Everyone thinks that on the 1 January, people are beating on the door of the gym, ready to sign up and blast through their new intentions. From my experience, it's more of a trickle that peaks around week 3. So, if you're still at the shall I/shan't I? stage, here are some tips to get the most from the workout.
1) Choosing a gym
If you have a choice of gyms in your area, visit them all. Check how thorough the induction is. If their idea of an induction is to walk past the equipment saying 'This is a treadmill, this is a rower' without at least giving a demonstration, then you might find you don't get the most out of the gym without a lot of research.
Are the classes you want to use at a time when you can use them? Is the swimming pool available when you need it?
2) Be sure of your goals.
During a good induction you'll be asked about your goals. Losing weight and toning up, is the answer most people give - but it's not specific (it's like telling a travel agent you want to go somewhere hot for your holidays - they'd need a little more detail).
My favourite clients say things like, 'I want to run the London marathon this year' (note, not a marathon one day), 'I want to be able to lift xxkg on the bench', 'My left side is weaker than my right, I want to fix that', 'I want to get my body fat down to healthy levels'. I can work with that, and you can see the path towards achieving it.
3) Be realistic about what you can achieve
You can't get a six-pack in ten minutes a day. You can't lose two stone in three weeks, no matter what the side-bar adverts on Facebook say. You can't reach your goals in a month - unless your goal was to go three times a week for a month
Six weeks is the shortest time when you should start to see measurable and positive changes. Six months is about the time, if you've been consistently working towards it, that you should meet your initial goals. Then you need to make new goals. Don't give up - your health, exercise and diet is a lifelong committment, even though your goals and priorities may change.
4) Work hard
If you don't put the effort in, you won't get the results. It's that simple. Don't bring a book to read - you'll immediately work much less hard (if you get so bored at the gym that you need to read, think about intervals - 30 seconds easy pace, 30 seconds flat out effort - bet you won't get bored then!). Increase the levels when the programme gets easy. Change the programme you use. Focus on the muscles you use when you lift weights, don't just go through the motions.
You should be working out at a level which means you can't hold a conversation while you're on the cardio machines. You should be able to answer in one or two word grunts. With weights, you should feel a resistance (how much will depend on your goals, but if you're lifting something that weighs no more than your handbag it's too light).
5) Don't compare yourself to other people
They may have the body you envy, but they'll undoubtedly have different goals.
6) What you do outside the gym is just as important as what you do inside
This covers the food you eat and the activity you do. If you work out hard, then reward yourself with a slice of cake and a cuppa from the cafe, you'll be cancelling out the exercise - you might even put on weight! How many times have you heard people say, 'I tried going to the gym, but it didn't work for me'?
Do you drive to the gym? Could you run or walk there instead?
Do you always take the lift instead of the stairs?
So, that's all for now. Joining a gym is the easiest thing you can do; sticking at it, training well, and achieving your goals are harder. But they are worth it!