September 30, 2011 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Regular gym users: What's your routine? When do you go, what do you do, when do you eat, what should I eat before/after, how much more water do I need to drink? More specific questions inside...

t's been a long time since I've had a solid gym routine. I had number of digestive issues as well as a B12 deficiency, which made being active almost impossible. In the meantime, I got a kick ass job, and as of September, my husband and I both started our newer, slightly-higher positions in our lab. Money is no longer scarce, so I joined our university's amazing gym.

Only, I've been out of it so long, and I've gotten so weak from being sick, that I don't know where to start!

My legs are definitely my strongest. I've continued biking throughout all my health issues. I've also been doing some rock climbing, but I am dead tired by the end, and my forearms are shot for several days after. I was running a bit last spring, but stopped because of the sickness. Currently, I am 5'10" and about 140 lbs.

I've love to be stronger aerobically. I can't even run a mile. I would really like it if my upper body was stronger, and I'd like to be a better climber. Lastly I would love it if my bum/thighs/waist... shapelier?

Our university's rec system is really impressive, and I have access to almost anything you can imagine. Naturally, I feel quite overwhelmed! There are group exercise classes I'm interested in, but I'm not sure what's a waste and what's worth it. What do you recommend I do? What are your favorite fitness programs? What's your schedule like for working around work and life? I don't even know when or what I should eat to get the best results. Help! Pretend I'm clueless. TIA!
posted by two lights above the sea to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
I just picked up biking a few months ago. I would definitely work on core and upper body (especially if you're mountain biking or serious road biking). I would do spinning classes for cardio and possibly a few sessions with a trainer to get a good upper body routine down.

Additionally, look into the Kettlebell Swing. Any decent gym will have kettlebells, and it'll do wonders for your glutes.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 2:31 PM on September 30, 2011

Response by poster: Also, my hamstrings are CONSTANTLY achey from riding. They are also oddly large. What are some good stretches for my hammies?
posted by two lights above the sea at 2:38 PM on September 30, 2011

I am a climber in the summer and a skier in the winter. I climb in the gym 2 to 3 times a week regardless of the seasons and on the weekends, I climb or ski both days. I will also add in lifting after climbing for a couple of hours. Your gym should have a circuit training routine set up with all of the machines set up in a row and a buzzer. My suggestion, if you don't know where to start, is to start there. After you climb for a little bit (not to fatigue, just to warm up, go and do the circuit training. It is meant as an all body workout and the machines are pretty straight forward. With a buzzer, you don't have to worry about how long or how many reps to do, you just go until it buzzes- then you switch.
posted by TheBones at 2:41 PM on September 30, 2011

I bike all the damn time, and use the gym to supplement my biking. When I'm in a good riding groove, here's my workout:

1. 15 min treadmill (or elliptical if you prefer) @ 5-7mph
2. 20 min weights, broken out thusly:
- bench press (2x12 reps at 100 lb)
- seated curls (2x12 reps at 20 or 25 lb)
- tricep work (2x12 reps - one 25lb dumbbell held above head with both hands, lowered to behind head, and raised again)
- Leg press (2x12 reps at 120 lb)
- Hip abductor/adductor machines (2x12 reps at 100 lb)
3. 10-15 min stretching
4. 10-15 min treadmill or elliptical or rowing machine at 75% of the effort of step 1 as a cool down

You can always vary the weights, too, so you don't get bored, but that's a pretty good mix to get rolling. If you're at a place where you're not riding as much, do more cardio.
posted by pdb at 2:43 PM on September 30, 2011

I usually look to yoga for stretching, though, honestly, I don't stretch as much as I should unless it's to loosen up a muscle that's feeling tight after.

These poses are pretty good. I also like to work out the hip flexor and make sure that I'm getting good glute activation beforehand if it's going to be a long ride. It makes me a little less worn out afterward.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 2:46 PM on September 30, 2011

Also, as a new climber please be careful. You may want to look over the answers here


The most important thing as a new climber is not to climb too much.


warm up

work on developing good technique

This goes for lifting in general though.
posted by TheBones at 2:47 PM on September 30, 2011

On weekdays, I go after work, pretty much between 5 and 7:30. Probably somewhere between 1-3 times a week, varying due to whatever plans I have going on on weekdays or if I'm going out of town or something. I need to go after work because if I go home in between to eat, the law of inertia will get me and I just won't leave again.

If I'm here on weekends and am motivated enough to go, it'll probably be somewhere between 10-12-ish.

I usually go to the gym classes. You basically have to wait in line for 45 minutes before the class starts (at 6:30), hence why I show up as early as I do before class even starts. I used to do machines before class, but now the line is too long and the crowds are too big to pull that off. I have discovered that I rarely go to the gym without a class to motivate me to go, but when I do, I usually go on some kind of machine or two for a half hour at a time. If I can't even get onto a machine, I'll run laps, but since I hate running I don't do that too often. Unfortunately I go at the same time as everyone else does, so the options are few-ish.

Whether or not the classes are worth it or not will depend on the instructor and how they run it and how much you like it. I know damn well I won't use the weight machines with the jock guys, so I make sure to go to weight classes when I can. The cardio ones get less people, that depends on my mood and what they are offering. I hate yoga/pilates/cycling so I don't go there.

Eating: I try to eat before so I am not RAGING STARVING HUNGRY before going to the gym. If I am ragingly hungry at 4:30 and nothing will make that go away, I usually just have to give up and go home to eat and forgo the gym that day.

Drinking: drink when I'm thirsty.

Looking at the schedule you posted, I'd recommend starting out with weights classes. Zumba is also a fun time if you find that interesting. I like step classes or kickboxing, but stamina-wise you might want to work up to those.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:51 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I go five to seven days a week and use the weight machines. Someday I will graduate to free weights, but, not until I'm more comfortable with my body and the gym in general. Additionally, I find that the elliptical machines give me the greatest cardio impact with the least impact on my knees.

In my experience, personal trainers and crossfit (etc) gurus are more concerned with creating a client dependency rather than empowering you to meet your own goals. They do this by needlessly changing up the workout. A more reasonable compensation structure would be a very low session fee combined with a big payout for getting you to their goals — but finding clients is hard, and they'd rather just have you come back each week until your checkbook runs dry.

The key to making progress is to write down what you've done, and use the data to push yourself further the next time. To figure out how many sets and reps you should be targeting look into the Russian Weight Lifting system — I once found a chart that matches your goals with reps/sets.

Additionally, make sure you are resting consistently between sets.

Workout A
Chest Press
Tricep Extension
Dip Assist
Arm Curl
Chin Assist
Lateral Raise
Fly (rear delt)

Workout B
Leg Press
Calf Press
Leg Extension
Leg Curl (prone)
Hip Adductor
Hip Abductor

Workout C
Shoulder Press
Seated Row
Lat Pulldown
Rear Delt
Back Extension
posted by mmdei at 2:53 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Work out whichever of the classes offered is what people used to call circuit training and is now on most gym class schedules but under a fancy name, that varies by gym. This will give you the best combination of cardio and strength training in any class set-up. Go to that class a couple of times a week. This gets you started and you will work out what else you like to do in due course.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:16 PM on September 30, 2011

Response by poster: It's also worth mentioning that I am female, and at 5'10" and 140lbs, I don't have much of ANYTHING on me, let alone fat. Here are a few pictures. In fact, I frequently find myself (at least in the past) very dizzy at the start of a run/work out. That may have been related to the sickness, though. Along the same lines, I am definitely not looking to go all Madonna, but certainly closer to what Evangeline Lilly's fitness level is. I realize that she is blessed with a certain body type, of course.
posted by two lights above the sea at 3:36 PM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: I vote you spend the $55 to have a personal trainer help you figure it out.

I also go to a university gym, and I like to go in the morning. The main reason is that I work with students, and there are no students at the gym at 6:30 in the morning. (Well, there are a few, but not a ton. And anyone who is at the gym at 6:30 in the morning is there to work out, not to laugh at the uncoordinated oldsters.) Also, I'm more likely to go if I'm not awake enough to think of excuses for not going. I do a pilates class twice a week. Other days I do a bunch of kettlebell swings and squats and then some arm exercises with dumbbells. I'm trying to make myself swim laps a couple of days a week, but I'm having trouble finding the motivation.

I actually think your best bet might just to be to start trying things out until you find something that you like.
posted by craichead at 3:53 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm your gender, your height, close to your weight, and I go to the gym a few times a week. I have to work around my kids' schedule, which is probably irrelevant to you, but when I had to work around my husband's work schedule I just went really early in the day: get up at 5:45, small breakfast, to the gym, home by 7:15.

My favorite exercise, which was recommended to me by my physical therapist, is 30 minutes on the treadmill with it tilted up as high as it goes, walking between 2.5 and 3 MPH, holding my core in tight (this is gym speak for doing a Kegel), with good posture. I watch Top Gear on my iPhone while doing this. I work up a sweat and feel good, but it doesn't set off my exercise-induced asthma.

On days when I don't feel like doing the treadmill, I use the rowing machines for about 12 minutes (while listening to the Answer Me This! podcast) and then use one of the bikes for about 20 minutes. I've noticed that using the rowing machine for just a few days in a row gives great results for my arms.

On days when I don't feel like going to the gym, I go for a long walk instead.

I exercise because I like it and it makes me less shouty, and my gym (a Y) is a pleasant place to be, so motivation isn't a problem.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:58 PM on September 30, 2011

seconding trainer to get some basic skills.

i've had mine off and on for four years, and i love him. there's no better way to find the best way sto concentrate your form and movement in the most correct way. the best way to figure out a good seated row or squat thrust is to have someone do it next to you so you can see which muscles are active at which point during the motion.

(also, totally off topic: your haircut in the brunette picture is gorgeous.)
posted by patricking at 4:01 PM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: Tendons take a LOT longer than muscles to build up, and you use them much more in climbing. It's one of the few common hobbies/sports that does. Good advice above on going slowly, if not just because ripping a giant callous off your hand HURTS, as well as prevents you from climbing more.

I bike, swim, and run competitively, and I use the gym to augment them. I generally stick to full-body lifts like the bench press, dead lifts, and squats, with a few specifics things I enjoy to mix it up (like reverse rows). Please get instruction on how to do these exercises if you want to try them. There are a number of programs (StrongLifts, Pendlay 5x5) you can check out to model your program on.
posted by kcm at 4:16 PM on September 30, 2011

My gym was having a personal trainer special...three 30min sessions for $99 (usual rate: $90/hr). I learned how to use every minute of a workout efficiently, and was exhausted at the end of 30min. That was back in May.

With what I learned from my trainer, I felt comfortable with adjusting the number of reps/increasing difficulty as my fitness level improved. Also, I started swimming laps after the strength training.

Best $99 I ever spent.
posted by honey badger at 4:18 PM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: Oh, and the key to fitness is developing your core strength, the strongest muscles in your body that you use for any movement (roughly, your abs).

Yoga and Pilates are excellent core workouts. But you also want cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility and strength, too.

So I go to yoga once a week, strength train twice a week, and swim/bike/walk several times a week.
posted by honey badger at 4:24 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love the Tone It Up girls, who usually have printable workouts for the routines that they post on YouTube. I've seen a marked difference in my muscle tone since I've started working out to their routines -- as in, I actually have some! It's pretty awesome.
posted by pised at 5:45 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: On the other hand, if you find yourself wilting during your run, you don't have to think of it in minutes. I find it difficult sometimes to get the motivation to keep running "for 10 minutes", so I've started playing tag, so to speak.

I run at whatever pace (just keep moving consistently - that's what matters in the beginning; speed will come later) and focus on the next landmark close to the road. It could be a telephone pole, a street sign, a tree, an overhanging branch, an orange cone. I run up to it and slap it lightly on my way by and, if I can, let out a breathy little "tag-you're-it". Sometimes I pretend I'm accepting some sort of baton at each "stop" (don't stop!).

It can make me focus on the goal ahead, keeps my brain active, and gives a little amusement (occasionally it's "you're it, beyotch!" or "too slow little tree! too slow"). Before I know it, I've passed several of my victims and am ready for another lap.
posted by DisreputableDog at 6:51 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am an avid cyclist who goes to the gym two to three times a week. My routine consists of:

Warmup anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes on a cardio machine, such as the rowing machine, the stair climber or the treadmill.
Abs on the matt, usually plank, crunches, side plank, Superman pose, prone leg lifts

Two circuits of the following:
Upper body with free weights and machines: in one of these groups, biceps/triceps, bench press/seated rows, lat pulldowns/front raises/assisted pullups
Lower body: again with exercise groupings such as hamstring curls/knee extensions

I also do lunges and box step-ups, as well as squat jumps and deadlifts if I have the time.

Hardly any of this is done with high weights. I devised this routine over the years courtesy of my bike racing coach. I do a bit od jogging and swimming. I have done yoga enough times to always feel wholly inadequate in most any class.

Most days I just don't have time to stretch afterward, but I would if I could. I don't carry water around with me (just coffee first thing in the morning), but just hit the water fountain whenever I pass by.

I can do all of this in an hour, and jam this in before work.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:58 PM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: I run outside, but do use the gym for weights/swimming. Since everyone else has covered exercises to do, I'm going to emphasize the importance of balance and stability! It'll help you from hurting yourself.

I'll assume that the gym will have a Balance Trainer there. Flip it so the ball-like part is down, stand on the platform, and do squats. Do about 30-40 of those. Work up until you are able to do them one-legged. It'll help tone your legs/butt a bit too because squats are awesome like that. Some other things to do is just balance on one foot on the ground and on the balance trainer.

As for a working out schedule, I like doing morning workouts around 8am. I switch off between running days and strength days. So a week's worth of workouts would be like: M/W run, T/Th lift, Friday off, run and strength Saturdays, Sunday off. I switch off between upper and lower body lifting during the week, then do a lengthy full body workout on the weekend when I have more free time.

If down the road when you get stronger and are interested, I'd highly recommend adding muay thai somewhere in there. A 1 hour training session for that is hands down the best work out you will get...
posted by astapasta24 at 9:56 PM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: Do the classes! Try spinning, it's awesome. Try them all to see what you like, and then Mix it Up. Ask people in the classes what other classes they like. I've been going to gym for years now and the classes have made all the difference in getting me to go more often, enjoy myself, and work out harder than I ever did on my own.
posted by ldthomps at 7:06 PM on October 1, 2011

Response by poster: I went to the BODYPUMP class at 1 today, and it DESTROYED me. In a good way! It involved a lot of the exercises you folks mentioned (squats, bench presses, curls, etc etc) but had music and a woman encouraging us/kicking our butts! Good stuff. Seems like, from what some of you have said, I'll do that only 2-3 times a week and do cardio and perhaps swim on other days. Thanks for all the help!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:49 PM on October 1, 2011

Response by poster: I'm not sure if anyone is still looking a this, but is it normal to be in a lot of pain after an intense work out? I feel like I really pushed myself on Saturday, but I definitely don't feel like I INJURED myself. However, today I am still in a lot of pain, especially in my elbows, shoulders, and hips.
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:51 AM on October 3, 2011

Best answer: Welcome to DOMS. You'll have to get used to it / power through it for the time being. Eventually you'll be in decent enough shape that it'll stop happening in quite so intense a way.
posted by dersins at 1:00 PM on October 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, dersins! That's excellent info. I actually did 45 mins on the elliptical today and felt OK during. Hopefully by Friday I'll be well enough to do the class again!
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:40 PM on October 3, 2011

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