Gyms are a fantastic way to get fit in a controlled
1) Know your equipment There is nothing more embarrassing than disregarding an introductory session when joining a gym, only to discover that you have no idea how any of the equipment works. To save yourself standing around like a lemon, make sure you sign up to an induction before getting started. Yes, it may be dull, but not only will it save your blushes, it might also prevent unnecessary injury. Qualified instructors will show you how to avoid hurting yourself on potentially dangerous equipment like the running machine- they can at least point you in the direction of the stop button! 2) Warm-up Your warm up is one of the most important parts of your exercise routine. An efficient warm up routine will prevent unnecessary injuries, increase your flexibility and speed up recovery time from your workout. Begin with low intensity aerobic activity, like power walking or a gentle job, for 5 to 10 minutes to get your heart pumping and your lungs working. Then begin stretching your leg muscles, arm muscles, lower back and chest (remember, avoid bouncing when you stretch- you risk tearing the muscle). Don't rush your warm up- doing the exercises correctly is more important than speed! Even if you are short on time, make sure you put aside an extra 5 minutes to get your body moving- or you will regret it the next day when you can't walk up and down the stairs. 3) Pace yourself Starting a fitness regime generally means that you are eager to see results - whether that means developing a slimmer, more toned physique or a healthier cardiovascular system. But the biggest mistake you can make is throwing yourself into a routine all guns blazing. Of course you could start out going to the gym for 2 hours a day, 7 days a week, but this may not be sustainable. Your body only has so much energy to work with, and you must pace yourself to avoid overtraining. Soreness is normal the morning after an intense workout, but needing a crane to get out of bed isn't. Start slow and concentrate on long-term goals. Some gyms offer free training programmes which can be handy if you don't know where to begin. 4) Stick to the rules In the gym, rules are NOT made to be broken. Health and safety is important in the gym (even if you think it is a waste of time in other areas of your life like the workplace!). Know who your first aider is- all gyms should have a qualified member of staff on duty that is trained in first aid. In addition, familiarise yourself with the fire escapes in case of an emergency. Finally, pay attention to diagrams of how to use the equipment to avoid hurting yourself or those around you. 5) Hydrate When doing any type of exercise it is important to stay well hydrated. Working out whilst dehydrated will affect your performance and slow your recovery time. Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your session and adjust your intake depending on how intensely you exercise. For shorter workouts - those lasting less than one hour - sports drinks are not necessary. However, for longer, more intense workouts, sports drinks can replace lost electrolytes and provide sugar for energy. If you forget to bring a drink with you, make regular trips to the water fountain. And whatever you do, avoid alcohol and caffeine at all costs! 6) Good posture If you carry out an induction session, you will be told by your instructor how to use correct form when working out. If you don't maintain good 'form' or technique when doing exercises at the gym, you won't be exercising the muscles you are supposed to. Worse still, you may even be putting yourself at risk of injury. A classic place to spot poor posture is on the rowing machines; people will round their shoulders, hunch their back and pull as hard as possible, putting a lot of pressure on the spine and back muscles. Another common area of mistake is on the treadmill, where users will have poor dynamic body control when running. If you are getting pains in places where you shouldn't, then talk to a personal trainer before you do yourself a mischief. 7) Mix up your routine It is easy to get stuck in a fitness rut when you go to the same gym day after day, month after month, but it is important to mix up your routine every 4-6 weeks. It is around this time that your body begins to adapt to your training and is no longer challenged. Not only will your fitness grind to a halt, but you run the risk of overworking particular muscles and joints. Try changing equipment, increasing your weights or adding sets. If your routine is stale, then take a fitness class to learn some new moves and gain some motivation. Variety is the spice of life after all! 8) Protect yourself with physiotherapy With all the best intentions in the world, we can all fall victim to sports injury at some point in our lives. Common gym injuries include foot and ankle problems like plantar fasciitis, stress on the knee, lower back problems and misalignment of the neck. If you are serious about your gym routine, then be prepared to visit a physiotherapist. Look for a health insurance policy that has cover for private physiotherapy- it will stop you having to wait on the NHS for treatment if you do hurt yourself. When investing in health insurance, choose an insurer that offers discounted gym membership- you might save yourself a pretty penny.