Your first month at the gym is going to be a challenging, exhilarating experience. You are going to experience muscle soreness the likes of which you’ve never known. In the process though, you will slowly be gaining mastery over your body and your mind.
In this article, you’ll discover seventeen essential hacks that you absolutely need to take on board to make your first month in the gym a successful experience.
1. Learn Safety First
A gym is a great place to get fit, but, unless you know what you’re doing, it’s also a great place to get injured. Here are 4 things you need to get right quick:
- Loading the Bar – make sure that the bar is evenly weighted when removing plates. If you don’t, one end of the bar will come flying up toward your head.
- Use the collars – Regardless of how little weight you’re using, always use a pair of quality collars. Get into the habit of checking them between sets, as they can easily become loose.
- Isolate – Learn to isolate the working muscle group in order to avoid momentum. Lower the weight more slowly than you lift it and DO NOT swing.
- Keep your lower back slightly arched and your core tight. Never round your back when working with weights.
2. Leave Your Ego At the Door
Walk into any gym and you’ll see them. Guys who are hanging around the heavy weight equipment – usually the bench press – intent on pushing as much weight as they can. No, they’re not powerlifters. In fact, judging by their form, they’re not weighter lifters at all. They’ll use anything short of a wheel jack to get the weight up. Grunting, contorting, lifting their hips and back off the bench, these guys are the epitome of bad form. But they don’t care – as long as they bench 300.
You can’t learn much from these clowns. What you can learn is to get rid of your ego before you walk into the gym. You are there to give your body the best workout of it’s life – the workout that will maximize fat loss and sculpt your body ideal. Now, here’s the thing. Your body doesn’t know how much weight is on the bar. All it knows is how hard it is being worked.
Those guys on the bench press – despite throwing a lot of weight around – are not working their target muscle group (the pectorals) very hard at all. All of the work is being achieved through hip thrust and momentum. All that they are really doing is setting themselves up for some serious injury.
The take home message here is that the weight is a tool to work your muscles, nothing more, nothing less. And, just as a builder doesn’t wax lyrical about the beauty of his hammer, you’d be silly to focus on the weight at the expense of form.
Many people are surprised when they see professional bodybuilders working out with much lighter weights than they would have imagined. These people know that the weight on the bar is just one way to achieve maximum intensity. They are using the weight as a tool and have learned to leave their ego behind. So should you.
3. Get to Know the Equipment
There are two main types of resistance training gear found in modern gymnasiums – free weights, cable-and-pulley machines. Machines are also safer to use. The exercise follows a set track so you are forced to use proper form. And, if you drop the weight, it will glide harmlessly back to its start point.
On the other hand, barbells are more effective at working your muscles. They allow you to work through a more natural arc of motion. They also use more auxiliary muscles than machines do.
4. Get Specific
Within your first month in the gym, you need to discover the types of exercises and workout routines that are going to help you to achieve your specific goals. There is no such thing as a one size fits all workout.
If you’re a 24-year-old football player, you’re going to train differently than a 54-year-old woman trying to lose weight, or even a bodybuilder of the same age. You need to learn the rep ranges and types of exercises that work best for the specific goals that you have from your training.
5. Use Progressive Resistance
Progressive resistance is the cornerstone principle of gym exercise. Every time you work out, you should try to do something to make your session a little bit harder than the last time. If you don’t, your body will soon adapt to what you’re doing and have no reason to respond.
There are a number of ways to make your workout harder. The most obvious is to add weight to the bar. However, you should only do this if you are able to perform the set number of reps with the new weight without sacrificing the quality of your repetition. Just add weight in small, incremental amounts. Another way to make your workout harder is to increase the number of reps.
6. Discover Intensity
You’ll see a lot of people just going through the motions with their workout. They are counting off reps and sets without any thought or real effort. You don’t want to be like them. You need to use a weight that makes the last couple of reps on each set very difficult. If you can do your set and feel that you could have done more reps, put the weight up slightly so that the last rep is, indeed, the last one that you can perform with that weight.
7. Identify Ideal Rep Range
The number of repetitions that you perform for each set will depend on your training goal. If your main goal is to lose body fat, then you should do relatively high reps, in the 10-15 range. If muscle growth is your primary goal, aim for 8-12 reps per set. For those who are primarily interested in gaining strength and power, the majority of sets should be six reps or fewer.
8. Get the Volume Right
The volume of your training has to do with the overall length of your workout and the number of sets that you do for each body part. A lot of people spend way too long in the gym. As a result they end up over- training. As a general rule of thumb, your workout should last about 45-60 minutes and you should do about 6-12 sets for each body part.
9. Learn How to Lift
Before you start to focus on the weight that you’re lifting, you need to perfect your form. Go online and watch videos about how to get it right. Then use a gym instructor to help you get it right. You should also look at yourself in the mirror to check on how you’re going.
Here are some pointers to help you to get it right:
- Grip the bar properly – learn the three grips (pronated, supinated, and mixed) and when to use them. On most exercises you should use a shoulder width grip.
- Lifting from the floor – your feet should be flat on the floor and shoulder width apart. Always maintain a tight core and a neutral spine (slightly arched position). The bar should be close to your body throughout the lift.
- Never hold your breath when lifting weights
10. Rest Between Sets
Getting the right amount of rest between sets is crucial to your success. Too much time between sets will never allow you to increase the intensity of your next set. However, if you don’t give yourself enough rest, you won’t be sufficiently recovered to be able to get the most out of the next set. As a rule of thumb, you should rest between 30-60 seconds between sets.
11. Discover Tempo
The tempo of your workout has to do with the speed of your reps. There are two parts to every repetition, which are the concentric and the eccentric part of the rep. The concentric part is when you are lifting the weight. It should take you about two seconds to lift the weight.
The eccentric part of the rep is when you lower the bar. The muscle gets more benefit when you lower the weight. It should take you about 4 seconds to do this. The ideal length for your entire set should be about 30-60 seconds.
12. Vary Your Routine
The human body has an amazing ability to adapt. In the gym, it doesn’t take long for the body to adapt to what you’re doing. When it does, it will stop responding. That’s why you should regularly change your routine around. Mix up your routine every six months.
13. Learn How to Recover Post Gym
In the gym, you don’t build your body up. You actually break it down. Your body requires rest and proper nutrition to recover and grow. This is especially so in your first few months of training. Give yourself 48 hours between each session. Learn how to recover post gym and don’t push yourself too hard.
14. Learn How to Spot
Sooner or later, someone is going to ask you to spot them on a heavy exercise. So, you’d better learn how to do it right:
- Be invisible! The lifter shouldn’t be able to tell he or she is being helped. To accomplish this, you must try to match the lifter’s ‘feel.’ Each rep, you must ease into helping the lifter, trying to match the decrease in the lifter’s strength so exactly that someone watching would see no difference in the speed with which the barbell is moving.
- Make sure to add force to the bar in such a way that you don’t upset the lifter’s balance. One of the most frustrating lifting experiences is having a partner pulling up (or pushing down) unevenly on the bar. This not only ruins the feel of the lift but is dangerous as well.
- Help the lifter return the bar to the rack or stand at the end of the set. Keep in mind that you have been providing some of the force necessary to move the bar, and by the end of a set of forced reps, the lifter probably can’t comfortably handle the bar by himself.
15. Learn Proper Training Nutrition
Before your workout, your body needs glycogen and branch chain amino acids. These will give you an extra boost of energy and the amino acids needed to build muscle. Get a hold of some whey protein powder and take it as a shake thirty minutes before you hit the gym.
Take another shake after your workout in order to rebuild and repair your muscles.
16. Discover Compound Exercises
Compound exercises involve just two joints. They involve the movement of two joints and include presses, rows, leg presses, and squats. These are very different to isolation exercises such as curls, extensions or laterals in which movement takes place only through one joint.
Compound exercises give you a mechanical leverage advantage which means you can handle more weight and give your muscles a harder workout. Compound movements also more precisely simulate everyday functional movement like picking up a suitcase.
Major body compound exercises are also far more effective at burning calories. They should form the basis of your training program.
17. Get Into HIIT
High Intensity Interval Training has been proven to be the most effective way to lose weight and get in shape fast. Here’s how to do it . . .
Choose an exercise that you feel comfortable with and that you will be able to push yourself to the limit on. Here are some options;
- Stationary Cycling
- Free Running Running on Treadmill
Here’s is how you need to perform your HIIT training . . .
Start off with a 2 minute warm-up at a slow pace. During this time get your mind focused on your first sprint set. Prepare to go all out. The second that 2 minutes is up, shift into high gear and start sprinting. Leave nothing out – dig as deep as possible. Do this for 20 seconds. At 10 seconds you should feel your thighs burning and your heart pounding. Keep going. Don’t slow down at 3 seconds. Push to the limit for the whole 20. Now go to active rest for 10 seconds. That’s all you’ve got so make the most of it.
Be disciplined and get straight back into another sprint when your 10 seconds is up. Work to keep to the same intensity as you did on the firsts set. Don’t let it drop. Push the whole way. You’ve now done 2 sprint sets. Keep going until you’ve done 8 sets. You’ll have to stay focused and keep digging deep. Don’t allow your mind to wander until you’re done.
Do this right and you’ll be collapsing on the floor at the end of it. That is your goal. It hard and it’s intense. But it’s also short. Including your 2 minute warm up, you’ll be done in 6 minutes. That’s it. Your exercise session for the day is over. Surely the 4 minutes of pain is worth it. Embrace it and you will be turning your body into a fat burning furnace.