Strong Enough to Start
For those of us who’ve avoided gym class since middle school, it’s an intimidating place. Whose idea was it to dedicate a room to people stronger than me and equipment I don’t know how to use? And so we think about going. And we do. And the first experience is so nerve-racking we don’t come back. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Regardless of who you are, the gym can be a place to pursue any combination of the goals above. At the start of June, I started going regularly, and these are the lessons I’ve learned.
Firstly, an over-structured workout will feel discouraging when you begin. It’s very easy to look up an article about workouts to optimize your training, but in reality, those workouts are confusing and take a lot of the fun out of working out. When first starting, you’ll find it’s much easier to keep coming back if you start with a few exercises and build on your workout over time. It’s also important during this time to note that there are multiple movement options for almost every muscle in the body. And yes, while each may have its tiny optimizations and disadvantages, at the beginner and the intermediate level, these optimizations are insignificant to your overall progress.
The second, possibly more important, lesson I’ve learned is about injury prevention. To avoid injury, it’s best to break the workout down into three phases. Starting off you want to warm up, as this will prepare the body for exertion. In this part of the workout, focus on movement. Cardio is an ideal start, be that the treadmill, the elliptical, the exercise bikes, jumping jacks and other in place movements, or the rowing machines. Avoid stretching at this time. According to WebMD’s “The Truth About Stretching” by Sonya Collins, static stretching is not a good warmup, but is instead a better cooldown and way to improve flexibility.
After your warmup, it’s time to focus on the substance of your workout. This is the time to use weights and machines, but keep in mind that there is a right way to use the equipment. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t know how, most people will be happy to demonstrate. You want to target between 3-5 sets, with anywhere from 8-12 reps of each exercise. Aim to have a slight soreness at the end. However, this is also the easiest time to hurt yourself, so if you begin to feel any pain, it’s time to stop to avoid injury. At the end of your workout, you should be tired, but you should not be sore enough to make moving uncomfortable. Don’t overdo it, as this can also lead to injury, as well as being extremely discouraging.
To finish your workout, you should have around a ten minute cooldown. This is your time to stretch, as your muscles are at their most flexible and you will see the greatest benefit. To maintain flexibility, use 15-20 second stretches and aim for at least 2 minutes per week. However, if you want to improve flexibility, use 25-30 second sets and target at least 5 minutes per week.
To close out with a little bit of extra motivation, we’ll cover the less obvious benefits of working out, which include reduced effects of depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Working out releases dopamine and endorphins, both of which being the root of most ADHD medications. As well, according to Harvard Medical School’s “Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression”, published in February 2021, working out will release neurotrophins, helping the brain to build stronger connections and working against depression.
New Mexico Tech’s gym is a place filled with athletes and bodybuilders, people who know the equipment and have honed their strength. But this doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying what there is to offer. And by overcoming your intimidation, you’ll find yourself steadily progressing towards becoming a stronger, happier person.