some of them have even walked me through an exercise I wanted to do! Despite its reputation, the gym is one of the more wholesome environments on a college campus (at least in my experience).

Finally, remember that working out isn’t a punishment. It’s a celebration of what your body is capable of and the potential it has. If you treat exercise as something bad rather than approach it with an open mind, you’ll likely find yourself quitting.

Try to have fun and find ways to keep it interesting. Some people prefer powerlifting, while others like pilates — you just have to find what works for you!

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