Personal trainers have one job: To help you work out. Specifically, work out stronger, better, and smarter. And because they’ve spent so much time on the gym floor (or in your living room with Daily Burn), they have a few opinions on how to get down to business the right way. Here’s what not to do—but more importantly, how to get more out of your workout, sidestep injury, and set yourself up for some fitness success.
6 Ways to Step Up Your Gym Game
1. Go in with a game plan. “So often you see people at the gym roaming around aimlessly with little direction,” says Kara Griffin, a certified personal trainer in Los Angeles and founder of Feel This. Instead, she wants gym-goers heading in on a mission. “It can be as easy as, ‘Today I’ll do cardio for 20 minutes, strength training for 15, and stretch for five minutes.’” she says. It’s simple, yes. “But at least you’re going into your workout with some kind of direction and intention. You’ll leave with your workout endorphin high but also a sense of accomplishment!”
2. Relax. Yes, you read that correctly. Even when you’re going hard at the gym, you should make a point to stay relaxed. “I consistently see too much tension in people’s muscles, especially in their faces,” says Jimmy Minardi, personal trainer and yoga teacher in East Hampton, NY. “People tend to be too stiff when they [work out], which can lead to muscular imbalances. Your shoulders should be back and down, neck elongated, allowing you full range of motion in your body.”
3. Get low. Like, really low. “I wish people would learn how to squat properly—ideally so thighs are parallel to the ground at least,” says Dara Theodore, an instructor at the Fhitting Room in New York City and a Daily Burn 365 trainer. The squat is one of the most common exercises and will make its way into a variety of workouts, discipline notwithstanding. To fix your form, she recommends starting with air or bodyweight squats first. That’ll help you figure out where you’re tight and what muscles you need to work on most.
4. Stay for the whole class. How annoying is it when you’re in the zone, powering through the last few minutes of a HIIT class or trying to find final Savasana on your yoga mat and someone steps on your mat to duck out early? “It’s disruptive to the rest of the students who got there on time and want to take the last few minutes to enjoy the workout,” notes Becca Pace, a Daily Burn 365 trainer in New York City and owner of inyourpacefitness.com. Just hang out for those final, amazing stretches — you already volunteered your time to the class anyway.
5. If you’re gonna swing, swing right. Kettlebell swings are the bomb for blasting calories and toning you up all over—but they be can quite painful if you’re doing them wrong. “I clench my teeth when I see people do the slow, hunched-over kettlebell swing,” says Rachel Mariotti, a personal trainer at Equinox in New York City. “Swings are supposed to generate power in your hips, keeping a nice, long spine and slightly bent knees.”
6. And if you’re gonna lift, lift heavy. Doing crazy-high reps of super-light weights is a major trend right now due to the popularity of barre classes. And while those are great, you shouldn’t follow that means of weight training all the time. “If you can comfortably and safely do more than 12 to 18 reps for three sets of anything, you need to lift heavier,” says Brooke Sheely, a trainer in San Diego from YG Studios. “During at least three of my workouts a week, I try to stay in the8- to 12-rep rangeusing heavy weights—especially for leg and booty day. You will see results and you won’t have to spend hours lifting little weights. More bang for your buck!”
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