It’s common to find going to the gym a chore. It’s also common to feel like you’re floundering with no real direction and not making any progress. Follow these 5 expert tips so that you can make the most of your gym sessions and waste no more time in achieving your goals.
1. Write your session plan in advance
You'd be surprised at how many people get to the gym without knowing what they’re going to do. In the end, they wander over to a treadmill and do a few minutes of running. Then they lift a few weights and maybe copy a few exercises that other people are doing, have a chat, and then go home. Have you ever done this?
If you’re serious about making progress and want real results, this is not the way to achieve that. In order to really maximise your time at the gym, write out what you’re going to do in advance and make sure it’s a coherent session that will take you in the right direction. You could write your session on a piece of paper, in a small notebook, or write it out on your phone which may be the most convenient.
Make sure the session makes sense with regards to what you’re going to train; don’t wear yourself out doing sprints on the treadmill and then expect to be able to do a good weights session as well. If you're training for a running or cycling event, don't spend lots of time working your upper body.
If you need advice, ask a personal trainer or find a pre-written session plan online. Make sure the session also makes sense in the bigger picture of what else you’re doing that week and how tired you’re likely to be when you get to the gym. If you’re doing an evening session after a busy and stressful day at work, you’re unlikely to hit a new squat or deadlift PB, so save those sessions for the weekend.
2. Time your nutrition
There’s nothing worse than getting to the gym feeling ravenous and not being able to focus on your session, then spending £5 on a sugary shake from the vending machine just so that you can make it through your workout. Plan your nutrition in advance, especially if you intend to come straight from work. If you are going to go to the gym on a work night, try to eat a bigger lunch and then time a snack just before you leave the office so that you get to the gym feeling pumped and ready without being too full.
If you’re training at the weekend, eat a filling and nutritious breakfast but leave yourself enough time before you hit the weights or cardio area. If you drink coffee, time this so that you can reap the benefits before they wear off.
What you eat after you workout is also important. You have a 2-hour window in which it's the optimum time to take on some protein and carbs to refuel you and repair your muscles after a tough workout. Try to eat a healthy, balanced meal as soon as you get home so that you can maximise your results and make the most of the time you've just spent in the gym. If you do not eat at all, a lot of your efforts will be wasted as your body will start to break down the muscle you've just worked so hard to build in order to recover.
3. Talk to a fitness professional
If you really have no idea what you’re doing at the gym, you’re far more likely to quit and never achieve the results you want. It’s natural to find the gym a daunting and scary place and if you don’t have anyone show you how the machines work, it’s perfectly understandable that you’d have no idea where to start!
Most gyms will offer a free induction when you join, but if you’ve missed that opportunity, you will still be able to get one if you ask as there are always fitness instructors on hand to help. Not only this, most personal trainers will offer a free taster session as part of their services, so take advantage of this and ask them all the questions you’ve been wanting to ask. Get them to show you how the machines work as well as how to safely perform free weights exercises like squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses. With this as a foundation, you will be able to build a great workout routine.
4. Don’t workout with a flaky friend
It can seem tempting to go to the gym with a friend as it’s more social and is less intimidating. However, if you go with a friend who doesn’t share the same goals as you or who just wants to chat, you’ll never get anything done. Additionally, if your friend is at a very different level to you, you might end up spending the whole session explaining things to them and just helping them rather than making progress yourself.
It may seem selfish and unsocial, but hitting the gym alone can potentially be the best way for you to make the most of your time there. That said, if you have a highly motivated friend who can enhance your session, this is of course fantastic and you should make the most of it. It can just be very easy to realise you’ve spent 45 minutes chatting or texting and not doing any exercise! Don’t fall into this common trap.
Not only this, if your friend is flaky and often cancels on you, you’ll be less likely to go yourself. If you were relying on them for a ride they could be letting you down. You are better off relying only on yourself and setting your own goals so that you can be in charge of hitting them.
5. Make your workout fun
Doing the same boring routine week in week out is a recipe for disaster and you are far more likely to stop going to the gym after a short time. Once you know how to write a killer workout routine, make sure you mix it up frequently and keep it interesting so that your motivation stays high. Having a fun workout to look forward to is a great way to stay motivated and you'll end up working harder because you're enjoying yourself.
If you're on a roll with your training or on a plan for a specific event, sometimes it's tempting to train even when your muscles are sore and achy. We look at whether it's a good idea to still train when you are sore.
Are sore muscles a good sign?
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, is common among those who exercise regularly and is nothing to shy away from. Especially if you have recently increased your training intensity/frequency or you are a complete beginner to exercise, you can expect DOMS to last up to 72 hours after your workout.
Our muscles feel sore after a workout because when we train, we develop tiny 'satellite' tears in the muscles. Your muscles get stronger not when you exercise but afterwards, when you are eating and sleeping. This is why consuming enough protein and getting good quality sleep are both key to recovery and improving performance.
Sore muscles are a sign that you have worked hard and that your muscles are on their way to becoming stronger and more efficient. If your DOMS lasts over 72 hours, however, it's time to look at what you might be doing wrong. Perhaps you're not resting enough or not eating enough/the right nutrients. Once your body gets used to a certain training regime, you will find you don't get DOMS as often, if at all, which can be a signal it's time to crank up the intensity or change up your routine.
Read more: Are You Overtraining?
Read more: How Often Should I Take A Complete Rest Day?
Is it OK to work out if your muscles are sore?
In general, it is a bad idea to workout if your muscles are sore. Your muscles need time to repair and grow and it is only while you are resting that this can happen. However, this is not to say you cannot train at all.
If you train certain body parts at a time, you can easily train a different part of your body that is not aching that day. For example, if your chest and triceps are aching, you could still do a leg workout.
If you practise a sport that focuses mostly on one muscle group such as running or cycling, there are still ways to get around skipping workouts. You could do your speed session on a Monday, followed by a hill session on a Tuesday and then rest on Wednesday. Then, you could do another speed session Thursday, a gym workout Friday, and your long run on Saturday with another rest day on Sunday. This sort of plan allows your legs to rest after the toughest sessions when they are most likely to ache.
In another sense, sometimes it's actually a good idea to train when your muscles are sore. Many runners will do a 'recovery run' the day after a particularly tough training session, which means doing a short and easy run to shake out any lactic acid still sitting in the legs and keeping active to stop your legs getting too stiff.
In summary, it's only bad to do an intense or tough workout when your muscles are sore. It can actually be beneficial to do a light workout to ease achy muscles.
Read more: DOMS Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Read more: How To Reduce DOMS In The Legs
Summer is well and truly here, which means it’s the perfect time to exercise outdoors! Outdoor workouts are great because you can bathe in the glorious sunshine and reap the extra health benefits of the vitamin D exposure from the rays - just make sure you wear plenty of sun cream!
The Sundried Summer Workout can be done anywhere outdoors and doesn’t require any equipment so you can do it whenever the mood strikes. Maybe in your garden, while the kids play, or maybe in the park in an open space. Always remember to warm up properly before a workout and stay hydrated by always having a water bottle with you.
The first round is a small circuit comprising of 5 exercises. Aim to complete each exercise for 60 seconds with no rest. If you are a beginner or you have an underlying injury, take it at your own pace and rest whenever you need. If you want more information on how to do an exercise, click or tap the name of the exercise.
The second round is based on a Tabata style of HIIT training. HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training and is a great way to burn fat and get fit. Tabata consists of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, and you can repeat that as many times as you like with as many different exercises as you like. In this workout, you'll be completing 8 rounds (1 round = 20 seconds work and 10 seconds rest) to last 4 minutes with all different exercises. Go straight from one round to the next until you are finished.
Your final round is based more on body-weight strength training. You don't need equipment to have a good workout! Complete 3 sets of 10 reps on each of the following exercises with 30-60 seconds of rest in between each one. This is a full body workout which will target every muscle group. Take the exercises slow and perform each repetition with care, focussing on the muscle under tension.
Well done for completing the Sundried Summer Workout!
On completion of this workout, you should really be feeling the effects. If not, you can either work harder or make the exercises tougher. Remember, exercise is supposed to make you feel good about yourself, and you should fuel your body with nutritious food afterwards. If you find a particular workout boring, don't make yourself suffer by doing it. Find something you love, and you will find that staying fit has never been so easy.
Getting in cold, open water can hold fear or confusion for many athletes, or others just simply don’t enjoy it. Whatever happens, it’s good to be prepared; follow these tips for preparing for the open water.
When you get in open water, take time to familiarise yourself and if you can't get comfortable, at least get acclimatised. The number one issue for panic is people setting off too quickly, either just to get on or to get warm. This spikes your heart rate and your breathing and will likely set off any anxiety that will become more difficult to control. Let your wetsuit float you up in the water and try to relax back so you can float on your back – and then on your front too.
Identify the struggles of swimming in open water
Going off course. Panicking. Swimming into people. Letting your form collapse. Maybe you’re not being used to swimming in a wetsuit. Unforeseen conditions like strong currents and surf/chop.
The number one remedy to the majority if not all of the above is practice, practice, practice.
It's true that it is hard to get a lot of practice in open water because of schedules, weather conditions, and other commitments. So continue to swim your regular sessions every week. But as the race approaches take one or two of those swims into open water, whether it be a lake, estuary, or ocean. Make it as high a priority as possible.
Swimming in the pool is not completely different from swimming in the open water – but it does have its own vagaries. So to get faster at the latter, you need to do it more. And not just on race day.
Use these swims to test your wetsuit, practice sighting, get used to not seeing the bottom, and practice with others. Also, work on longer intervals at race pace. Some people will benefit from maintaining a more constant rhythm – others will need to readjust from having a rest and a push off at the end of every length!
Prepare as much as you can in the pool
Swimming in the pool still has its place. Even though you race in the open water, you should still keep up your regular weekly pool sessions, especially if your form is still weak. Of course, you can work on technique in the lake or sea, but it becomes more challenging. Pool swims are important to develop speed and improve technique without the distractions that open water provides. Use the pool to focus on your form and drill work as well as a few race pace speed sets for time so that you can monitor your splits.
If open water is simply out of the question, simulate the chop, surf, and congestion by trying to swim in a lane with three to four other people at the same time. It is tough but it will mimic that race start well. Also, close your eyes while swimming to mimic losing your ability to guide yourself with the black line (obviously only do this if you have an empty lane!) Turning before the wall is also a great way to simulate the stop-go of open water swimming, and not resting between lengths.
Swimming in open water – at least with a wetsuit – should be quicker than swimming in the pool. So make sure that you are prepared for swimming in open water. Practise putting your wetsuit on so that it fits properly over your shoulders. Get yourself comfortable entering the water so that your heart rate doesn’t take such a shock to the system come race day.
Read more: Tips For Swimming In Open Water
About the author: John Wood is a triathlete, triathlon coach, and Sundried ambassador.
Cycling can get a little scary at times, especially on busy roads or technical race courses. If you find that your training and racing is being hindered by a lack of bike handling skills and nervousness on the roads, we're here to help.
Practice your bike handling skills
This is something that all cyclists should be doing in order to improve their training and racing. If you lack proper bike handling skills, you will find that technical courses are a nightmare and that unforeseen circumstances like bad weather could mean a premature end to your race.
Skills such as riding on loose gravel, on wet roads, down steep descents, and round sharp bends are things that come with practice. Start off slow and somewhere you know well and build yourself up; the more you practice, the more your confidence will grow. Other skills such as single-leg riding can be practised indoor on a Wattbike, turbo trainer, or even just a stationary gym bike.
Ride in a group
They say there's safety in numbers, and this can certainly be true when cycling. When cycling in a fairly large group, you'll find that hazards become less scary as you can watch those up ahead tackle them first and motorists should give you more space.
Of course, that's not to say that cycling in a group is always safer and that you're guaranteed not to have run-ins with cars. However, working together as a team to overcome tough conditions can really help with your confidence.
Other skills to practice when riding in a group include making contact with other cyclists and riding very close to others. Your instinctive reaction when touched by another cyclist will be to look around at the person you've touched, but it's important to stay looking ahead at where you're going. Practice making quick contact with a friend or fellow group rider and then move on to practising keeping your hand on their shoulder as you ride. Skills such as this can improve your confidence in mass start events and will mean you know what to expect.
Get comfortable in the saddle
Receiving a proper bike fit from an accredited bike store can make a huge difference to your cycling, and it doesn't have to be expensive. Unless you're looking to really maximise your power output and aero position for serious racing, a basic bike fit can be inexpensive or even free of charge.
If you're comfortable in the saddle and your position over the handlebars feels good, you will feel much safer on the bike. If you constantly feel like you're over-reaching for the handlebars and brakes or that your legs are overstretched and you can't reach the ground comfortably, you might feel more nervous on your bike. Once you feel secure and like the bike is an extension of yourself, you will be able to handle it much more confidently and co-operate better together. Make sure you're in control of the bike and not the other way round!
Do a sportive
If you're nervous to ride on busy roads or in places you don't know well, it's a good idea to ride an organised race or sportive. These will always be well sign-posted so that you can't go the wrong way and you will be forced to face any challenging conditions that you'd usually avoid on your own.
This will be a great way of getting out of your comfort zone by riding somewhere unknown and having to face challenges head-on.