Exercise! - Gym newbie - please evaluate my workout, I really need some advice!




tinycities
11-25-2008, 02:33 PM
I've been using the gym sporadically for the past year or so. Around this time last year, I was going regularly (2 - 3 times a week), but it tapered off into the new year and I stopped going. I'd like to begin again, but I want to know if I can use my gym time more efficiently, and therefore see better results! Unfortunately don't have anybody I can ask for advice in person - the gym is an unstaffed, private gym which is in the apartment complex I live in, so there's no-one to show me what to do. I could really do with some guidance and feedback.

I'll write what I'm currently doing below, and if anybody could give me any pointers at all, it would be hugely appreciated. I really have very limited knowledge, so any advice you could share with me would be massively helpful!

Available equipment

Treadmill
Exercise bike
Stepping machine
Rowing machine
Crosstrainer
Various weights machines (I'm sorry, I don't know the names!)
Weights bench and large selection of free weights (I've never used these before)
Sit-up frame thing
Various floor mats
Large plastic exercise ball (I've never used this)

My current workout

General information:
I perform about 1 to 2 minutes of basic stretching in between every piece of equipment that I use, and at the start and end of the workout.
On all the weights machines I use, I have it set on lifting 4 blocks of weights out of a total 20 - I'm not sure what actual weight this corresponds to.
The total time of the workout is approximately one hour, and at the moment, I'm aiming to go twice a week.
I walk two and from university approximately two times a week. In total, the walk takes fifteen minutes each way, and I walk briskly. On the way there, I walk up a steep hill.

1. Crosstrainer on "cardio" setting that works blood pressure up to around 160 (5 mins)

2. Stepping machine on "cardio" setting (5 mins)

3. Treadmill at a reasonable jogging pace that makes me tired/sweaty, flat surface (5 mins)

4. Weight machine #1 - seated, using arms to push directly upwards to lift weights. (20 lifts, with two pauses in the middle)

5. Weight machine #2 - seated, arms bent upwards and at shoulder height, pushing two pads with my arms in towards my chest (again, 20 pushes)

6. Weight machine #3 - seated, using lower legs to lift up a weight from bent leg to straight leg (20 lifts)

7. Exercise bike on "hill" setting where resistance increases and then decreases slightly (5 mins)

8. Rowing machine (5 mins)

9. Weight machine #4 - seated, using arms to pull a bar down from straight arms to bent arms (20 pulls)

10. Weight machine #5 - seated, using arms bent to push bars from my shoulder to out in front of me (20 pushes)

11. 50 sit ups, done with a very crude metal sit-up frame device. I do 20 regular sit-ups with my knees bent, followed by 10 sit-ups where I lie flat and raise my legs to be perpendicular to the floor and back down again, followed by 10 "crunch" sit-ups where I bring my knees up to meet my elbows, followed by 10 regular sit-ups.

Sorry if some of this is a bit vague, I don't really understand the settings on some of the machines and I have no idea what anything is really called! I chose this workout for a number of reasons. As I want to lose weight, I include 25 minutes of cardio exercise. I break it up into small amounts of time on each machine, because I get pretty tired out and I like to have the breaks to save me getting bored - I don't think I'd want to spend 20 mins on the same machine. By the end of my time on each of the cardio machines, my heart rate is up and I feel out of breath. For some reason this happens most with the exercise bike, which I really dislike using. I also wanted to choose to work on a variety of weights machines because they seem to work different areas, and I also have no idea how to use the free weights at all, or the different types of lift. If anyone could help with this, it would be hugely appreciated!

Desired outcomes

Overall weight loss.
Stronger muscles in my abdomen and upper arms. I know you can't "spot reduce" fat by performing certain exercises, but I feel as though I have very little muscle definition in these areas, and they feel physically weak.
Less "chunky" leg muscles, particularly in my calves, which carry almost no fat and are just very "blocky" and solid with muscle. I find this really unattractive, and would like to know how to make my calf muscles more long and lean.

If you've read all this, thank you so much for taking the time to help. Honestly, any feedback or suggestions would be tremendously appreciated, as I really do not know what I am doing or if this is a sensible way to work out.


PhotoChick
11-25-2008, 04:12 PM
Hm. Seems like you're doing a lot of random stuff with no focus. Don't stress - I think all of us do that when we first get to the gym, or when we first start going seriously. It's intimidating when you don't know all the machines or how to do anything or how to use the free weights. :)

What I would recommend is that you check out two books:
Body for Life
New Rules of Lifting for Women

They each follow a very similar philosophy on working out, gaining strength, and building muscle. Each of them has a section with planned workouts that target your whole body and that are very effective. Each of them has DETAILED information on how to do each exercise and explains why it's beneficial and what part(s) of your body will benefit.

IN addition, you can look up the exercises on youtube and see various people doing them and explaining them. (This helped me a LOT when doing a new exercise or using a new piece of equipment - to watch various videos and actually SEE people doing it!)

Once you start doing the planned workouts and get comfortable with them, you can start changing it up to suit you better.

Three things stand out to me
One is that you break up your cardio so much. While HIIT cardio tends to be more effective for weight loss than ss-cardio, breaking it up like that really *isn't* effective. You really do need to pick a machine and stick with it for 20 mins or so. You don't have to spend an hour at a time on a single machine, but there has to be a period of *some* consistency in your cardio to help build the cardio-vascular endurance. I know it can be boring, but just throw on some headphones and push through it.

The second is that your weights tend to be mainly focused on arms and shoulders and pecs and mostly with machines that provide isolated training. You'll get much more effective results by switching to some free weights and doing combination movements that work groups of muscles.

And finally your core (ab) work is focused all on your abs and there's not much there strengthening your back. Your entire core is vital to everything else you do while working out. Adding in some planks would be helpful ... as well as some of the combination weights and resistance types of things that you'll learn about in reading the two books above.

If you have the money, I would STRONGLY suggest a couple of sessions with a trainer. You don't have to commit to a long term contract, but even 1 ort 2 sessions will help immensely in knowing what machines to use and how to use them.

It looks like you're not afraid of the hard work and the working out, you just need some help building a workable routine! :)

.

Tomato
11-25-2008, 04:35 PM
What Photo said.
What jumped at me right away was that you break your sessions into short chunks of time on each machine. I would stay on one machine and make it last 30 minutes (for example). You can use treadmill one day, the elliptical the next, etc. but don't switch to a different machine each 5 minutes.
I would ditch the stretching sessions in between. Maintain an even hear rate level.

Incorporate some exercises with the stability ball - it is an excellent tool for strengthening of your abs. There are many books that give examples of exercises with a stability ball, or just google it.

I agree with the Photo on the books she recommended as well as the trainer. Just a few sessions to get you started and then you can continue on your own, but at least you will be more confident and more knowdeable about your choices.


midwife
11-25-2008, 04:53 PM
And remember, mixing it up is GOOD. Try to avoid getting into a rut where you go from exercise A to exercise B.

I third the book and trainer suggestions.

Also, different muscles can work different weights. You might use 10 pound dumbells for lateral raises but 20 for dumbbell shoulder presses and 60 pounds (or more) for deadlifts and so on.

The books can help and there's good stuff on youtube but I would again recommend a few sessions with a professional.

Work up to 20 or 30 minute sessions on the cardio....and the '160' probably refers to your pulse, not your blood pressure. And check out the weightlifting forum. And, welcome!

tinycities
11-26-2008, 08:45 AM
Wow! This is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much you guys, this has really opened my eyes and been so useful for me!

With your comments in mind, what I'm thinking of doing now is trying to go to the gym 2 or 3 times a week, focusing on one cardio machine each time. I think the three machines I will focus on will be the treadmill, crosstrainer/elliptical and the rowing machine, using just one of those on each visit. I really dislike using the bike, and I don't feel that I'm getting very much out of the stepping machine. Because I'm used to really short workouts on each one with a break in between machines, I'm a bit scared of trying to aim for 30 minutes with no break straight away. Do you think it would be sensible to try and aim for 20 minutes at the start (at a lower level than I'm currently doing my 5-minutes at), and then gradually increase this time up to 30 minutes when I feel my resistance improving?

I've had a look at both of those books, and they look excellent. I think the New Rules of Lifting for Women one looks particularly helpful because it seems to focus on free weight lifting, which is really the area I need educating on! Body for Life seems really good too, but there seems to be comments saying it's got a lot of diet stuff in there. If you had to pick one, which would you get? Or do you think it's really sensible to try and get both and use them together?

I think I might try and transition from using the machine weights to the free weights, after I've educated myself a little bit better. If you can do everything with free weights that you can with a machine, and more, then it seems to make sense to do that. I'll have a good read up on it, and explore the weightlifting forum!

In terms of abdominal exercise, I think I might transfer to doing the exercises with the stability ball instead of the sets of sit-ups I have been doing. If my sit-ups aren't really doing much for my back muscles, and the stability ball can really be good for abdominal exercises, do you think it might be more sensible to combine the two and exercise my core with the ball?

I'll definitely look into a couple of sessions with a trainer, as all of you have recommended it so strongly. I also don't want to do myself an injury, which I've heard can be a common problem when people use gyms without proper training. Perhaps I'll ask around the other residents to see if any can recommend a trainer to come in for a session or two and show me what to do.

Thank you all so much for taking the time to give me this information, and your excellent advice. I really think it's going to transform my routine, and I appreciate it loads!

JamieJo
11-26-2008, 08:55 AM
I would for sure work your way up to long periods of time on the machines. I just completed the C25K (Lots of threads on here on that program) and LOVED IT. I went from not being able to run 5 mins to being able to run for 30 mins - and longer if I want to. Same idea with the elliptical. You don't want to try to do too much to quick and burn yourself out and not want to do it anymore. If you build up, it won't feel like you are killing yourself, therefore making you more likley to stick with it. Don't get me wrong, push yourself, but build it up. Doing 5 mins on each one won't do much for your cardio so it is important to get up to longer times on these machines.

I've just really started picking it up on the weights. THREE nights ago after my run I did squats and lunges holding the weight bar (with some weight on it) behind my neck. HOLY CRAP do my legs still hurt! I know I overdid it with having pain three days later, but it's that good pain; ya know? You legs, back, and chest are the best to work....of course along with your core. They burn the most calories.

Tomato
11-26-2008, 09:21 AM
Wow! This is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much you guys, this has really opened my eyes and been so useful for me!

With your comments in mind, what I'm thinking of doing now is trying to go to the gym 2 or 3 times a week, focusing on one cardio machine each time. I think the three machines I will focus on will be the treadmill, crosstrainer/elliptical and the rowing machine, using just one of those on each visit. I really dislike using the bike, and I don't feel that I'm getting very much out of the stepping machine. Because I'm used to really short workouts on each one with a break in between machines, I'm a bit scared of trying to aim for 30 minutes with no break straight away. Do you think it would be sensible to try and aim for 20 minutes at the start (at a lower level than I'm currently doing my 5-minutes at), and then gradually increase this time up to 30 minutes when I feel my resistance improving?

There is no point doing an exercise that you don't enjoy. Personally, I don't like the bike and the stepping machine either. Start with whatever amount of minutes you think you can handle - maybe 10 minutes for a start and you will see how you feel afterwards. I started low, too. I was not able to run on the treadmill when I started to use it, it all came slowly and gradually as the pounds melted away and I could handle faster speed/longer distance.
On the elliptical, I typically choose "Total Body", but that's just my personal preference. (Different machines may have different options).

I've had a look at both of those books, and they look excellent. I think the New Rules of Lifting for Women one looks particularly helpful because it seems to focus on free weight lifting, which is really the area I need educating on! Body for Life seems really good too, but there seems to be comments saying it's got a lot of diet stuff in there. If you had to pick one, which would you get? Or do you think it's really sensible to try and get both and use them together?

Since you are still getting used to your exercise regimen, I would start with one book only, probably with the New Rules. I started doing Body for Life recently and I take it with a grain of salt. I modify the workouts and the diet to suit me - I have been already eating clean for months and I do not need to lose a huge amount of weight - I am in my final stretch of weight loss and I want it to be really slow and gradual. Yes, I agree, the diet Bill Phillips suggests seems pretty restrictive to me (also, I don't want to drink a protein shake twice a day - IMHO, once is enough). Again, that is personal preference.

Make sure you keep us posted how you are doing and good luck with everything. The beginning is always hard but it gets much easier as you go. ;)

Edited to add: And by the way, congrats on your weight loss so far. I just looked at your ticker - you go, girl!!!

PhotoChick
11-26-2008, 09:23 AM
OH definitely work up to longer sessions on the machines. I started out on the elliptical at 10 mins because that's all I could do. Now I can do 30 w/ no problem.

Both the books have quiet a bit of diet information. I found the diet info in NROLfW to be very helpful, but I was still learning about diet from an athlete's standpoint, rather than just randomly dropping calories. I think giving it a read through is a good idea, even though you may decide not to follow their plans or whatever.

I would pick one or the other to start with. I think if you try to combine both of them, it's easy to get confused. I started with NROLFW, and then bought BFL, but I think either one would be fine first.

I definitely think using a stability ball is a good idea ... less stress on your back when you're doing crunches and more working to stay centered will build your core.

I think you're on the right track. The trainer will help you a lot in just learning form and helping you to not hurt yourself. :)

Good luck!! :)

.

tinycities
11-26-2008, 03:29 PM
JamieJo, thanks so much for your advice and reassurance! The idea of doing half an hour on a cardio machine when the most I've ever done before is 7 minutes is a bit intimidating! But your suggestion of building up slowly and not overdoing it is great. I think I'll be able to see it as more achievable when I start actually having a go instead of hopping on and off loads of different machines! And thank you for your advice about the weights - I'm definitely going to look into how to use the weights properly and more efficiently.

Tomato, I shall investigate the different options that the cardio machines have. They seem to have loads of pre-set settings that I've not really explored yet, so I'll have a try and see what they do! Aw, thank you for being so encouraging! And thanks so much for your kind comments about my loss! It feels great so far and I feel so much happier.

PhotoChick, thank you again for the excellent advice! It's really encouraging to hear that other people could only manage shorter cardio times when they began, and that people can eventually build up to longer periods! I'm definitely going to get one of those books - I'm leaning towards NROLFW at the moment, but I'm not sure how readily available it is in the UK so if I can't get it, I'll get BFL. Thank you again!

Tomato
11-26-2008, 06:34 PM
A quick note re the books - try eBay. I got my Body For Life on eBay, very cheaply. No need to pay for a new one.

tinycities
11-27-2008, 10:41 AM
Tomato, thanks for the suggestion about eBay, I hadn't thought of that! Annoyingly, there are very few copies of the book I want available to ship to the UK, and all of them are pretty expensive. However, your idea of buying second-hand made me think of Amazon marketplace, where they have plenty going for very reasonable prices!

Also, I just wanted to say that I've just come back from the gym, where I managed to do 30 minutes on the elliptical/crosstrainer, which I never thought I would manage! This felt fantastic, because the most I've ever done is 7 minutes. Instead of going **** for leather, I paced myself and stayed at a steady speed that I could keep up for half an hour. I didn't feel too exhausted or particularly sweaty when I got off (compared to how I was when I was doing 5 mins), but I could tell that my heart had been working continually, and it just felt a lot nicer! I had the machine set to the "Fat Burn" setting, instead of the "Cardio" setting, and apparently on the Fat Burn setting, it makes you maintain a heart rate of 65% of your maximum (whatever that means!). I kept the heart rate monitor thing around 130, instead of around 155 where it was before. In fact, it was so much easier to do than I thought, I was worried I might not be working hard enough (think I will put in more effort next time!). But I'm really happy that I did it, so thanks everyone for the recommendations.

I also had a good go on the stability ball, which was good fun. I had a look at several YouTube videos and looked up some exercises online, and went to the gym with a printed out selection for me to try. It felt really good actually, I can see how it works so many muscles!

PhotoChick
11-27-2008, 10:56 AM
Tiny - that's great! Go you! :)

Some info for you about heart rates (and it'll also help explain something that I said above about HIIT cardio)!

When working out a lot of people measure the intensity of their workouts by their heart rate. The higher your heart rate, the more calories you burn. But of course you don't want to get your heart rate so high that you make yourself sick or pass out. :)

Conventional wisdom says that your *maximum* working heart rate should be 220-your age. And then you figure your workout intensity as a percentage of your max. So for me, at 40, my max heart rate should be 180. If I were working out at 65% of my max, that would be a heart rate of 117 (65% of 180).

Now keep in mind that this is a VERY general guideline. I find that I work out most effectively - I feel that I've exerted myself, but I'm not utterly exhausted - when I keep my heart rate around 160 or so. Technically that would be 88% for me and would be considered "high intensity". But also keep in mind that I've been working out for 2+years now, so it's not that "high" for me.

So one thing that really helps kick up your metabolism is to break your cardio into what's called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

What you do with HIIT is:
Warm up for 5 mins
Go as hard and fast as you can and get your heart rate up close to your max do that for as long as you can (which should be a minute or less - I usually hang in there for 30 to 40 seconds)
Slow down to your middle range (which for me would be a little below that 160 I mentioned above) and hold it there for 2-3 mins or until your heart rate evens out.
Then pump it back up again to your max for another 30-60 secs
Then ramp it back down to your mid range for 2-ish minutes
Keep repeating that cycle as many times as you can. :) Most people start to wear out at 30 mins (5-6 cycles). If you can do 45mins to an hour of HIIT, then you're not doing it properly. :)

This is a REALLY effective way to exercise and get your cardio in because it creates an "afterburn" effect that keeps you burning calories long after you actually quit working out.

I also find it more interesting than just steady state cardio (where you keep the same speed the whole time) and so I don't get bored and want to quit. :)

.

tinycities
11-27-2008, 11:25 AM
PhotoChick, again, you have been absolutely wonderful! Thank you so much for this information - it's really so useful to know this stuff!

Ah, it's really helpful to have the heart rate stuff explained, thank you! I am 23 years old, so from your equation my maximum should be 197, my 65% is 128. That's what my machine was recommending too, and it's what I was doing today for my half hour, and it was not difficult to manage at all. When I was doing my short cardio sessions of 5 - 7 minutes, I was keeping my heart rate around 155 - 160, which made me feel pretty tired at the end (you can now see how unfit I am!).

Thank you so much for taking the time to explain HIIT to me! After you mentioned it in your first post, I Googled it, but I was a bit confused as there were a lot of websites with huge amounts of information, it was a bit overwhelming. I'd definitely like to give it a go - like you say, it definitely sounds more effective and a bit more interesting than just staying at the same pace!

Just to confirm that I've completely understood what to do, should I be aiming to get my heart rate up to around 197 for the short burst and keeping it at around 160-170 for the mid-range periods? I think I might die if I reached those amounts at the moment, so do you think in the mean time whilst I'm building up my fitness, I could try aiming for around 165 for my high intensity bits and 140 for the other bits? I'm not sure whether it would be more beneficial to really go for the HIIT and try and aim for those initial amounts now (but obviously only manage for a short amount of time), or compromise slightly on the intensity (but still work harder than 65%) and do it for a bit longer.

The only other thing is that the running machine and the rowing machine (the other two machines I was planning on using for cardio at alternating sessions) don't have a heart rate read out. Do you recommend trying to apply the same principles of HIIT to these machines (running/rowing really fast for a short period, then slowing down and repeating the cycle)?

Thank you again for the fantastic advice!

PhotoChick
11-27-2008, 11:39 AM
I'm glad I'm able to help.

As I said, the figures are general guidelines, so you should modify it to suit your current fitness level.

There's another scale that some people use either by itself or in combination with their heart rates. It's called the Perceived Exertion Scale. It looks like this:

6 No exertion at all
7 Extremely light
8
9 Very light - (easy walking slowly at a comfortable pace)
10
11 Light
12
13 Somewhat hard (It is quite an effort; you feel tired but can continue)
14
15 Hard (heavy)
16
17 Very hard (very strenuous, and you are very fatigued)
18
19 Extremely hard (You can not continue for long at this pace)
20 Maximal exertion

So doing HIIT, you should aim for somewhere around 17/18 for the "high" part of your cardio and somwhere around 12 for the medium part.

Definitely this is something to build up to .. you don't have to hit a HR of 197 right away - or even ever, really. You just want to be going hard enough that you can't sustain it for more than 30-45 seconds.

So you can use this scale to do HIIT on other machines when you can't get a heart rate reading. And eventually, as you do more of it, you'll just get a feel for where you are in the cycle. AT this point I don't have to watch my HR monitor - but I can check periodically and see that I'm on track. :)

And the first time I did HIIT, I think I managed 3 cycles before I couldn't do any more. I got off the machine and my legs felt like rubber. It's a pretty intense workout. :)

.

tinycities
11-27-2008, 12:27 PM
This makes perfect sense now, thank you so much! Thanks for telling me about the Perceived Exertion Scale - it will definitely be useful for HIIT on the rowing machine and treadmill.

I'm definitely going to try this next time I go to the gym, and although I'm sure I'll be completely exhausted, it will do me some good, and give me some more variety. What's always mattered to me most about educating myself in all things gym-related, is that I'm using my workout time efficiently. This advice means that I'll be closer to that goal. I feel so much better about working out now that you've helped me make-over what I was doing!