Saturday, 7 May 2011

The basics // Fitness in the Gym // Get the most out of your workout

When I was at school, I hated PE. I hated sport (still do), and anything active. Years later, I'm studying for a degree in Physiotherapy, ironic? Maybe.
 However, my change in interests and my future profession seem to have moulded my eye for observation and fine tuning of movement, and inevitably, most of this takes place at the gym.

Here, I have devised a pretty long winded (but hopefully helpful) set of simple tips to ensure that you can get the most of your work out, and achieve optimum results! Please bear in mind that I'm not a professional by any means, but do wish to share what I do know. 

 Eat //
First of all, try not to go to the gym on an empty stomach. Yoghurt or cereal are great before you start, or something slightly ‘naughty’ to provide an energy boost. It’s wise to nibble on something where protein content is higher than fat, but carbohydrates are relatively high to provide energy. Raw jelly and orange juice is great!

Also, try to eat carbohydrates and protein within 45 minutes of your workout – To help your muscles refuel, and recover.

Hydration //
Keep your own water bottle on you, and use it. Don’t waste money on expensive sports drinks, dilute 40:50 orange juice with water to drink if you feel you need to keep your sugar levels up.
Try to hydrate yourself before you workout. During exercise, the gastrointestinal tract closes, and so you can only 'take' around 800ml effectively during exercise. 

Suitable Attire //
Make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothing. Unfortunately I found this out the hard way discovering that loose shorts result in a very distracting wedgie. Nice. Everybody is different, but I am often baffled as to how people can feel comfortable working out in loose cotton. I appreciate that everyone is different, but I find that cotton holds moisture (or sweat) and is then pretty distracting as it flaps about.

 I’m comfortable in close fitting items, a second skin, if you will. Specifically, I wear dri-fit cropped trousers, which whip moisture away, and a sports bra/top (also important). I'm a definite pear shape and full length tops just ride up and add interference as I'm jerking about.  

I only buy black or white work out clothing, they *always* match, and I don’t have to completely sacrifice my image. I don’t have room to worry about what I look like whilst in the gym, so do it before!

In regards to footwear, I'm unsure about expensive ‘corrective trainers.’ Whilst support is important, I personally believe that this support should come from ligaments and muscles around the foot and ankle, and feel that strengthening this area is key! Feet and their arches absorb shock, and by wearing bulky trainers, that shock is transferred to your knees and hips. I've been after some Vibram Five Finger running shoes for ages, but for now, until I win the lottery or something, I wear a comfortable, basic pair of Puma trainers. 

Don’t fall for the ‘excessive supination and pronation’ trick promoting £100+ corrective trainers, because a certain degree of this is completely normal, and doesn't need correcting at all. If these shoes have been advised simply by analysing your gait, and you’re concerned, get it tested properly before shelling out. The test is pretty simple but difficult to describe, sorry!

Make up //
Make up + working out is a massive no no for me. Once, I literally watched a girls pencilled eyebrows fall from her forehead as she sweat. Unless you’re trying to impress somebody at the gym, there is very little point, surely. If you’re working hard, there’s no way it’ll look half as decent towards the end – Plus, I can only imagine what sweat + make up does for your skin.

Warm up //
Not by stretching though. Stretching cold muscle fibres causes damage. The focus is on achieving full range of motion, opening up the joints and activating/preparing muscle as well as gently raising the heart rate, all to avoid injury. Try making circles with your arms through full range, making circles with your knees bent together, marching on the spot and star jumps.
 It’s also worth noting that if you work out in the morning, you’ll need a bigger warm up period as your muscles will have shortened overnight, and gradually lengthen throughout the day with movement. 

Cool Down //
A gentle jog or similar prevents lactic acid and blood from pooling in the legs and also encourages muscles back to a resting state, keeping cramps and soreness at bay. Hold every stretch that you perform for at least 30 seconds. The initial stretch that you feel should subside, and then the stretch has been effective. There is no point stretching for less than 30 seconds!

Breathe //
I tend not to breathe how you’re ‘supposed’ to during contractions. I think that its best to follow your own natural breathing pattern – Just be careful not to hold your breath, as this causes a rapid rise in pressure. 
Learn diaphragmatic/belly breathing, which improves gaseous exchange, and in turn, a higher oxygen deliverance to your muscles, allowing them to work as you’d like them to.  To practice this, place your hand on your stomach and try to push your hand out as you breathe in. Difficult, but great to get the hang of.

Get the order right //
Perform your strengthening exercises before cardio; your body burns fat consistently this way. My pattern is: Warm up, strength, cardio, cool down, stretch.

Do it right! //
One pet hate - If you’re going to use an incline on the treadmill (you should, it’s an amazing workout for your core and pelvic muscles), don’t hang onto the bars; you’re cancelling out every good move! Instead, lean forward, use your muscles and feel the burn! If you really can’t handle it, don’t raise it so high!
There are usually staff around in the gym who must only be happy to advise on correct technique for exercises. One golden rule though, never let your knees go beyond your toes during squats and lunges.

Timing //
If one hour isn't enough, you’re not working hard enough. Limit yourself to an hour, and stick to it, 1hour15 minutes max if you warm up and cool down very slowly. Any more than this is a waste of time and prolonged effort, as cortisol (a stress hormone) is released, blocking testosterone, potentially wasting muscles! Keep it short and intense. How?

Make the most of it // 
Jillian Michaels ’30 day shred’ is a perfect example of this. Make the most of every little thing you do. For example, whilst you’re squatting, grab some dumbells and get some raises in there too, 2 in 1, bam! 
Also, give interval training a go. Rather than running for 20 minutes at a set pace, run for 10 minutes with intervals. I run as hard and as fast as I can, for 1 minute, on an incline. Then I have an active rest for one minute, walking, and letting my heart rate slow. Then I run for another minute, then walk, and then run, and so on – For 10 minutes. You can do adopt this method for *any* cardio workout you do, and I guarantee you’ll feel the burn and be sweating like a pig after 10 minutes. Interval training increases your metabolism, burning more calories and promoting fat burn and muscle efficiency. Muscles burn fat all the time, so you’ll be a fat burning machine in no time. Try it, honestly.

Mix it up //
Alter your entire programme after around 4 weeks to avoid plateau – Increase resistance or intensity to avoid progressive plateau. Also mix things up during the week to allow muscles to rest. For example, if you focus on the lower body in one session, dedicate the next to the upper body.

Rest //
Pain is not gain, its a myth. Listen to your body – If you ache, wait ‘til it goes before working out again, and increase cool down time. If you’re hammering yourself, you’ll break down your body tissues quicker than they repair, and you won’t meet the targets you aim for. Three to four sessions a week, on non-consecutive days where possible, is suffice.

Remember what you’re there for //
If you go to the gym often enough, it begins to feel like home. Alarm bells! I will not let the gym become a part of my social life. I blast my music and don’t  talk to anybody but the staff who approach me after my workout (who are incredibly chatty and difficult to break away from – Argh). I’m there to work out. In, out, and thats it. Keep your priorities in line, and remember you’re there to keep fit. 

Some people however, do feel that a training buddy inspires motivation and high spirits, but I watch people chatting away on the cycle machines and wonder what they're doing that couldn't be done at home, or in Costa. I don’t completely dismiss this concept, I just do it covertly. For example, if somebody is on the rowing machine next to me, I make it my personal target to go faster than them, and more often than not, my effort becomes subconscious, and I exceed my targets; always a good thing.  

If you have any more workout tips, please add them in a comment, I'd love to know more!

S xx



  1. This is really helpful, just started going to the gym so i'll be sure to remember this advice so I can get the most out of it! :) thank you! xxx

  2. fab post! i never knew hanging onto the treadmill bars cancelled out the work! Damn, will now let go of the bars! I'm like you, i like to get in the gym and get out again on my own!

  3. this is so helpful! reading just before i'm off to the gym, so will take all this in mind :) xxxxx

  4. Great information! Thank you so much! :)

  5. Thanks for the comments so far girls! I'm really glad its of some use to you :D xx

  6. Brilliant post, and you have a stunning figure so it must work.

    You've inspired me to get my lazy ass down the gym! :) xxx

  7. Such a good post! I always moan that I don't have enough gym clothes (i think it's a bit of a waste to spend too much), so your tip on black and white only is AMAZING. I can't believe i didn't think of doing it.


  8. A very good post, but I disagree with "under one hour" rule. I do stretching for at least 15 minutes before and after the work out, running for 25 minutes and Xtrainer for 25 minutes. Plus, as a warm-up and cool-down I'm riding a bike for 5 minutes each. And there are strength exercises. So it all adds up pretty quickly.
    Also, sometimes I go to classes (1h each) and then do some work on my own.
    I believe that we shouldn't OVER-exercise but 1 hour is not good enough for me. X

  9. Very valid point, which I actually agree with. For me though, I warm up for about 5 minutes, and cool down for about 10 minutes. All of my cardio is done in intervals, which leaves around 20 minutes for strengthening exercises, I don't wait around and keep rest periods between activities to a bare minimum, if at all. Its definitely possible, but am aware that some people prefer a much longer warm up/cool down time. So, warm up and cool down aside, theres *definitely* no need for more than an hour! xx

  10. This is so helpful. Thank You for sharing all these tips.
    Have a great weekend hun!

    xoxo Ra

  11. brilliant post, I will pass the link on :)

  12. such a good post sarah! i dont go to the gym, i exercise at home, but still a lot of these rules apply. i guess i wasn't built for endurance because i find interval training much easier to cope with! and i only have black exercise clothes (nice and interesting lol) its best to keep it simple :)
    when i used to go to the gym i was always surprised at the amount of people hanging off the treadmill bar, haha xx

  13. Ecellant tips for working out.

    I can't do the whole chat and execise either. I find it distracting.
    Great tip about the orange juice i will have to give it a try next time i`m going to the gym.

    Peg x

  14. Oh gosh, now I feel so guilty I don't go to the gym. Urgh. I really wish I could convince myself (or fit in time) to go. I don't think its going to happen.
    Sounds like you've got it nailed.

  15. What a great post, thanks for sharing! I will try these things out :)


  16. This is really sound advice, you know your stuff. I'll be posting health & fitness tips regularly on my blog (hence the gymbags part of my blog name)

  17. This is a really good post. it will encourage the people to join the gym. I will suggest to every one to make exercise, gym, cycling or swimming part of your daily routine if you want to live a healthy life.

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