So you’ve decided to take the plunge and try out a gym, with a view to becoming a regular. However the descriptions of the facilities and the classes look really baffling! Fear not – here is a beginner’s guide.
Resolving to do more exercise is, as we all know, the easy part of a healthier lifestyle. Turning good intentions into action can be bewildering, especially if you have not been to a gym before. A look on the websites of most gyms will produce a long list of fitness equipment and exercise classes - a list that may well baffle many people new to fitness. What, we ask, is a Powerplate? What is the difference between strength work and cardio work? Can I do a class to music if I am famed for having two left feet?
It’s enough to frighten anyone back to the sofa – but don’t despair. Here are some explanations covering what is going on at the gym and how the equipment is used.
Remember that all good gyms will offer you an induction session, often without charge. This is where you are shown how to use the machines and can ask any questions. These sessions ensure that you can use the machines safely (to avoid damaging yourself) and correctly (to avoid damaging the machines).
Free weights, as the name implies, are weights that are not attached to a machine. These are items such as dumbbells (a hand-held bar with a weight on each end), barbells (a long bar with weights on each end that is usually lifted with both hands or on the shoulders. There are also kettlebells, which look like bowling balls with handles. Safety is important, especially if you are lifting at the limit of your capacity. You should never work out alone with free weights if there is a possibility that you could become trapped under a bar.
Weight machines can look quite terrifying, and newcomers might wonder how to get inside what appears to be a rather fearsome contraption! This is definitely a time to ask for assistance in setting up and adjusting the equipment. Machines include leg press, leg extension and leg curl devices, and there are also machines to work pectoral muscles and lateral muscles. All of these machines use weights to add resistance, so they can be set to your level of strength. Always check the settings before starting to use the machine – the previous user may have been very strong and had it set to a level where you will not be able to move the weights.
Swiss balls are just what you would expect, a large squashy ball that you lie or sit on while you do exercises. As the ball is unstable it makes your ‘core’ muscles work harder and helps to build stability.
Benches are designed to hold you in a certain position while you work your muscles. These can be used to strength backs, stomachs and legs as well as a base for using weights.
What about the afore-mentioned Powerplate? This is a vibrating device that you stand on, sit on or lie on while doing exercises. The idea is that the vibrations make your muscles contract more frequently, therefore making them work harder. The device is a complement to a workout, not a replacement for it, but adds an interesting new dimension and an extra challenge.
As well as the strength and toning equipment, there is also the cardiovascular equipment. This is designed to get the heart pumping and the lungs working, as well as giving your muscles a workout. Equipment in this category includes treadmills, steppers and stationary bicycles. When choosing a cardiovascular machine, think about the position that you will be in and the joints that will be taking the load. Machines used in a standing position burn more calories, but treadmills and steppers can be hard on the knees if the surrounding supporting muscles are not sufficiently strong. Stationary bikes are easier on the knees but it is very important that they are set up correctly.
Now what about those fitness classes? Gyms now offer a bewildering range of circuits, aerobics, dance-based workouts and ‘boot-camps’, as well as gentler sessions such as Pilates, yoga and stretching sessions. There are classes for all ages and fitness levels – with seated classes available for the elderly you can be sure that no-one is too unfit to join in an exercise class. The big advantage of a class is that all the planning and motivation is included. You don’t need to keep count of your repetitions or work out your own routine as the instructor will do all that for you.
Music is usually a part of these classes, but it can just be an aid to keeping everyone in time – you don’t need to be a skilled dancer! Some classes do need more co-ordination than others, so don’t be afraid to peek through a window or ask to do a trial session to see if the class is for you.
The instructor is the main key to a successful class. You are looking for someone with a friendly attitude, lots of enthusiasm and with the observational skills to keep a check on everyone in the class. If you have health problems or injuries, ask to see the instructor outside the class to obtain their advice on whether it is suitable for you.
With all these choices, there is bound to be something to interest you, so take a trip to your local gym and see what is on offer.
by Kath Webb
by Jessica Ward
by Laura Briggs
by Jessica Ward
by Jessica Ward