We are now one week into 2013. The holidays are officially over and the fear of the Mayan apocalypse is behind us. More importantly, the countdown to Speedo season has begun. This means that the gym has become very crowded with old members who blew the dust off of their membership cards, as well as new people who were lured into a New Year's resolution sale. Whether or not you are a die-hard gym bunny or getting back into a workout regime, here are some tips to help maximize your time at the gym.
Don't get intimidated or turned off by the crowds. Leaving the gym because it's too crowded and planning to make up for the lost time during the next workout is how procrastination begins. The amount of members on the gym floor will thin out as the month of January progresses. Remember, a large percentage of people who start the New Year with a health club resolution fizzle out. Be patient -- learn to work in and share equipment with others. Use this as a motivational tool to get yourself through your workouts, rather than thinking of it as a hindrance.
Leave the iPod/iPhone in the locker. Sometimes, our music playlists have a tendency to make us zone out and daydream instead of concentrating on important aspects of our workout such as form, technique, and breathing. I myself have been much more concentrated and able to get through my workouts faster without the use of headphones. And leave the "Tweeting" and "Facebooking" until after you're done with the gym. Social media is fun, but at the wrong times it can pose a distraction. Of course, the added bonus of not being plugged in is being more aware of our surroundings. This brings me to my next tip.
Expand your social circle. If you find yourself in a situation where you're alternating reps on a piece of equipment with somebody else, use the opportunity to strike up a conversation. There are endless possibilities for this type of scenario: You could acquire a workout partner, make a new friend, or if you're both single and there's a mutual attraction, you might just score a date. Yes, it is a bit of a cliché to use the gym as a meet market, but how is this any different from logging onto Grindr and chatting via the app with a guy who is a few hundred feet away? So before you eye roll and scoff, take a chance and talk someone up the old-fashioned way.
Mix up your routine. We are creatures of habit by nature, but our bodies plateau once they become used to a certain workout. When this happens we usually stop seeing the results we're looking for. So "shock" your body by incorporating new exercises and don't be afraid of trying equipment you wouldn't normally use. Also, if you are an avid weight trainer, try working different body parts together in the same session (e.g., work both your chest and back on a day where you would normally just do chest).
Remember the importance of cardio. We all know the benefits, but doing cardio is probably one of the hardest things to get motivated about at the gym. The monotonous repetition that comes from being on a treadmill or elliptical is enough to turn anybody off, but it is an essential part of any fitness regime regardless if the goal is to lose weight or build muscle. Alternate between the various program settings available on your cardio equipment of choice. Mixing up your cardio with different inclines and speeds will help keep things challenging. Avoid doing cardio every time you are at the gym -- two or three sessions throughout the week will keep you in shape and prevent burnout from occurring. Lastly, if cardio equipment is not your thing, check out the group fitness classes that your gym has to offer.
Don't forget the abs. Not taking the time to work on those abdominals, but yet having a great upper body and amazing legs kind of defeats the purpose, don't you think? Contrary to popular belief, ab workouts don't really need to be complicated. Find a few abdominal exercises that work for you, and then set aside ten to fifteen minutes for them before leaving the gym. The key with abs, as when it comes to the rest of your workout, is consistency.
Know when to rest and reward yourself. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. The same way we set workout schedules, days of rest should be incorporated into those schedules as well. It allows muscles to heal and prevents the body from experiencing fatigue or injury. Of course, a similar philosophy should be applied to eating habits. Know the value of being disciplined with meals and snacks, but don't deprive yourself. Designate certain cheat days that will allow you to indulge in that slice of pizza or cupcake without the guilt.
The aspect of physical fitness that people sometimes forget is that working out should be looked at as a long-term lifestyle habit. Yes, we all want to look great in the summer, but once you achieve that desired physique, maintenance plays an important factor in keeping it. Quick and immediate fixes never last, so be realistic about your goals, and know that results come from steady and consistent exercise. Pace yourself, stay focused, stay disciplined, eat well, hydrate, and good luck!