In an ideal world you'd conduct every exercise session under the watchful eye of a personal trainer - someone to hold you accountable and help you along with their words of encouragement. But, in the absence of a full-time PT, there are still some expert tips you can take on board in order to make sure you're maximising your workouts.
A group of fitness experts from Virgin Active are here to share their most valuable nuggets of advice when it comes to establishing a healthy lifestyle and enhancing your gym sessions. From tips on progressing your weight training, to reminders about the importance of mental strength when building the physical, you'll want to heed these rules in every workout, forever more.
1. Weight training before cardio, always
Ever wonder if there's any logic to how you plan your gym sessions? It seems that there is. "Strength train before doing cardio for maximum fat burn and energy efficiency," says Head of Group Exercise, Israel Rivera. "Save your glycogen stores to push harder and heavier during your strength-training workouts to build lean muscle mass. Once those stores are depleted your body will resort to fat as fuel for exercising. So, bang the cardio out after your strength-training session to achieve a fitter, leaner you," he advises.
2. There are no shortcuts to getting sculpted and lean
If you want to see a healthy, physical difference you'll have to prepare to be committed long-term - and your diet is just as important as your exercise output. "The best tip to losing weight is to accurately track what you eat in the span of a day," suggests Master Grid Trainer Paolo Gimenez. "Write down on your phone memo, or use an app to log everything you put in your mouth. Making lists like these put you in a mind-set of accountability and stops you from picking up that bag of crisps, or having that glass of red wine after a hard day at work."
3. Use free weights instead of the machines
There's a physiological reason why it'll enhance your workout, says Rockstar Instructor David Kelly. "Instead of using machine weights, try using the free weights. When using free weights you use a lot more muscles to help balance the lift and stabilise your body, which will lead to burning off more calories and building up strength quicker," he notes. Dumbbells it is, then.
4. It's mind over matter for motivation
One of the hardest battles is getting yourself to the gym in the first place. And, according Rockstar Instructor Zsuzsa Vinczeller, your mind is the only thing that will get you there. "A strong body doesn't exist without strong mind. If you tell yourself you are tired, or that something is too hard for you, you'll be right. But if you tell yourself, 'I'm strong, I can do it, I'm powerful and I have control over my body', you'll succeed. It might take time, but stay focused and you'll stay committed."
5. Technique is everything
"It’s much more important to train with the correct technique rather than train heavy," says Master Trainer Dorota Maslewska. "You might learn some exercises by watching friends or others in the gym, but sometimes what you see isn’t safe," she adds. If you want to sharpen up on your technique, hire a PT for a session to go through it all with you and make sure you note down their every word.
6. Intervals are super-effective
And not just because they mean regular rest breaks. "Intervals – on a bike, treadmill or rower – work wonders," explains Israel. "They're time efficient, help you build functional strength, aid in improving cardiovascular endurance and shred fat."
Here's how the expert advises doing them: "In a 30-minute session, for example, complete 45-90 second intervals with equal rest in between and aim for 80% - 95% of your max heart rate [you can work that out here]. Do more in less time and prevent boredom."
7. Prioritise consistency over intensity
If you're new to the exercise world, this is how you'll build yourself up into a sustainable routine. "It's better to go to the gym twice a week for a year than six days a week for two months, and then nothing else because you can't sustain it," advises Group Exercise Manager Nicky Spence. Master Reformer Pilates Instructor Emma Marie agrees, adding: "Be sure not to over commit to the amount of training sessions you can do a week. Any extras you can fit in is an added bonus and those sessions are going to feel extra good when you do manage fit them in."
8. Switch up your exercises
"Mixing it up is definitely the way to go," says Master Trainer Paolo. "You need to keep your body guessing; adaptation is the key to getting fitter faster and getting yourself out of a fitness plateau. It is what our body is really hardwired to do when we think of becoming stronger, faster or fitter. The only way to get there is to hit the body with different stimuli from all angles," he explains, suggesting: "If you’re trying to get stronger, work on varying the tempo of your lifts. If you’re trying to get fitter from a cardiovascular perspective, do some HIIT sessions."
9. Use breathing to lift heavier weights
It's not just yoga where mastering breath work is important. If strength training is your focus right now, take a moment to consider how you can use breathing to enhance your ability, says Dorota. "Breathe out as you lift the weight - don't hold your breath," advises the expert trainer. "For example, when you’re pushing a bench press off your chest, you exhale on the push and inhale as you bring it slowly to your chest."
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