You've made up your mind that this is the year you're going to get in shape. You'll watch your diet, lose weight, tone up your muscles, get more active and join a gym. But what happens when the gym you choose isn't what you need? What would happen if you injured yourself, which would sort of defeat the purpose?
Certified personal trainer Amanda Cosentino offers the following advice for those beginning any exercise program: "It is important to discuss any health concerns with a doctor before starting a workout routine. Set both short- and long-term goals for yourself, and write them down; when it is in writing, a person is likelier to stick to his/her goals. Also, think about how many times you can realistically get to the gym. If you can only work out twice a week but can commit to those days, you will be successful long term. When you force yourself to go to the gym every day, you risk not only an overuse injury but also a burnout. If you are unsure of how to begin an exercise program, talk to a personal trainer for advice."
Alternative exercise programs are available depending on your needs. Lindsay Lopez, a professional Pilates instructor, says: "The Pilates method and equipment are perfect for all kinds of bodies. It's a great workout for the very fit and perfect for the out-of-shape and injured client. Joe Pilates created it to treat injured soldiers during World War I; it's known for its rehabilitation abilities. Pilates makes you strong and lean while balancing your body, increasing your flexibility and improving your posture."
Before joining a new facility, take a tour, ask questions of the managers and learn how to fit the equipment to your size. Ask whether there is a trial or a short-term option available to test it out. Many fitness centers will let you test-drive their services before asking you to make a full commitment. Ask about the staff members. Are they certified, and how much supervision and guidance is provided?
Frank Nunez, co-owner of The Fitness Lair, advises listening to the pitch to see what is emphasized. "As a fitness pro for 21 years, I always tell people that the best places will always focus on your results and NOT the process of working out," he says. "Stay away from places that highlight their equipment and locker rooms and TVs at the expense of helping you focus on the goals you both want and the ones you need."
Getting a feel for the equipment and how it fits you is important. According to Cosentino, "a person who is taller or shorter than average might not be able to adjust a machine correctly and therefore would have to use free weights instead. If you cannot fit comfortably into a machine, do not use it. Instead, pick an alternative way of doing that particular exercise. Most new machines adjust to fit most people."
Cosentino explains that cable towers can be adjusted in height and resistance. "Cables can be used in a standing position, seated on a bench, or on a stability ball to adjust the degree of difficulty; it's one of the most versatile pieces of equipment in a gym." If you are not comfortable with the equipment, speak to the owner. "If enough clients suggest the need for a new or different piece of equipment, the owner will usually get it into the facility," she says.
Be sure to attend orientation sessions at the gym of your choice and follow directions. Orientation sessions often are done in group settings and answer any questions people may have about beginning a weight training program. Working with a personal trainer will help customize your workout for your needs and abilities. A personal trainer considers past injuries, fitness level, goals, strength and availability to do the work needed to reach your potential.