19 Oct 2015
Health - Lifestyle
Are you someone who shows up at the gym without a plan? Do you base your workouts on whatever equipment is free, or do the same exercises every time? Do you do whatever class has space after work? If your goal is to get leaner, fitter and stronger, then I’ve got news for you: just getting to the gym is not enough!

The media often promotes working out as either a method of health promotion and stress relief or as a grueling physical challenge you just have to push through. Look at the names of any GoodLife class (Body Shred, Body Pump and Body Attack) and you’ll catch my point. The commonality between these two schools of thought, as well as their shared weakness is this: they promote training and exercise as purely physical tasks, a time when you can shut your brain off and rely on your muscles to carry you through your session. While I wouldn’t argue that training can fulfill each of the purposes listed above, I would suggest that planning and executing your training regimen requires both a well thought-out program as well as mindfulness during your workout if you really want to make those gains!

In order to get fitter, leaner, stronger and faster and to avoid plateaus, we have to continually challenge our bodies; we have to go above and beyond to what our body is accustomed to follow. This is called the “Overload Principle” and it is absolutely essential for improvement in one’s cardiorespiratory fitness, strength, power and flexibility. Things get even more complicated if you have more than one fitness goal, for example, to get leaner and stronger simultaneously. In this case (as you should in most cases if your goal is general fitness), you have to carefully train a number of different systems – while cardio, such as a long distance run, may help you maintain your cardiorespiratory fitness, resistance training is a must if you want to get bigger or stronger and high intensity conditioning will help you improve your cardiorespiratory fitness and shred fat in a flash. Add in programming for sufficient recovery between workouts and you’ll see that a significant amount of thought and organization is required if you want to get fitter in a safe and efficient way.

The work doesn’t end here; once you get into the gym, you have to evaluate whether your program is helping you to achieve your goals. Are the exercises targeting and working the muscles you believed they would? Are you achieving a full range of motion on each repetition? Do you subjectively feel that you’re working at the intensity you were aiming for with a given weight and rep scheme? Is there any abnormal pain or discomfort in your muscles or joints, or do you feel pure effort? Do specific exercises bother your back or knees for example? Do you feel challenged, happy or bored with your workout? Is it time for a change or are things going exactly as planned?

Outside of your own experience, I would also suggest that it is important to be mindful of others while training, especially in some of the big box gyms that have a membership that is varied in terms of training knowledge, experience, confidence and level of comfort. The gym after all, is a community space, where everyone should be able to train without having their workout or safety negatively impacted by others. As an example, I have had numerous experiences in big box gyms involving someone walking right in front me while I’m in the middle of a heavy lift. I’ve seen women leave the power lifting area when some bigger gents drop heavy weights or grunt really loudly. I’ve witnessed people taking a machine while someone else is still using it, taking plates off of someone’s squat or power rack without asking and even people bumping someone else in the middle of a high-risk movement. I’ve seen half squats, bad knee angles, pain grimaces, frustration, movement well beyond the ideal range of motion for a given exercise and people doing exercises that are not even near conducive to their goals.

Am I suggesting that gym goers are ignorant, inconsiderate, selfish or ill-informed? Certainly not! Rather, I think we’ve been programmed to get into the gym, get stuff done and get out, instead of being mindful with regards to our own experience and that of others. I’m also not suggesting that remaining mindful during your workout will be easy; there are many sources of distraction, such as music, TV screens and other gym goers that make mindfulness a challenging task. Nevertheless, I challenge you to give it a try next time you work out. Listen to your body, pay attention to your surroundings, and mind the Brain-Body Gap!
Jennifer Thomson

Jennifer Thomson

Jenny is a NTC Trainer, Chiropractic Student and personal trainer. She loves drinking great coffee, lifting heavy things and walking her pug Kimora.