I love the motivation I’m seeing in people this month! I have observed, in more than one gym, a relatively large number of newcomers still on the fitness wagon. Awesome! But, I’ve also noticed a trend that is going to lead to injury, unwanted time off, frustration over goals not met, or maybe even all three at once. Somewhere in the fitness motivation memes, photos, and rhetoric, a message of “more is more” has made its way to gym newcomers—and it’s hard to watch!
Newly motivated people often say things like, “Man! I came in this morning, and I’m here again, and then I’m gonna train AGAIN TONIGHT! High five!” Hmmm. I’m not going to give a nod of approval to this—I’m going to ask you what the hell your plan is, and why you think this is a good idea! At this rate, it won’t take long to burn out, have to take a week or two off, and have trouble getting started again. Doing a lot in one week is good, but to still be doing it in two months is way better—so pace yourself! Set a goal, have a plan that is conducive to reaching that goal, and don’t do more or less than what’s on the plan.
My workouts would look very odd to a newcomer. If I’m in bodybuilding mode, my training is usually done in 45 minutes. If I am in power lifting mode, I could look even sillier—at 5 minutes between sets (at LEAST—my training partners are pushing me to rest longer!), and often only 1-3 reps in a set, I probably look like I’m just sitting around all the time! Depending on my goal, sometimes I train twice a day, with my second workout being an intense conditioning session that I can complete within 30 minutes! But all of my workouts have something in common: when I’m done, I’m done. With some intuitive exceptions, if my set calls for three reps, I do three reps even if I could have done five. If my workout calls for five exercises, I do those five. If my plan is to do 20 minutes of HIIT, then after 20 minutes I stop. The type of training I’m doing depends on my goal, and the structure of my training follows accordingly. If I stray from the plan today, I risk screwing over tomorrow’s plan.
Fitness beginners often believe that all training is for the same purpose, and that “go hard or go home” means 2 hours at the gym is better than a 1-hour quality workout. This is evident in the way that most people describe their goals. People usually list all or several of the following: lose weight, gain some muscle, tone up, get shredded, have abs, get bigger biceps. Back up: do you want to lose weight, or get bigger biceps? Do you want to have abs, or put on more muscle? Appearing to have bigger muscles and actually having bigger muscles are not the same thing. And, one month of “working out” isn’t going to be a cure-all approach to reaching every goal under the sun.
When I meet a new client, I have a responsibility to not just put them on a cookie-cutter workout plan. I spend a lot of time up front on trying to define realistic goals, get us on the same page with terminology, and discuss exactly how we want to approach and prioritize the goals. I map out a long-term plan, and break it up into short-term plans of execution and really make sure the client understands why we’re doing what we’re doing, and how each part will contribute to the goal.
But what if you don’t have a personal trainer? Not everyone needs one, but you still deserve better than a cookie cutter plan. You deserve more than to keep performing aimless workouts and wondering why you aren’t getting anywhere. You should understand what the machines do—and don’t do. You should understand that biceps curls aren’t going to directly contribute to fat loss, and that crunches won’t really change the appearance of your midsection. And you should know that more work is not necessarily going to equal more progress. Too many people go to the gym, perform every exercise they found in some magazine (7 variations of the biceps curl…good job…), go home totally spent, and then wake up and do the exact same thing the next day. You can only do that so many times before you get bored, get hurt, over-train, or give up. And everyone does, eventually. I’ve done it myself. I call it Beginner’s Burnout.
So what can you do to avoid Beginner’s Burnout?
- Work smarter, not harder. THINK, plan, execute. Know what step 2 will be before you start step 1. Don’t kill yourself on Monday and then remember than you have basketball practice on Tuesday. Build your plan to accommodate both.
- REST! Unless you are a competitive athlete (and maybe even then…), back-to-back workouts, or training 12 times in one week, , will not help you. Especially if you’re not doing the next step…
- Eat for recovery!! You break your body down in the gym, you build it back up with nutrition. It’s that simple. If you have two workouts back-to-back, both workouts are going to suffer if you don’t fuel your body to recover and perform again. If you break your body down repeatedly, but never recover and repair, then you just end up with a broken down body. (Example: skinny arms and legs, belly fat, generally “untoned” all over…).
- Utilize your resources! Find a good online resource and do some research! Or, solicit the help of a trainer. A personal trainer doesn’t have to be a lifelong commitment. Most of us are happy to consult with you for one or two sessions. Those of us who do this job because we want to help people will be happy to see you succeed with or without us! Identify a trainer who specializes in what it is you want to do—and if you don’t know, we will point you in the right direction.
Good luck reaching your goals! It’s already February, so if you’re one of the New Year’s crowd and you’ve made it this far, you’re in the clear! If you stop seeing progress, don’t give up–get your eyes on the prize and start focusing your workouts!