I’m a big fan of the Terminator movies and find the whole concept of time travel fascinating.
I mean, who WOULDN’T want to go back to the past and tell themselves what mistakes to avoid and opportunities to take to make their future lives more fulfilling?
Don’t buy that car! Do take that job! Don’t marry that person! Do go on that trip! You get the idea…
Given the opportunity, I’d also have a quiet word with my past self about fitness and exercise, and how to get more out of my time in the gym. I know that, like many people, I got a lot of things wrong in my quest to get fit, lose weight, and build muscle. Those mistakes cost me a lot of wasted time and effort.
I got there in the end, but it would have been nice to get there sooner!
While I can’t travel back in time to speak to my past self, I CAN tell you the things I wish I’d known before staring at the gym. That way, you can learn from my mistakes and avoid making the same errors yourself.
1. START TODAY!
Humans are champion procrastinators and are great at putting difficult things off until later. That’s why so many of us are still talking about getting fit and losing weight instead of doing something about it.
We say we’ll join a gym at the start of next month, after our next vacation, or at the beginning of next year. The thing is, the longer you wait, the harder your fitness journey will be. You may not start it at all.
So, stop putting off joining a gym and start today. Do some online research, go and visit a couple of gyms, and join the one you like the best. Not next week or next month, but today.
Like Nike says – Just Do It!
2. CONSISTENCY BEATS PERFECTION EVERY TIME
I can’t believe how much time I wasted hopping from one program to another, looking for the perfect workout plan. Every week I tried something new. I thought there must be some secret to working out that I had yet to discover, and if I did enough different workouts, I’d eventually find it.
The reality is that there is no magic formula for fitness, and 99% of your success comes from just turning up.
Ultimately, so long as you a) work reasonably hard and b) are consistent, you’ll make progress.
This doesn’t mean you should stick with the same workout for years at a time. However, there is no need to keep chopping and changing your program to find the perfect fitness solution.
Consistency wins every time.
3. FOCUS ON PROPER EXERCISE FORM BEFORE WEIGHT
A lot of exercisers get very hung up on how much weight they’re lifting. That’s okay if you are an Olympic weightlifter or powerlifter. Still, it could be a mistake if you are working out for fitness, fat loss, and even bigger muscles.
Your body can’t actually tell how much weight you are lifting. It only knows tension and work. You can generate tension by performing exercises correctly, and work is the number of sets and reps you do.
For example, you can curl 100 pounds with terrible form and leave your muscles completely unstimulated while, at the same time, risking a horrible back injury. Or, you can curl 40 pounds with perfect form, stimulate your muscles to grow bigger and stronger, and avoid injury so you can do it all again in a few days.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t strive to lift heavier weights as you get stronger; you should! But the actual amount of weight doesn’t matter. It just needs to be enough for you. So, don’t compare your performance to other gym goers. It doesn’t matter that they’re lifting more than you. Instead, focus on how you perform each repetition and exercise, and your weights will naturally increase as you get stronger.
And speaking of form, get expert guidance if you are unsure how to perform the exercises in your program. Spend a few workouts mastering your lifting techniques before you start adding weight.
4. DON'T FORGET YOUR WARM-UPS AND COOL-DOWNS
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was running late and short on time, so I jumped straight into my workout without warming up. This, I figured, was an easy way to save ten minutes.
One torn pec later, my attempt to save ten minutes cost me three months of training, numerous doctors’ bills, and a great deal of frustration.
While there is no guarantee that warming up will prevent all injuries, it makes sense that your risk of injury is lower if you warm up.
Doing some light cardio and dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises increases core temperature, muscle elasticity, joint lubrication, tissue oxygen saturation, and nervous system activation. All of these things will contribute to a safer, more effective workout.
Cooling down after training is also beneficial. A little more light cardio and static stretching can help prevent post-exercise muscle tightness and soreness, making your next workout more comfortable and enjoyable.
Yes, warm-ups and cool-downs add an extra 10-20 minutes to your workouts, but they could also save you a lot of wasted time in the future.
5. AN IMPERFECT WORKOUT IS BETTER THAN NO WORKOUT
Having a plan is part of what you need to be successful in fitness. However, sometimes even the best-laid plans go awry. For example, you get to the gym only to discover the equipment you want to use is busy, leaving your workout in ruins.
Rather than get upset or frustrated, just roll with the punches and modify your program. For example, do push-ups instead of bench presses, lunges instead of leg presses, or planks instead of machine crunches.
Ultimately, your muscles don’t care how you exercise them. Providing you work hard and consistently, they will adapt, and any workout is always better than no workout.
6. HAVE A GOAL, BUT DON'T FORGET TO CELEBRATE THE WINS ON THE WAY
To get the most from going to the gym, you need to know why you are there. Your goal will determine the type of program and exercises you need to do. For example, you don’t need to do as much cardio when you want to build muscle and get stronger.
In this fitness game, we call this specificity – the type of workout you do determines your results. So, decide what you want to achieve, and then work backward to develop a plan to get you there.
However, having a goal is only half the battle – you also need to enjoy the journey. Celebrating the small wins, such as hitting 21 days of consistent workouts or hitting a PR, will make the journey even more enjoyable & easier to stick to.
The best way to celebrate your small wins is through delayed gratification.
What I mean by this is holding off watching that new movie or buying that t-shirt or box of cigars, and only when you hit the small win and you’ve earned it, then you allow yourself to celebrate.
So, make sure you have a goal AND that you’ll enjoy working toward it. You’re much more likely to stick to your plan and reach your goal if you look forward to each workout.
7. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES
Whatever you are trying to achieve with your workouts, progress takes time, and you need to exercise patience along with your muscles. Anyone who tells you there is a quick way to reach your goals is probably trying to sell you something!
Starvation diets for weight loss and extreme workouts for muscle gain are just two examples of unsustainable quick fixes that will do you more harm than good. In contrast, a year of generally healthy eating and 100 good workouts will do more for you than any fad diet or workout that leaves you sore and exhausted for days.
The same is true for dietary supplements. Yes, they CAN help, but their impact probably rates as low as 1-2%. The majority of your progress hinges on a sustainable healthy diet and workout plan.
So, don’t believe the hype; quick fixes do not deliver on their promises; slow and steady are the way to win the fitness and fat loss race.
8. NO ONE ELSE KNOWS WHAT THEY'RE DOING, EITHER!
Look around any gym, and you’re sure to see self-assured people doing workouts that are different from yours. They look good, so they must know what they’re doing, right? They may even offer you advice or comment on your workout.The truth is that the average gym goer has no better idea of what they’re doing than you do. They’re making it up as they go along and are quite possibly doing everything wrong. Lack of knowledge is a dangerous thing, and a lot of exercisers don’t even know how little they know!
So, don’t be distracted by what other people are doing, and don’t be tempted to emulate them. In many cases, people look fit and strong not because of their workouts but in spite of them. Favorable genetics and persistence mean that even doing the wrong thing works for some people.
Do your research, get qualified advice, and then stick to your plan for as long as it keeps producing the results you want. Then, when your progress begins to stall, revise your program and start over.
Stay in your lane and keep your eyes on the prize.
Hindsight, they say, is 20/20, and looking back, it’s easy to spot mistakes and wish we’d done things differently. My fitness journey is littered with errors, but each one was a learning experience, and I’m a better, more knowledgeable person for making them.
Use this article to guide you past the mistakes that could otherwise derail your progress. You don’t have to make your own mistakes – you can learn from mine!