CrossFit, circuit training, group exercise, functional training, resistance training, cardio training. Feeling dizzy yet? Never before have there been so many structured activities at the gym vying for your attention.
Simply idling into the gym and heading for the recumbent bike seems very old fashioned. More choice, however, is not necessarily a good thing – and the gym floor, with all of its complex equipment and confident lycra-clad inhabitants, can be a daunting place.
While my work with athletes often involves a range of complex training approaches using a host of equipment, you can still exercise effectively using the most basic apparatus on the gym floor. After all, there are enough barriers to making exercise an integral part of your week without the environment itself hampering your progress. So why not take a simple approach?
Here are few tried and tested (yet easy) exercises that, when combined with a broadly healthy lifestyle, are likely to improve fitness levels, maybe shed a little excess weight – and will make you feel at home in the gym
Hit the floor running
The warm up is a great opportunity to include some easily neglected exercises. Start by repeating a short set of just four or five simple stretches. This will ensure your muscles are taken through a full range of motion.
You could also add some exercises that use your own body weight to improve strength, such as squats, lunges, press ups and sit ups. Two or three sets of six to eight repetitions will be plenty.
The great thing about these exercises is that they don’t require any equipment, and can be performed in very little space.
People with busy lives aren’t going to divide their training sessions rigidly into resistance (weights) and cardio (running, cycling and rowing). You will most probably want to cram everything into the same session.
Not only is that okay, it is actually a good way of training, as the likelihood is the overall intensity of each session will be higher with more time spent actually exercising.
The order in which you complete the resistance and cardio components of your session is unlikely to make a huge difference. More important is not being fixed to a structure that becomes difficult to achieve at busy times and that, over time, becomes boring. My advice would be to have a rough plan of what you want to do – but not necessarily an order in which those different components will be performed.
Resistance is definitely not futile
Resistance (strength) training is absolutely something you should be doing. It won’t make you put on weight or become muscle bound. Nor does it have to be done while grunting in front of a mirror (although you can if you want to).
What it does do is help maintain a quality of life as we age. From opening jars to getting out of an armchair – everyday tasks that rely primarily on strength. For the exercises themselves, try to include certain types of movement in each session: push, pull, rotate and brace.
For example, leg exercises that fall into the push category would be squats, leg presses or lunges, while dead lifts or seated leg curls are examples of a pull exercise.
We can apply the same logic to exercises that strengthen the upper body – consider the shoulder “press” and “lat pull down”. Aim for somewhere between six and 12 repetitions, adjusting the load accordingly – the more reps, the lighter the load.
Rotation and brace exercises refer to those that strengthen what are commonly referred to as the “core” muscles – the ones that sit roughly below your sternum and above your hips. Rotation exercises can include twisting your upper or lower body, for example. The Russian twist involves lying on a Swiss Ball, knees bent to 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor, and twisting to your right and left in an alternating manner.