By Elise Franck
Here’s a secret: intense workouts can be fun. But getting started can be difficult, and not just for physical reasons. When I started going to the gym, I didn’t like working out in a space with so many other people. I was convinced they were staring at me out of the corner of their eyes, like a pack of wolves assessing a newcomer, but I stuck with it and learned how to really workout. If you make yourself go to the gym, even when you don’t feel like it, eventually the gym will become a space you can own. That’s easy to say and hard to do, but the results are worth it.
The sensation of being fit is remarkable. Feeling your body move, your muscles contract and your heartbeat thundering is a powerful sensation. Even better is the feeling that comes after weeks of effort when you realize you’re making real progress towards your goals. If you’ve reached that point, congratulations. You have powered through the hardest part of the journey to fitness: the beginning.
Now the fun part begins: you get to lift.
First, define your goals. Do you want to get bulky? Get stronger? Improve your muscular endurance? Anyone can do these things with the right training program and a pinch of determination. Second, consider your knowledge because if you don’t know a lot (or anything) about weightlifting, you can hurt yourself by doing too much too fast. The Athletic and Wellness Center on campus has personal trainers that you can work with to improve your knowledge. After you’ve done a few workouts with them, familiarize yourself with the basic structure of a weightlifting workout, so that you can start to build your own personalized workouts. An example is described below. Finally, go do it!
Let’s say you want to improve your strength and build muscle. The first part of any workout is a ten-minute cardio warmup. Run on the treadmill, the track, or run from your dorm or house to the gym. Stretch anything that feels stiff.
The warmup doesn’t end there. To make sure you don’t injure yourself, do a set of compound exercises on a light weight. This means selecting a machine or movement that requires multiple muscles and a weight that you can do 12-15 reps of easily. For example, on leg day, I might warm up with regular squats or lunges, before adding weight.
From there you can start the main part of your workout. Have a list of exercises you want to do, and some backups in case machines you are interested in are taken. Work from the exercises that use the most muscles down to isolation exercises (ones that only use a single muscle). For example, a leg workout might consist of weighted squats and weighted lunges, followed by the leg press, straight-leg deadlifts, and the calf press. For strength, do three sets of eight to 10 reps of a challenging weight, but not your max, and for endurance, do three to four sets of at least 12 reps on a light weight.
Then comes the cool down. More cardio is great for this, followed by stretching. During the workout, you should be sweating and your heart rate should be higher than normal. You may feel your muscles burn. After cooling down, your heart rate should return to normal and your muscles should feel loose and comfortable.
Immediately after you work out you should consume protein. Overall, you should begin to eat more protein and carbs to make sure your body has enough fuel for your workouts and enough muscle-building material (the amino acids from protein) for recovery.
The day after a hard workout it’s normal to feel sore. To allow your muscles to recover and grow, you should not lift every day. If you are going to lift two days in a row, focus on different parts of your body. I like to break the week up into one day each for legs, upper body, and abs, two days of cardio and two rest days. With a bit of experimentation, you’ll learn your limits and you’ll be able to figure out what works best for you.
Get yourself to the gym. Keep going to the gym. Feel your body move and stretch, feel your lungs and heart working hard. Soon you’ll understand why many people love intense workouts.