Will wrote a piece on Why Your Workouts Suck http://www.brinkzone.com/strength-training/why-your-workouts-suck/#more-862 and I thought I’d go on a bit further because with all the other possible things that might suck in your life (traffic, frizzy hair, the electricity bill, your dog’s farts—and yes those are my problems), your workout ought not to suck. Part of my mission in this blog is to help the newbie pave the trail from the couch to the squat rack, but the path can be confusing, and is littered with sucky advice. So, what are some of the things you can do to avoid a sucky workout, other than the things that Will has already pointed out?
1) Learn how to perform the basics, even if that means “just” the body weight exercises. Performing one perfect body weight squat to depth is a great example. So you say you can’t squat? How do you get on the potty, and get back up? Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of simply following whatever someone else is doing. You may witness the following errors: squatting on the Smith Machine (whatever you do, DON’T teach yourself there!) or the half-rep heavy barbell ego squat. I’d rather teach a client to perform a squat with “no weight,” and progress with bands, dumbbells, barbells, or other objects that provide resistance (a sandbag, your toddler) rather than teaching a sucky squat.
And it’s not just squats on the Smith Machine. It’s improper or unnecessary use of machines when body weight or “at home” exercises will suffice. At the gym where I work, there’s an “ab coaster” machine. I witnessed a lady hop on the ab coaster and commence the act of horseback riding. It was fitness porn at its worst. She certainly wasn’t working her abs through a proper range of motion, and would have served herself better by performing some actual floor crunches.
2) Copying whatever fad someone else is doing in the gym. I know someone who decided she was ready to get back in the gym and asked me if the latest 90-day muscle confusion DVD fad was a good choice for her. Part of me wanted to instantly launch into a discussion about the things Will mentioned in his article (lack of planned progression and periodization, program not aligned with goals) but I thought about my reply for a minute. I wanted to encourage her to do something (anything!) other than sit on the couch and maybe this would motivate her to start moving again. So I broke it down into a simpler discussion: could she afford it, and what would she do after the 90 days was over? In the back of my mind, I knew this was the kind of program that was really best suited for a more advanced lifter, and her potential for losing motivation and risking injury could be high on the program. If her upper body strength was minimal, how would she understand what her options were when instructed to perform pull-ups?
The problem with fads is that they are short lived by nature. After a less technical discussion with her, she realized the better choice for her would be to start smaller; take the baby steps to cleaning up her diet, start by taking brisk walks, look into some good home-based equipment like used dumbbells and bands, and look into membership fees at her local recreation center. Will also has some suggestions for some kick-ass home based resistance training exercises here: http://www.brinkzone.com/strength-training/effective-training-at-home/ He uses the TRX straps, and I have the blast straps sold on elitefts.com <http://elitefts.com/> .
3) Find a training partner who’s gym savvy. Your training partner could even be a virtual one! I found myself a like-minded athlete and “Star” and I are almost done with a 10-week program that we’ve followed to the letter http://boards.flexonline.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=46763#46763 Now, this isn’t exactly the kind of program I’d endorse following, but the point is we are doing it together, motivating each other, keeping one another accountable, sharing our struggles, etc. It also goes back to my point about not sucking at your workouts and ties in to the things Will brings up in his article: matching your training to your goals, and tracking your progress. Star and I were both intent on adding some muscle to our frames, and both of us are self-confessed data lovers. We trade journals, track our progress, and make sure we’re beating our own records. Point is, if you claim you can’t find a gym partner to work out with, you may be able to find a like minded partner on the internet. Join a forum like the one on www.fatlossrevealed.com and find your ally!
Training partners that you actually meet with at the gym and that share mutual goals with you are a great option, especially if walking into the gym for the first time is intimidating. If they know their way around, they might be able to safely show you how to perform an exercise safely.
The last thing you really want to have happen is to have a sucky workout. Sucky workouts can translate into injury, demotivation, and lack of progress (results!). We’ve all seen that person in the gym, who shows up day after day, slogging it out on the treadmill, or pumping out some wasted reps on the hip ab/adduction machine while reading a magazine, or hanging out by the bench press rack munching on a power bar, or the lady other riding the ab coaster like a cowgirl, or the dude with the puffy pad wrapped around the Smith Machine bar squatting with a spotter (and grunting!). There are enough examples of people sucking at stuff at the gym. Don’t be one of them.
–Sumi Singh is a Personal Trainer in Austin, TX and an online diet coach. Her website is www.shailafitness.com