Sundried recently ran a poll and found that 80% of people felt nervous the first time they set foot in a gym. This statistic doesn't come as a surprise as the combined fear of the unknown and feeling self conscious can make going to the gym a difficult step for a lot of people. We're here with our top tips so that you can feel confident in the gym and enjoy your workouts more.
Wear the right activewear
If you look good, you'll feel good. If you're wearing old fitness clothing that doesn't fit properly, you are far more likely to feel self-conscious and constantly worry about how you look, distracting you from your workout. By treating yourself to good quality activewear such as cute sports bras and flattering gym leggings for the ladies and a well-fitting technical gym t-shirt for men, you will instantly have the confidence you need to go and do an awesome workout.
Go with a buddy
If you're too nervous to hit the gym alone, buddy up and take a friend with you. With a trusted pal by your side you will instantly feel protected from whatever it was that was causing you anxiety and you'll be able to workout together and enjoy your time. Having a friend to go with can alsoboost your motivation when you don't feel like going to the gym.
Get stuck in
The free weights area can be a daunting place, especially for women. One of the best ways to get over this fear is just to get stuck in and head over there. If the free weights area seems very busy and full of grunting men from afar, once you're in it and you've found your space you'll realise that it doesn't feel as busy and all the guys are just busy getting on with their own workouts and aren't paying any attention to you.
If it's the other people in the gym that seem scary, the best thing you can do is befriend them. They're just people after all! Not only this, they are like-minded people who have the same goal as you and so chances are you will get on well. Strike up a conversation by asking someone about their workout or their goals to break the ice.
However, make sure you don't interrupt someone when they are in the middle of a lift or exercise as you may put them off and annoy them. Save the chatting for when they are resting or finishing up their workout.
Ask a professional
If you're nervous because you're not sure what to do at the gym or how any of the machines work, go ahead and ask one of the personal trainers or fitness coaches. It's what they're there for! A member of staff will also be more than happy to help you out and show you the ropes, some personal trainers will even offer you a complimentary training session. Most if not all gyms also offer a free induction when you first join. If you missed this and are no longer a 'new' member, most gyms will still be happy to honour the free induction and have someone show you around.
When it comes to running, there's more to it than just pounding the pavement. In order to avoid injury and stay strong, you need to cross train to keep your muscles and joints healthy. Follow our runner's winter workout to give you the base you need to succeed.
Indoor Winter Workout For Runners
Hold onto a wall or bar for support, and swing one leg in front and behind you 10 times. Repeat on the other leg. Make sure you feel the stretch in the hamstring as the leg comes forward, and the stretch in the hip as it goes behind you.
Lateral Leg Swings
This is the same thing, but now you swing the leg from side to side in front of you. Feel the stretch in the inner thigh (adductor) as the leg swings out to the side.
For this warm up, you imagine you are stepping over invisible hurdles. Lift up your left leg and step it sideways over an invisible hurdle, making sure as the right leg comes over it steps over too. Do 3-4 steps one way and repeat going back the other.
Banded Back Squats
Back squats are a great exercise for runners as they target all of the muscle groups in the legs. By using a resistance band round your knees, you will train your hips to stay open and encourage perfect form. This will also help to strengthen your IT band which is a common cause of injury for runners.
Place the resistance band just above your knees and keep your knees pushing outwards for the duration of the lift. Place a bar on your back and drop into a squat. Make sure your hips drop below your knees and then use your glutes to squeeze you back up. Complete 3 sets of 10 on a fairly light weight.
Banded Front Squats
Front squats also work all of the muscles in the legs, but they also encourage you to keep your chest up because the bar is on your front. Front squats will work your glutes harder as you can't cheat!
Place the resistance band just above your knees again but this time place the bar on your front, supporting it with your hands. Keep your elbows high. Keep your chest proud and drop into a squat. Make sure you really squeeze your glutes so that you can shoot back up without leaning forwards and dropping the bar. Complete 3 sets of 10 on a light weight.
Deadlifts are another important exercise for runners as they will strengthen your back and core so that you can stay strong throughout the race and not suffer from any aches as the miles rack up.
With the bar on the floor, place your feet under the bar so that it touches your shins and bend your knees so that you can grab the bar. Keep your bum down and your chest high, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pick the bar up off the floor. Lock out at the top by pushing your hips slightly forward and then bend back down to place the bar back on the floor. Do 3 sets of 10 on a fairly heavy weight. Make sure you keep your back dead straight throughout the lift and squeeze your core tight to protect your spine.
KB Single Leg Deadlifts
This is a fantastic exercise, especially if you suffer with pain in your feet and ankles when you run. It will correct any strength imbalances between your legs and help with your balance as well as leg strength.
Start with the right side: Find your balance on your right leg and hold the kettlebell in your right hand. Slow lean forward so that the kettlebell lowers to the floor while simultaneously lifting your left leg behind you. Squeeze your glutes so that your left leg lifts nice and high and see if you can lean all the way forward so that the kettlebell touches the floor. Slowly pivot back to centre. Repeat 10 times then switch to the other side.
KB Side Leans
Time to target the abs. Hold the kettlebell in your right hand and keep it by your side. Lean to the right, moving only your waist. Slide the kettlebell down your right leg and then squeeze your abs to come back up. Repeat 10 times then swap to the left side.
Talk to anyone in the fitness industry and they'll tell you that training your core is vital for your health and well-being. Follow this abs workout to get the stomach you've always wanted while strengthening your core.
Our workout starts with a truly classic abs exercise for toning your stomach. This exercise will target the entire abdonimal area and work deep into the core. To perform crunches properly and with good technique, start by lying flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your fingers by your temples with your elbows kept back. Keep your chin tucked in to protect your spine and prevent you from over-stretching your neck. Using your stomach muscles (not your shoulders or back) lift your shoulders and upper back off the floor.
The difference between crunches and sit-ups is that crunches are a much smaller movement. With sit-ups, you fully sit up so that your entire back is off the floor. With crunches, you are just doing micro movements for a more intense burn. For an added benefit, pause at the top of the movement and then lower back down very slowly.
Perform continuous reps for 30 seconds as a beginner, 45 for an intermediate exerciser, and 60 seconds if you're more advanced.
Plank Shoulder Taps
This exercise truly targets deep into the core to strengthen your abs muscles and improve your overall fitness and conditioning. Start in a press up position with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your back flat and straight. Slowly pick up one hand and touch it to the opposite shoulder. Squeeze your abs as you put it back down and then do the same with the other hand. As you swap hands be sure not to rock your hips; keep them as still as possible. This exercise should be quite challenging so take it slow and make it count.
Beginners should do this movement continuously for 30 seconds, 45 for the intermediate, and 60 seconds for the more advanced.
If you thought you'd be able to make it through this workout without having to do the dreaded plank, you'd be wrong! This exercise is a classic for a reason as it works the core and abs very effectively and is a great way to test your core strength. To perform the plank properly and with best technique, place your forearms flat on the floor with your hands flat, palms facing up. Keep your elbows directly under your shoulders at all times and place your feet hip-width apart. Keep your head in line with your spine but allow your eyes to look at the floor (or close your eyes if it helps!) Squeeze your belly button upwards towards your spine to keep your core tight.
Hold for as long as you can! 60 seconds is an excellent milestone.
This cardio exercise is not one many people would associate with being a core exercise, but when done correctly it can really work your abs and help you target this area effectively.
To perform kettlebell swings, start with your feet wider than hip width, holding the kettlebell by the horns with both hands. Bend your knees and start to swing the kettlebell between your legs. As you straighten your legs, swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height. You can swing it higher than this, but this is a safe and effective height for most exercisers. As the bell swings up, squeeze your core as tight as you can. As it starts to swing back down, don't let it drag your shoulders down with it. Instead, keep your shoulders up and your chest proud, looking up and ahead of you.
A beginner will do well to perform this exercise for 30 seconds, intermediate 45, advanced 60 seconds. 4kg-8kg is a good weight range for a beginner.
Read more about the benefits of the kettlebell swing
If you're new to the gym then it's perfectly understandable that you've got quite a few questions. The free weights area is full of big, grunting men which can be intimidating while the machines are being hogged by Lycra-clad women doing strange leg movements. But which is best for you? We take a look.
What's the difference between free weights and resistance machines?
There is a significant difference between free weights and resistance machines, both in how they work and the results they will give you. The free weights are the barbells and dumbbells in the gym, while the machines are any resistance-based workout machines such as the leg press, assisted chin up machine, or lat pull down.
There are two types of resistance machine: plate loaded and pin loaded. The plate loaded machines work by the user adding weighted plates to a stack in order to increase the resistance. This can be tricky if it's a busy gym as you may struggle to find the plates that you want and the weight cannot be changed easily. Pin loaded machines have a stack of weights already part of the machine and the user changes the resistance by simply moving a pin up or down. This is better for working on pyramid sets or drop sets when you need to change the weight quickly, and means you don't need to leave the machine in order to change the weight resistance.
The primary difference between free weights and machines is that machines are fixed in place and only move in certain directions whereas free weights can be moved in any way the user chooses. Free weights force you to use more stabiliser muscles in order to control the weight, whereas resistance machines can help you with the move by keeping you in place.
Do free weights or machines build muscle faster?
In general, free weights activate more muscles than machines and therefore are better for building muscle in the long-run. However, towards the end of your session when your muscles are tired and your form is starting to suffer, machines are safer and can help you to continue training safely. Not only this, machines can help you to train weaker muscles more safely and help them to get as strong as your dominant areas. For example, a squat is a free weight exercise. However, if you are quad-dominant, your hamstrings will start to lag behind. Therefore, you could use the hamstring curl machine after doing your squat sets in order to target your hamstrings separately.
The best way to build muscle is to use free weights for most of your workout and then use the machines for accessory exercises. As an example, on leg day you will want to focus most of your efforts on the squat. You will then want to do lunges with a barbell or dumbbells. Then, you could target weaker areas with the hamstring curl machine or work on your weaker leg by doing single leg exercises on the leg press.
Are machines safer than free weights?
In a lot of ways, yes machines are safer than free weights. Dumbbells and barbells can easily be dropped and if it happens to drop on your hand, your foot, or head, there could be serious injuries that ensue as a result. If you use a resistance machine exactly as prescribed, you should not get injured by the mechanics, although you could still pull a muscle or sustain a sports injury due to not warming up properly or lifting a weight that's too heavy for you.
Free weights require a lot more control than machines and if you try to lift a free weight that's too heavy - especially if it's going above your head - this can be pretty dangerous. If you're new to lifting weights, you should always have a member of the gym staff show you how to do the exercise properly and with good form. Nearly all gyms will offer an induction to new members which consists of a trainer or fitness instructor taking you around the gym and showing you how all the machines work and which muscle groups they are used for.
If you do want to lift a weight that you haven't lifted before or want to go heavy, you should employ the help of a spotter. A spotter is someone who stands over you as you lift the weight and follows your movement. They are there to catch the weight if you start to drop it and to help you finish the move if you cannot. For example, a spotter on the bench press will stand behind the bench and hover their hands under the bar. If the person lifting the weight starts to drop it on their chest, the spotter can lift it back to safety. A bad spotter is someone who assists with the lift while a good spotter is someone who doesn't touch the weight unless absolutely necessary. The spotter needs to be strong enough to rescue you if and when needed and they need to pay full attention while the lift is in progress as your safety is in their hands.
For the squat, the spotter stands behind the person doing the squat and squats with them. They hold their hands under the squatter's armpits to assist them to the top of the movement if needed. A good spotter should not touch the athlete unless absolutely necessary.
Free weights vs machines: pros and cons
Both free weights and resistance machines have their place in a well structure workout programme. Some are better than others and some will suit your needs more than others. Here are the pros and cons of free weights vs resistance machines.
Free Weights Resistance Machines Pro - They will give you a well rounded workout and work multiple muscles at a time, including stabiliser muscles Pro - They are safer than free weights Con - You may need a spotter which means you need to find someone willing to help you Con - They do not build muscle as fast
If you've followed any type of marathon or half marathon training plan, you will no doubt have seen that you should be doing 'cross training' throughout the week as well as running. But what exactly is it? Which type is best? And how is it beneficial for runners? We answer all these questions and more.
What is cross training?
When most people hear the phrase 'cross training', they immediately think of the cross trainer (or elliptical) at the gym, but this isn't quite the case. Cross training for runners is simply any other type of training that can supplement and benefit your running training. A triathlete naturally does cross training by swimming, cycling, and running all together as part of their training, but runners can get stuck in a rut of just running. It's hugely important to do cross-training, read on to find out why.
Read more: 10 Tips To Survive Your First Marathon
Cross training benefits
So why should runners be doing cross training? Research has found that runners who do cross training such as strength training at a gym are less likely to get running injuries, are more likely to have a higher VO2 max, and are able to perform better. Of course it's perfectly logical that having stronger muscles would mean you are stronger in your running and will be able to get more power out of your training session.
Depending on the training plan you are following, you may find that cross training replaces some rest days. An intermediate marathon or half marathon training plan will often have you training 6 days a week, with 5 of those for running, 2 or 3 for cross training, and one for rest.
Read more: Cross Training Workout For Runners
Is yoga cross training?
Yoga is certainly a type of cross training, although it may not hold all of the benefits of other sports such as swimming, cycling, and strength training. Yoga has many benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, increasing flexibility, and improving posture and balance. All of these are things that would be beneficial to runners, and therefore doing yoga once a week as part of your training should help you to improve your running performance.
Read more: Yoga For Runners
Is cycling good cross training for running?
Cycling is possibly one of the best types of cross-training for running as it targets the legs and core and therefore will strengthen the key muscle groups used when running. Not only this, as it is an aerobic exercise, you will be improving your fitness but it is a low impact activity so will give your joints a chance to rest.
A great way to train for the last part of a half marathon or marathon when you are running on empty and struggling to keep going is to do a brick workout. This is a type of workout employed by triathletes and duathletes whereby you go for a run straight after a bike ride. It gets your legs used to running when tired and is a great way for runners to practice keeping going when fatigued and running low on energy.
What is the best type of cross training?
Swimming is a great way to cross-train as it is zero impact and so will give your joints a chance to recover from pounding the pavements while working your muscles hard. Not only this, it works your muscles in a completely different way to activities like gym workouts and cycling and so will give you a great full-body workout. On top of this, the breath control needed for swimming could help to put you in good habits with your running.
This is usually the most popular choice for runners as it is proven to be hugely beneficial to performance, physiology, and fitness. Lifting weights and working on your main muscle groups like core, back, and legs will have a significant impact on your running and will also help to improve the way you look.
Skipping is an activity you may not have thought about for cross-training, but it can be hugely beneficial. Skipping works your calf muscles as well as testing the flexibility in your ankle joint, and this translates well to running as they can be areas that are neglected in other parts of training.