The Gym Newbies

College towns. No matter which one you’re in, there’s a certain predictability.

Summers turn the place into a ghost town. And August brings new students and worse, new parents.

But there’s another predictability: The start-of-term fitness kick.

You see all types. There are the regulars. The people who were here before the crush, will be here through the crush, and will breathe more easily in their supersets after the crush.

Then you have the people who USED to be regulars. They know what they’re doing; they just can’t quite do it as well any more.

And then there are the newbies. They’re easy to spot. They’re tentative in figuring out what to do. No real purpose. They’re awkward in what they do (and sometimes end up on Reddit for their failed efforts). And they just aren’t strong yet. The weights are light and the muscle tone hasn’t arrived yet.

I would venture to say most regulars don’t hate the newbies or used-to-be regulars. They genuinely want them to succeed, but they also know they probably won’t.

Most of the used-to-be-regulars and the newbies will fall of the wagon eventually. Some of them will even get run over by the wagon on the way down.

And why? They don’t know how to maintain. They don’t know how to make it a part of their lives instead of just trying to add it to their lives. They’ll get busy. They’ll get tired. They’ll get bored.

Whatever happens, they stop. Every term, every year. It’s always the same. After about a month, the gym starts to empty out a little, and the community that was assesses the damage to see who survived. What comrades did they lose? What comrades did they gain? And all the while, they knew the majority of the non-regulars wouldn’t last.

And here’s the worst part: I’m one of them. I rarely survive the wave myself. I might be able to ride it a little further, but I always fall off the wagon for one reason or another.

I’ve been a part of this push a few times, and I can only think of two times where I rode the wave. Unfortunately, even then, I wouldn’t be able to sustain into the next terms. I would always fall off.

I don’t know how to fix it. All I can do is my best to pay attention to past patterns of failure and success.

One of the few bright spots for me was yoga. With the exception of a summer when I was at least lifting, I stayed consistent with yoga during my 3 years in Mississippi. And how? One, it was a part of my schedule. I literally booked it. Two, I enjoyed it. I found teachers I liked, which helped me get through it all (and when those teachers disappeared, I stopped going to class).

Scheduling is what I think was the most difficult part of lifting. I don’t like crowds, so afternoons are a rough time to go to the gym. The early morning is the only other way to get around the workday, but eventually I get tired and I don’t maintain so well. And I fall off.

But what about going around lunch? I’d never given that a try, but I think it’s come to that. Luckily, this gym is closer to me that the ones in Florida and Mississippi were, so that makes walking more doable, cutting down on gas and time.

I don’t know if this will stick and I’ll get to be a regular again, but I know I have to keep trying.

Making a Plan for the Gym

What gets measured gets done.

It’s an old adage, but it rings true. If you want to see you change, you need to document it.

But that’s only part of the battle. The other part is making a plan. You need a plan so you can actually hit your numbers.

I’m getting ready to re-enter the gym for the first time in almost two years. I had a shoulder issue (re: I still have a shoulder issue) that sidelined me, and it didn’t seem worth paying for a gym membership if there was a decent risk I couldn’t do many things. Now I have a free membership through work, so cost isn’t an option. I’m going to venture into the gym so I can try to get back to lifting and also keep up my PT exercises that I’ve completely neglected the past couple of months (in fairness, I was doing a lot of yoga, which gets the same muscles, mostly).

I can hear your thoughts: “Q, if you have a plan to succeed, what the hell do you need to tell us for?”

A couple of reasons.

The first, and the most important, telling people matters. Whether it’s something like working out (like the Super Awesome Year of the 5K) or asking that attractive gal out (winks at cute yoga girl)

I’m a lot more likely to follow through if I tell people I’m going to do it. It’s peer pressure. It’s a good version of peer pressure.

The second is I haven’t written in a while. Turns out a knee injury does wonders to derail a running blog (even a running blog about hating running; actually, at this point, I guess I should just call this a wellness blog). I haven’t been great about posting in part because I just can’t be active in the same ways that I was. I’m mostly just trying to manage things until my knee either decides it stops hating me or I get surgery.

And third, maybe this will help one of the five people who reads this far. Sometimes you hope you actually help someone out. Sometimes.

Alright, let’s get to it. Some ground rules. When I go to the gym, I’m getting the whole body. There are no leg days. There are no upper body days.

I don’t have a lot of time for lifting, and I still want to keep yoga in my routine (because my back will not allow other options).

The other thing resembling a rule is I need to keep up the PT exercises for my knee. I can’t do what I used to do in the weight room in more ways than one.

Let’s track this the way we’ll go through the workout:

First a warm up. I hate that it’s come to this: 8 minutes on the elliptical. Because it mimics running without the impact, PTs said I could do this. Ugh. I’ve also taken up jump rope, but no telling if there will be one there (and I’m not taking mine).

Next, let’s take care of those legs. This will be a few more things, so let’s see some bullets:

  • Leg press. One leg at a time. Also ugh. I’d rather just do squat. Stupid machine. I think I was going light at about 70 pounds in PT. I’ll probably up it some, and it’ll be ridiculously easy for the good leg, but balance is balance.
  • Weighted calf raises. I jumped rope for like a minute yesterday. My calves were burning. I need to do more calf raises.
  • Lunges. Multiple lunges. I’ll probably only do one or two of the varieties per workout, but these are the ones in my wheelhouse now:
    • Walking lunges – We all know this one well. It’s like the slowest way to travel from point A to point B. Seriously, crossfitters do their handstand walks quicker than you can travel doing lunges.
    • Lunge matrix – Forward, side, back. I may default to this one because it gets a lot of movement in.
    • Trail leg lunges – This just involves leaving your back leg elevated on something and dropping into your lunge.
  • Single-leg deadlift. Otherwise known as pick up the golfball. It’s not too different from warrior III in yoga. Just add weight. This one is neat because it fries my hamstring with weight and flexibility. I have issues.

Now the fun stuff. Upper body:

  • Bench. Finally. Something I know. I alternate days between dumbbell bench and barbell. I take a wide grip on the barbell and dumbbells keep my arms in tighter, so they amount to a slightly different workload.
  • Rows. Every push deserves a pull. I tend to do seated cable rows but some barbell rows get thrown in. I also do some rows with dumbbells and inverted rows, but the first two are the main ones. I have a crappy posture, so rows are a must.
  • Overhead dumbbell press. This is where I have to start being careful. This is what got my shoulder a couple of years ago, but it’s also a favorite of mine because it works the muscles that will help you look good in a shirt. I’m vain, but it’s hard to ignore that shoulders are an easy muscle to see a difference in.
  • Lat pulldowns. This isn’t where I got hurt, but I also have to be careful here because of shoulder mobility.
  • Lateral raises. Again, another shoulder exercise.
  • Shrugs. Maybe. This or upright rows, but this seems less stressful for my shoulders.
  • Bicep curls. ’cause people need tickets to the gun show. I alternate between dumbbells and a curl bar.
  • Tricep extensions. ’cause no one wants to be the guy who only does bicep curls. Might as well do them in the squat rack if you’re going to be that guy. Overhead with dumbbell and push-down with V bar are my rotations.

Now for the stuff I truly hate: core. If you ever see me actively annoyed in a weight room, I was working on core. Ideally, I’ll do all of these each workout. I’m already annoyed.

  • Planks. Another of the more important exercises I do because of cruddy posture from sitting in at a desk all day. Usually I shoot for 3 sets of 30 seconds, but PT introduced a new variety this round: 20 5-second holds. The time load is similar, but it just doesn’t feel the same.
  • Side planks. See planks.
  • Dying mermaids. Side plank with a dip or lift is a more common phrase. I like my PT’s label better. You start with your hip down and then lift it to a side plank. Holy crap this one will get you. And you’ll look like a dying mermaid. A sweaty, dying mermaid.
  • Plank rotations. Start in plank, open to a side plank, back to plank, open to the other side plank. Repeat. With this, I really have to watch my form so my hips don’t dip or rise.
  • Plank with shoulder taps. I like this one because there can be a speed element. I default to forearm planks because I want the core work, not the shoulder work of a high plank. This one variety forces me into a high plank, and then you’re lifting a hand and tapping the opposite shoulder, alternating hands. The big thing to watch here is that you aren’t swaying. You’re trying to keep your body as still as possible. Even tutorial videos don’t always get this part right.
  • Side planks with leg swings. If you’re still with us, you might drop your hip down and let it rest. This one involves swinging the higher leg back and forth tapping it down on each end of the swing. It doesn’t seem like much, especially if you drop your hip, but you’ll feel it after 3 sets of 10-15.

That’s it for the plan. There are some other things I still need to be doing for PT (namely a variety of dynamic stretches and lateral movements, but they all involve those elastic bands that I’ve got at home). I just need to build them into my morning routine.

Otherwise, that’s a pretty full workout as it is. I hope you found something useful. If not, I really just wasted your time and I have ZERO shame about it.

Let you know how it goes, sports fans. Adios.

-Q