When it comes to slimming down, toning up, and getting fit, there are two key types of workouts: cardio, which burns calories by raising your heart rate, and strength training, which builds the lean muscle that boosts the metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories). Together, this pairing can produce powerful weight-loss results.
Cardio workouts can be done on a treadmill, crosstrainer, or rowing machine. Or maybe you prefer swimming, cycling, or group fitness classes. For strength workouts, try weighted dumbbells. Start with a lighter weight, and continue adding weight after each set or session until the exercise feels challenging, but you can still do the desired number of reps with good form, which includes moving slowly enough that you're using muscle (and not momentum) to lift the weight. Here’s what your first week could look like if you’re a beginner at the gym, with a mix of cardio and strength-training activity:
- Session 1 - cardio: To begin, choose a cardio machine like the treadmill or exercise bike, and aim for a 20-minute workout. Start off slow and gradually adjust the incline, resistance, or speed if you can handle more. This is a great, simple way to ease into your routine and get used to the gym environment.
- Session 2 - lower body: The large muscle groups in your lower body are important because they are responsible for basic activities like climbing stairs, and getting in and out of a car. To start strengthening your hamstrings, glutes, and quads, try squats, lunges, calf raises, and glute bridges. It's a great introduction to working these muscle groups.
- Session 3 - upper body: To keep things balanced, you’ll want to work on the muscle groups in your upper body too. On your third gym visit, try a lat pulldown, high plank, and a dumbbell chest press. If you’re not sure how to do these exercises, there are lots of online videos to show you how. Or ask staff at your local gym for alternative exercises to work each muscle group.
During your first few visits to the gym, simply focus on familiarising yourself with the equipment. Start off slowly in week one and don’t over do it. Consider combining the gym with other activities such as walking, swimming, and group classes for excellent all-round fitness. And of course, don’t forget to warm up and cool down properly to prevent injury.
What should I eat and drink before, during and after working out?
Your body needs the right levels of nutrition, hydration, and exercise in order to perform at its best. To keep fit and healthy, it’s vital to keep these aspects of your life balanced. Here are some ideas for tasty and nutritious food which you can eat as part of a healthy diet before, during, and after exercise.
You should plan your exercise for about three hours after a main meal, but make sure you’ve had a light ‘top-up’ snack about one hour before you start. The more exercise you do, the more carbohydrates you should include in your meals. Try:
- Wholegrain breakfast cereal
- Fresh fruit (banana, berries)
- Crackers with low-fat cheese
- Vegetable (potatoes, peas, squash)
- Wholegrain bread, rice or pasta
In addition to the extra fluid you’ll need with exercise, aim for six to eight glasses of water throughout the day.
If you’ve eaten well before exercising then you shouldn’t need extra snacks during a light 60-minute workout. But you will need to keep hydration levels up, so make sure you drink around 200ml of water (or sports drink) every 20 minutes or so.
You may need to have a snack if you are doing a longer workout or one which is a bit more intense. Something which will digest fast enough to give you a boost, and something to replenish the salts and minerals which you will lose through sweating. Try:
- Fruit smoothie
- Energy bars/gels
To help your muscles recover and to replace their glycogen stores, eat a meal that contains both carbohydrates and protein within two hours of your exercise session if possible. Try:
- A protein shake
- Tuna and other oily fish
- Bagel with peanut butter
- Lean meat (turkey, beef)
And don’t forget to keep drinking plenty of water too!
If you’re new to exercising, you don’t need to stress about having the best diet possible, but it is important to aim for an overall healthy balanced diet to help you workout more efficiently and prevent injury. Before making significant changes to your diet, you should check with a doctor or nutrition so you don’t do more harm than good.