Getting the most out of your visit to a gym

Endurance athletes are the least likely folks to visit a gym. That in itself will be another article but I wanted to start off with how endurance athletes can get the most out of their gym visits.

I am a strong proponent of functional strength training for all endurance athletes and this means time spent in a gym lifting weights and completing core exercises. Many of the athletes I work with will spend 1-3 hours per week at the gym. They usually go at lunch or first thing in the morning before work. The reason I point this out is that these are usually the times at gyms where there isn’t much traffic which can be a good thing for athletes who are training with a limited amount of time.

Lets look at some of the things I share with the athletes I coach about using their time wisely. If some of this material looks familiar I wrote a simple tips article but since then I have had several things to add. So here you go…

Pack the night before

Having everything you need together the night before going to the gym will make life so much less stressful when running out the door in the AM!

Prepare your nutrition the night before

Depending on your coach and or sports nutritionist you may have several nutrition requirements for strength training. Get everything prepared the night before. If you have food or nutrition that could spoil get a small cooler that you can pack with ice or cold packs for the next day. If you have supplements that you are to take through out the day or just before and after a workout get a maker and some sandwich baggies and mark one B for before and one A for after. This way you don’t have to think, you know what is what and for when.

Know what you will be doing in the gym before you get there

Coaches will provide write ups and descriptions of workouts that are usually delivered the night before or the week before. Review the workout the day before in case you have questions for your coach.

Know where all the equipment is in the gym before you begin your routine

Be familiar with your gym and know where the equipment is that you will need to use so you can spend your time productively. Some gym owners like to move things around so be prepared for this to happen every now and then.

Monitor your time

Watch the time it takes you to execute each set and make sure you are following rest patterns set by your coach. This will also let you know if you are working out to fast or not fast enough to get all training done in the prescribed time.

Log your training

Log your efforts! capture HR data for the time in the gym. It will add to the Acute Training Stress in your  Training Stress Score of each week! Also knowing how much weight you have lifted each week will be a huge help in determining if you are ready for more weights or not.

You are there to train

Remember you are there to train! Many gym goers are not there to train. Exercise yes but not train. You will find lots of gym goers socializing but you are not there to socialize! I am not saying to be rude and ignore other gym goers but be friendly, polite and to say some passing words and get back to business! Any kind of strength training is auxiliary training to your primary focus in endurance sports so use your time wisely!

As with all sports there are equipment choices to be made and strength training is no different. You don’t have to spend big bucks but you do need to find equipment that will hold up to travel and cleaning.

Get a great gym bag

The gym bags I like have several compartments. The one I use has a large primary area for bulky items like clean clothes, shoes and towel. Two end compartments where I keep headphones and other gadgets and at the other end I have another compartment that is mesh an that is where I keep my sweaty clothes after the workout. I also have some smaller pockets where I keep gels, supplements and other nutrition if the workout requires it. Gym bags can often be found on sale just before school starts and at the beginning of various sports seasons.

Wear the right shoes

I can not stress this enough. If you are going to be doing any running on treadmills while at the gym get great running shoes from a running store that you were fitted to! While not as long and drawn out as a process as bike fitting is, running shoe fitting does not have to be based on “I guess that feels OK”. If you are going to just be lifting weights and or attempt explosive power development such as plyometrics you will want cross trainer shoes not running shoes. The next best thing I have found to trainers is heavier trail running shoes. The impacts of explosive movements on hard surfaces can lead to stress fractures and the dreaded planar fasciitis. Haven’t had it yet? You don’t want it.

Wear the right clothing

While sweat pants and sweat shirt will do in a pinch I find that wearing shorts, pants and shirts made from the same technical textiles that we wear when riding and running are much better. One of the primary reasons is that we endurance athletes tend to be efficient sweaters. So while wearing traditional sweat pants and sweat shirts will work many of us will find them soaked and weighing us down after an hour in the gym.

Get a HR Monitor just for the gym

You are more than welcome to use the same HR monitor that you use while running or riding and I do but I wish I didn’t. I am for ever trying to remember where my HR Watch is and which gym bag I left it in. The reason you should even have one in the gym is for tracking your time, your HR values and calories burned. Logging this information will also allow you and your coach to see if you are training to much. While weight lifting and other gym training are usually very low intensity it is cumulative and will add to your over all training stress and fatigue.

Just showing up the gym, having the right equipment are part of the process. You also need to be able to get along with your fellow gym goers and be a responsible gym user!

Keep your music to yourself

Most of us wear headphones when going to the gym but every now and then someone will play their favorite tunes through the speakers of their smart phones. Really this does happen. Don’t be that guy or gal! Also if others can hear your tunes through your headphones your music is too loud! Now I sound like my mother.

Do not take calls at the gym

I can not stress this enough. Turn off your DAMN phone. Yep I used a 4 letter word in one of my articles. This is my biggest pet peeve when going to the gym. Inevitably I will be on a treadmill to run hard intervals where I need all the focus I can muster and someone walking next to me will take a phone call. If you must take a call do it outside! They gym should be a place of focus and work! Get it done and get out!

Wipe up after yourself

Do you like the idea of sitting in wet or dry sweat that doesn’t belong to you? Neither do I . Wipe up after yourself when moving from one machine or station to the next. Gym’s should provide paper and or cloth towels. Just do not use the same towel to wipe your face!

Put equipment back

When you are done with weights please, please, please put them back. Nothing worse than hunting all over the gym for a weight or dumbbell you need to complete your already time constrained work out.

Do not disturb others

Do not grunt, groan or holler out when lifting! For one it means you are not using your breath properly and or may have to much weight to lift. While it may sound macho I promise you those in the gym who are training are laughing at you for doing so. Don’t get me wrong that every now and then a grunt may escape your lips but what I am talking about is the “look at me I am lifting more weight than I should be” noises.

Wait your turn

This guideline can be a tough one to follow in a busy and crowded gym to follow. If it looks like someone may be using a piece of equipment as part of circuit just ask. If they say yes just politely ask if you can cut in during their rest interval. I have yet to have any one tell me no. Just don’t take up residence at that particular piece of equipment after asking!

There are no guarantees that you won’t get sick or injured when visiting a gym but there are some simple steps you can take to mitigate the possibility.

EVERY gym I have ever worked out in was nasty!

Nothing is truly clean but at the gym it is 100x worse. So wash your hands before leaving thoroughly and keep your hands away from your face while at the gym.

DO NOT use gym water fountains

While it seem like a great idea to visit the water fountain between sets I would strongly advise against it. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen gym goers who were obviously not feeling well drinking from a water fountain. Besides you should be drinking filtered water and you cannot count on the gym staff to have filters changed on fountains.

Bring your own towel and soap

I have picked up towels at towel stations that smelled less than fresh so I now bring my own towel and my own soap for when I get cleaned up afterwards. I also have hand sanitizer in my vehicle just in case.

DO NOT lift more weight than you can repeat for 6 times

This should go with out saying. You are not at the gym to become a bodybuilder. Nor should you be lifting like one! You are an endurance athlete and if you do not no how to lift like one then its time to hire a coach or a strength and conditioning trainer who specializes in endurance athletes.

DO NOT use equipment you are not familiar with

If you see a piece of equipment you are not familiar with or your coach asks you to use a piece of equipment you are not familiar with ask a member of the gym staff to show you how to use it properly! Don’t be afraid to do this, this is what the staff are there to do.

Use good form before adding weight

Using bad form won’t always cause an injury but then again it wont help you meet your strength training objectives either. So use good form before adding weight! It can take 2-3 weeks before your body adapts enough to warrant adding more weight. Usually 2.5 – 5 lbs is all that you should be adding every few weeks. If you find that you can lift more than that for the prescribed set you may not have been lifting enough early on.

Well this was a fire hose worth of information but is by no means exhaustive. If you have questions about strength training or not sure where to start I would strongly recommend you speak with an endurance coach. Most gym staff are not going to have a clue as to how to properly train you as an endurance athlete.

Have tips or questions about strength training feel free to leave a comment.

Until next time,

Train Smarter Not Harder

Coach Rob






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