It’s incredibly exciting hitting the gym for the first time – for me, at least. I’m not talking going once a month, just hitting the treadmill and trying to clock in 5km. I mean doing actual compound exercises like bench presses, deadlifts, basically what I thought only guys did. I never even considered them initially, my mind was so set on “they’re only for guys”, thinking that they do it to bulk up, build way too much muscle than I actually want. Alas, here I am. If you’re like me, still in the early stages of getting into lifting, these are the things I did that I wished someone told me beforehand.
1. Your Diet
When you start lifting or exercising intensely, you’re bound to feel some sort of intense hunger. Your body’s trying to get used to it all, so it will try to compensate to fuel itself by making you consume more and you definitely should, but watch it. I did meal preps, so I was eating really well for lunch and dinner, supplementing my body with the protein, carbs and fibre that I needed. For breakfast though, I didn’t want to risk feeling tired and weak, so that meal became a luxury for me where I’d splurge on avocado, eggs and toast. On top of that, I found myself getting hungry in between classes, so I had morning and afternoon snacks. All of that amounted to way too many calories for me in a day, and I unintentionally bulked up. I didn’t even realise because I thought I’m eating healthy and clean. So know your goals, I definitely wasn’t bulking up but I was eating like someone who was.
2. Going Full Speed Ahead
You’re fresh off the boat, you’re consistently increasing the weight. I get it. I understand the thrill and sense of accomplishment you feel. I was so happy about going to the gym. I wanted to go every day, I wanted to do more exercises. There’s a limit to your body. Listen to your body and give it the rest it needs.
3. Checking Your Form
That said, you might think this is redundant. I started out with a gym buddy who checked and corrected my form, but that wasn’t enough. People tend to focus on the things that are common, or things that they had an issue with at the start and might not notice the smaller details. For example, I was squatting with my back straight, without my knees going over my toes. But what we both didn’t know was that my knees were moving a lot, wobbling in and out when I was struggling at my later sets. Since I was still a beginner, starting off with light weights, it didn’t affect me as much. When I started increasing the weights though, that was when the pain came. And we couldn’t figure it out until someone else came to check my form. So just be careful and go slow!
4. Not Resting Enough
Sometimes, I see people timing themselves, going at their next set with just a 30 seconds breather. Which is fine, but only if you wish to condition your muscles to keep working through long workouts – which you probably do not need. Resting in between your sets is important. For people who do it casually, like I do, we’re just looking to build general strength and power. The ideal, I think, is around 2 minutes so that’s perfect if you’re at the gym with your buddy – your rest is as long as she does her sets and you’re both careful about not slacking off!
Too many days of exercising is something you should watch out for as well. We see fitness influencers going at it almost every day of the week but that’s really not necessary for us, especially if you’re just starting out. Your muscles need time to recover. Going too hard will only limit the efficiency of your work out and increase the risk of you developing injuries. You don’t have to feel sore to feel like you got a workout in.
I had this bad habit of holding my breath whenever I’m doing something hard. If I’m in a yoga pose and struggling, I hold my breath. As though the instructor could tell, “remember to breathe deeply”. I’d feel attacked and slowly let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding. That translated to the gym as well, and I know I’m not the only one. Breathe out when you’re exerting. For example, in your bench press, breathe in when the barbell goes down to your chest. Breathe out when you’re pushing it up. It’s pretty therapeutic once you get the hang of it.
6. Avoiding What You’re Bad At
You can try to do the things you like but you have to work all muscles. Imagine if you loved doing bench presses but hated pull-ups – strong chest, weak lats. That’s a recipe for bad posture. Plan your routine such that you’d do those exercises at the start so that you can’t give yourself the excuse of being “too tired” and avoiding it again.
7. Not Working Hard Enough
Don’t go too hard, but don’t do the bare minimum. Before I started lifting, I hit the gym and merely used 5kg dumbbells without ever increasing them throughout the 6 months I was there. Opting for light weights didn’t do anything to my body at all. I probably took in more calories after to reward myself for hitting the gym. There are plenty of percentages (against your body weight) online for beginners to look into depending on the exercises you’re doing. Otherwise, another way to tell you’re lifting enough is when you can no longer push, or nearing the point of muscle failure as the professionals call it.
8. Only Staying In The Gym
You probably accumulated a couple of cute gym outfits to motivate yourself more to hit the gym. Wear them out, show off the results of your hard work! Do sports outside of the gym to increase your mobility. I know plenty of people with huge muscles who suck at recreational sports. You don’t want them to go to waste like that.
It’s really amazing how lifting gave me results that were almost instant. Be sure to pace yourself when that happens even though I know how tempting it is to keep going!
Are you guilty of any of these lifting mistakes? I wanna hear from my fellow gym rats!
Featured Image Source: https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/365495326006798378/
A recent graduate from the University of Melbourne, Rachel is a Singaporean girl who is always up for a meal, provided the restaurant has a Zomato rating of above 4/5 stars.