I’ve had enough! Come on people, if you’re at the gym or if you’re exercising, your goal is to improve your fitness. Whether that means you want to be stronger, leaner, more athletic, or whatever your goals are, you would not be in the gym if you did not want to attain that goal. You made the effort to go to the gym, so if you’re going to be there, don’t waste your time. If you don’t care to put the effort into your workout, just go home and save yourself the effort. You should be pushing yourself and committing yourself 100% to your workout. Stop wasting your time there and put some work in!

This is my advice to the people who are wasting their time at the gym:

  • Quit going to the gym to socialize: There is nothing wrong with saying hi to a friend and talking to him or her for a couple minutes, but most people who I see workout in groups (especially if there are more than two in the group, which seems excessive) waste half of their time at the gym telling stories and goofing around. Goofing around can wait for later, you are at the gym to get fit, work at it and commit to it. You shouldn’t have time to goof around while you’re working out, which leads to…
  •  You shouldn’t be able to talk during your exercises: I see this all the time too, and it seems women are more likely to do this, though men are not innocent of it either. If you’re doing cardio, your heart should be beating, you should be taking deep breaths, and you should be so focused that you can’t carry on a conversation. If you’re lifting, you should be pushing yourself and focused on moving the weights. There is no time to talk casually during your exercise if you’re doing them right.
  • Put your phone, the newspaper, magazines, and books away:  I can’t tell you how often I see people think they can just go on the bike or elliptical and text, play Angry Birds, or read a magazine while working out. They do end up playing with their phone or reading the magazine, but then that is their main focus, and they don’t push themselves hard enough to break a sweat. Your main focus should be on your workout and not something to keep your mind off it, because if your mind is off it then you’re not focused and you’re not giving it your all. (Note: Listening to music and watching TV is okay because they don’t necessarily interfere with your ability to concentrate on your workout. Music in particular can be very motivational, but playing Angry Birds is just wasting your time)
  •  Know what you’re doing: This cannot be emphasized enough. People always feel good about themselves after they go to the gym, but the truth is when you are away from the gym, you should be continuing to recommit yourself to your workout. If you just go to the gym without a clear plan of what you’re going to do, and then just hop from one machine to the next randomly, you’re wasting your time. If your plan at the gym has no structure, and you end up focusing on your biceps or chest while ignoring other muscles, you’re wasting your time. While away from the gym, research good workout plans, learn how to do the most important compound lifts (male or female!), practice them with a broom stick if needed, and always look for ways to improve your workout. How lucky we are to live in the age of the internet where there is such an abundance of information about fitness online, and if you go to the gym, you’re wasting your time if you’re not researching that fitness material while away from it.
  • Never become complacent with your workout: I see this a lot too, and I have fell victim to it myself before. You have made some progress at the gym doing a certain routine, so you just decide to stick with it. Forever. Maybe now and then you might switch from barbell curls to dumbbell curls, but the basic workout remains the same. You will hit a plateau very quick if this is what you do. Never let yourself become complacent. If you aren’t seeing gains, it’s time to make changes. Never be afraid to incorporate new exercises, especially more challenging ones that involve more muscles. I will never understand people who go to the gym to lift weights, but shy away from the primary compound exercises that athletes depend on for their strength.
  • Supplements alone won’t make you big: This is pretty self-explanatory. I am not opposed to supplements, though I am also not convinced they are necessary for most people either. I think most people probably would be just as fine eating a meal full of protein with a glass of milk right after working out as they would be drinking a protein shake. Either way, if you want to use them, then good for you, but you damn well better known what you’re doing at the gym or you’re wasting your time and money at the gym. Doing five variations of curls followed by a protein shake won’t make you big.
  • Be Confident, but Not Arrogant: There is a bit of a fine line here, but I see too many people on either extreme who are wasting their time. I don’t care how big, fit, skinny, fat, or whatever you are, but don’t be scared at the gym; you should project your confidence without projecting arrogance. Some people walk around timid like they have no clue what they are doing and they are afraid to look themselves in the mirror, not to mention look at someone else at the gym. If you are walking around with your head down at the gym, too scared to watch what other people who you may learn from are doing, you are not going to get anywhere there. You’ll end up quitting before long because you’re afraid of the place. Don’t be scared to go. Be confident — if you’re committed (and following these other steps), you’re making yourself a better person, and you should be proud of it! Carry yourself with some confidence. On the other hand, there are some people who seem overly confident at the gym to the point of arrogance, and then they walk around like they are Greek gods. This isn’t any good either. First, you look like an ass when you do this and nobody respects you for it. Second, if you are more focused on projecting your ego than you are on your workout, you’re interfering with your workout. Be in tuned with your workout and not with your image. Therefore, don’t be scared of what your image projects — don’t be trying to impress people or be afraid of people judging you — just focus on your damn workout!

I am sure I will think of some more ways that that I encounter people wasting their time at the gym, and I will add to them later. but for now this is it. If you can think of any, please leave a comment mentioning them!

In the meantime, remember: you made it to the gym, you’re there to improve yourself. Now get at it and work to improve yourself! Do everything that is needed to give it your all. Don’t try to take your mind off your workout, put your mind fully into your workout so you know what you’re doing and you’re doing it with your full dedication and giving it your all. Don’t half-ass it. Quit wasting your time! Focus on your workout as much as you can and you’ll see the improvements come.

The more I lift weights, the more I realize how important it is to build full body strength rather than focusing on isolated muscles to build strength. I have never worked with a professional trainer, but I know from online research that many strength trainers encourage compound exercises over isolated exercises, especially for beginners. I have long incorporated this advice to an extent, but as I am now fighting the slump of complacency I found myself in, I have challenged myself harder and decided to focus more on compound exercises, and I am realizing just how valuable it is to concentrate primarily on compound exercises.

The reality is that our body is fully connected, so functional strength comes from how well our muscles work together, not from how strong an individual muscle is. There is nothing wrong with doing curls, but — unless you are an expert — they should be somewhat of an addendum to your primary workout instead of your primary workout. Eventually I will post a list of my pet peeves at the gym, but one of the biggest pet peeves I have is when I see extremely skinny kids go in and do nothing but about 8 variations of curls, usually doing too much weight so they end up having to throw their back into lifting it so the bicep is not even getting the workout. Since I am not in the greatest shape myself, I know the skinny kids won’t listen to me if I tried to give them advice, but sometimes I just wish I could tell them how many things are wrong with what they are doing. If you are doing an isolation exercise like curls that is only meant to use one muscle (your biceps), it is self-defeating to throw other muscles in it just to be able to lift more than you can actually handle. In addition, there are other ways to build your biceps up besides curls, especially if you are that skinny and weak. Even if the skinny people were doing the curls right, do they really just want humongous biceps without a muscular body? The truth is, while people may not glorify other muscles on your body as much as the biceps, when you see someone, what tells you whether they are skinny, muscular, or fat is not the size of their arms, but their body. If you have no chest or lats, you will still look skinny no matter how big of biceps you are able to build. Besides, if you do Lat Pulldowns, or pretty much any other lat workout, you will be using your biceps as well. Furthermore, if  you have limited time at the gym, you should want to workout as many muscles as you can while you are there. You are better off spending time doing one set that works multiple muscles than you are using that time building one single muscle. You don’t need to focus on certain glamour muscles at the expense of others. Workout all your muscles and do them together. The point is to build a strong body, not build some muscles that are disproportionately strong. Don’t focus on your upper body while ignoring your legs, don’t focus on your abs while ignoring your lower back, don’t focus on your biceps while ignoring your triceps, don’t focus on your shoulders while ignoring your traps, don’t focus on your chest while ignoring your back. The simplest way to do this is to do compound workouts where you are working out all your muscles together and building strength in them at the same time.

I have recently become a fan of the Clean and Press exercise. I have begun doing this with just dumbbells as I learn the form before switching to barbells. The clean and press begins with the weight at my thighs before moving them up to above my head (use Google to find the correct form, I am not here for that) using primarily my legs, back, core, and shoulders. I want to eventually learn the Clean and Jerk workout, which seems to incorporate near every muscle in the body. The Clean and Jerk requires you to move a weight all the way from the floor to above your head, which requires a remarkable amount of functional body strength. Workouts that require the lifter to move heavy weights across the entire body will provide the lifter with results that moving a weight from your thigh to your chest, or your ear to above your head, will ever do.

Many people who begin lifting weights have it backwards: they think they need to start with the isolation workouts like curls or  overhead press (not as much of an isolation exercise as curls, but still there are more effective ways to workout your shoulders), and then work up to learning how to do the more complicated compound exercises like Clean and Press or Squats. The truth is, when you are first building muscle, you need those complicated compound exercises to build up your body. That is where you will gain true body strength and muscle. Curls are always there for you later on if you want to do a few sets of them to make you feel better, but they should be an afterthought to your workout, not the focus of it.

I also think many beginners are afraid of doing these more “hardcore” style of lifts because they think the “bigger meatheads” there will laugh at the skinny kids for doing it. Not true: I am not a bigger meathead at all, but I have spent enough time at the gym to know that they will respect the people there — no matter their size — who are determined to put the full effort in to achieve their goals. Hence, they respect a skinnier kid doing squats, even if it is not with much weight, than a skinnier kid doing curls with a good amount of weight, but twisting and turning his back to cheat to get it up to his chest.

Trust me, I have been through many different stages of fitness, and I am not where I want to be right now, but I know and can tell that after doing a few hardcore compound exercises, I am much closer to where I want to be than when I would only do many simple isolated exercises. If you want to get bigger, stronger, and more fit, do the exercises that incorporate as many muscles as possible and watch how much more progress you will make than doing the simple one or two muscle workouts.

Today was a simple rest day. I have gone to the gym every day for over a week now, so I needed a rest day, plus the gym was closed so I had no choice except for a run outside. Instead I decided to let my body heal and give it a break, and tomorrow I’ll be back at it for a hard lifting workout. I took my dog for a walk for perhaps a couple miles, but nothing strenuous. After getting in the momentum of working out, days off are always difficult, but I know that the occasional rest days are as important as working out. If I don’t give my body time to heal, it will never recover enough for me to continue to push it and develop it. But I can’t wait to hit the gym tomorrow!

Tomorrow I will write about my renovated lifting regimen, which I continually find ways to improve because I refuse to become complacent with my workout and settle a particular workout that I became comfortable with. Once you settle on a workout, you become complacent, and your progress stalls. It is necessary to keep pushing yourself and finding new ways to challenge your body to grow and become more fit. Complacency is the enemy of progress, whether it be mental or physical progress.

Learning from Setbacks

Posted: April 5, 2012 in Fitness
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Today I woke up with my legs extremely sore from squats I had done a couple days ago (more sore than yesterday for some reason), but I wanted to run so I took to Google to see if it was bad to run with sore legs. Like everything with exercise, the opinion was decidedly split; some people said it provided no benefit, some said it helped relieve the legs, some said it can lead to injury. Overall, I felt confident that my legs could handle a run despite being sore, and if they couldn’t, I was going to switch to an elliptical machine.

I attempted to run my 5K again, and I hoped to at least beat my previous best time of 31:30, if not reach my goal of 30:00. Despite my sore muscles holding up fairly well during the run, I did not improve my time: I finished at 32:30, and my shins were again killing me and I was also out of breath. To reach my goal, I need to continue getting into better shape and giving my shins more time to heal between runs. Despite failing to increase my time, I refuse to let this discourage me because I know I can continue working on it and finding ways to improve myself and my time. I may need to use an elliptical more to get into better running shape instead of putting so much strain on my shins and legs while I attempt to improve my fitness. My body may be trying to tell me that it is not yet ready to endure such a pounding from running.

My gym is closed on Friday for Good Friday and Sunday for Easter, so even though I was sore, I wanted to get a run in today. Even though today was a disappointment, I see it as a learning experience and I will use it to strengthen me. I will lift on Saturday (looking forward to that!), and likely take tomorrow (Friday) off, while I might try a run outside on Sunday, or else I might take Sunday off as well to give my legs more time to heal. On my off days, I will still incorporate long dog walks in the park into my workout regimen, so I can at least get some cardiovascular exercise. The possibility of running on Sunday depends how I feel because I don’t want to push it if I’m not ready, but I would like to see how a distance run outside compares to one on the treadmill. I don’t have much experience running outside, but my brother (who is an experienced distance runner as well as a medical doctor) believes that running outside would be easier on my shins because some people have a tendency to lean forward while running on the treadmill, thereby applying extra pressure to the shins. So I look forward to attempting to run outside, but it will be difficult to gauge my time and pace without a treadmill. Again, that will not be until Sunday if it happens at all. My body deserves a good rest tomorrow before I get back at it on Saturday.

Initial Goal

Posted: April 4, 2012 in Fitness
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In my previous post, I wrote that my long term goal is just to make myself as fit as possible, and I want to constantly push myself to become more fit than I am. However, my newest fitness kick began a few weeks ago when I decided that I had put on too much weight from fat (I weighed 175lbs, which is not the most I have weighed before, but it was disappointing to see that I put that much weight back on), and I needed to get back into shape, so I decided to start doing cardio more frequently again. I started on the treadmill, and when I looked at the options on it, I decided to run a 5K and see how long it would take. It took me 36 minutes, which was actually a bit faster than I expected, though I know it is by no means good. Since then, I decided my initial goal was to get my 5K on the treadmill below 30 minutes. Over the past few weeks, I have run/walked the 5K many times, and I have managed to get it down to 31.5 minutes, which is somewhat disappointing since I wanted to have beaten my goal yet. However, I have been getting shin splints from running, which has caused me to slow down and take frequent walk breaks. As a result, I have stopped running as frequently as I did initially to let my shins heal between runs, and I have also bought new shoes to give me more support.

Instead of letting the shin splints be a set back to me, I made it a blessing in disguise: I continue getting fit doing cardio workouts (still lifting a few times a week as well) by using other machines as well as incorporating more core workouts into my regimen. I discovered how relaxing the stationary bike can be; while I push myself hard on it, it’s easy to go 20 minutes on it without knowing how much time went by. I also rediscovered how great of a workout the rowing machine is, which — when done properly — hits almost every muscle in the body. In addition, even though I previously hated ellipticals, I found an elliptical at my gym that simulated running more than the standard elliptical. I always felt ellipticals were too forced and their motion did not conform to any true movement, but my gym has some new ellipticals that actually replicate running, allowing the user to take strides that fit their motion. I have also realized how important it is to work on my core; my core is something I often neglected in the past. I figured I never would get a 6 pack, and I know that doing ab work will not lead to a fat loss in my stomach area, so why waste my time on it? Plus I ignored any lower back exercises because I never heard someone comment on someone’s lower back being impressive. The general belief that I long held, and I know many others still do, that the goal to working out is only for aesthetics limits one’s potential at truly being fit and thereby reaching their aesthetic potential. I have learned that a truly fit body needs to be strong everywhere, and my core is just as important — if not more important — than any other muscle. Plus I need my core for running or my back will tighten up. I probably will never get 6 pack abs, but I will never be truly fit if I have a weak core. The core is the center of all of my strength, fitness, and ability.

While I will continue to run and work on my 5K time, I do not want to run too much yet when my shins are not ready for it and continue to hurt them. But I continued pushing my cardiovascular health and strengthening my core so that it will not be being out of shape that prevents me from reaching my 5K goal. If my shins cooperate, I feel I can reach it at anytime now. I will try running again tomorrow.

Origins of this blog

Posted: April 4, 2012 in Fitness
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I decided to create this blog to discuss my thoughts and experiences as I have recommitted myself to getting back into shape. I am not creating this as a simple “Progress” blog where I show how much weight I have lost or muscle I have gained, but it is just a place for me to share my own insight and motivations about getting fit. I have what I would consider an average build. I am not fat, but I have gained weight over the past several months that I want to lose while maintaining and adding muscle. By no means am I a fitness expert, but I have went through many different stages of fitness throughout my life and I have done plenty of research over the years. I have often alternated between being skinny and moderately fat, but I have recently committed myself to becoming the most healthy and fit I can be. In the past, I have set goals for limited goals for myself; things I could achieve, but once I achieved them, I became complacent and did not continue pushing myself. I would set a goal of losing weight or a goal of gaining muscle, and once I would achieve those things, I did not know what to do next. It’s not that I completely gave up working out, but I became satisfied and my progress stalled. This time I am doing it differently: my ultimate goal is just to continue pushing myself to become the most healthy and fit person I can be. I will have smaller achievable goals as I go along, but ultimately there is no end to it if I strive to constantly push myself to become more fit than I already am.  This blog will chronicle my successes and how I have achieved them, my failures and what I have learned from them, what exercises I find the most useful and useless, and some of the general things I see at the gym that annoy the hell out of me.

If you enjoy this blog, also check out my political blog:  An Everyday Struggle