New year, new challenges. It’s time to kit up and lay the groundwork to make 2021 your best year yet.
Whether you’re making a triumphant return after the Christmas break or you’re a complete newbie, here’s everything you need to know when you hit the gym.
Eyes on the prize
If you don’t have a goal other than non-specific ‘getting fit,’ it’s easy to fall off the wagon.
We all know Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you won't see huge gains immediately, so concentrate on short-term, realistic milestones. It could be as simple as being able to run for five minutes without stopping. Once that's ticked off, can you go for ten? With resistance training, work on technique before you increase your weight or speed to minimize the risk of injury.
Signing up to an event like a running race or sportive later in the year gives you a longer-term goal to work towards. Plan your gym sessions to support your goal – an instructor should be able to help you come up with a plan.
Invest in a decent fitness watch to track your progress and keep you in line. If you’re going through a low-point, being able to look back and see how far you’ve come can give you a real boost.
Nobody cares what you look like
Unless you’re hogging a machine somebody else wants or dropping the weights (guaranteed to get a few glares), it’s unlikely anybody is really going to pay you much attention. Why? Well, sorry to break it to you but their own training is probably more important to them than what you look like.
However, purpose-made gym kit can boost your confidence. Investing in a new outfit is a real statement of intent.
Modern sports fabrics wick sweat away from the skin so they don’t end up feeling clingy like a cotton t-shirt. Look for technical tops that have been designed to allow a full range of movement. Wicking fabrics and strategically placed mesh panels will help to keep you cool.
Gym tights and shorts often feature a higher waistband to allow you to squat with confidence. Compression tights have the added benefit of anatomically mapped muscle support to boost performance and recovery.
If you run, you’ll already know how important the correct footwear is. However, many of us won’t put nearly as much thought into gym shoes. If you’re serious about training without setbacks from injury or discomfort, your shoes are worth some consideration.
If you wear shoes that were designed for running, they’re likely to have a higher heel-drop and added cushioning to protect your joints from the repeated impact as you pound the pavement. Your foot is supported for forward, heel-toe motion. In the short-term, they might feel comfortable but could hinder your performance and even cause injury in the long-term.
Instead of cushioning, gym-specific shoes will have a very flat, thin and flexible sole. This allows you to land properly if you’re doing any plyometric jumps and it gives you a stable base to lift, push off and pivot. They’re designed for multi-directional movement rather than simply forwards so they’re more versatile for a range of gym-based activity.
Be your best supporter
For women, the right sports bra is as valuable as the right trainers. At any size, breasts can bounce up to 14cm during exercise. This puts a strain on ligaments, causing them to stretch. The damage can never be repaired.
Sports bras are designed to minimise bounce so you'll be supported and more comfortable when you exercise.
Most brands produce a range of styles designed for different levels of activity, and even for specific activities such as running, so you'll be able to work out in confidence whatever you choose to do.
The importance of correct nutrition cannot be overstated. Running on empty will impact your performance and increase recovery time so make sure you fuel smart.
Carbohydrates might have a bit of a bad reputation, especially in the context of weight loss, but they’re really important. Your body uses carbohydrates as essential fuel but if it doesn’t have enough, it will start converting your muscles back into energy instead. Pack your gym bag with snacks that contain a combination of simple and complex carbohydrates for both fast and sustained energy.
Make sure you’re getting enough protein too. When you’re working out, you’ll be putting a strain on your muscles which causes micro-tears in the muscle tissue. Your body needs protein to repair those tears, creating bigger, stronger muscles as you progress. Protein bars and drinks are a convenient way to get a post-workout protein boost.
Get ready to do it all again
Don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. If you’ve stepped up your activity, you’ll need to give your body more time to rest as most of the maintenance and rebuilding work happens while you sleep.
You can help your body to recover with compression clothing which is designed to increase blood flow and reduce swelling and soreness associated with muscle damage and fatigue. Stretching will relax the muscles and you can use a roller if you need a deep massage.