There is a big difference between someone who is getting into the gym for the first time and a personal trainer who is getting back into the gym after a very long time. Even if (and this isn’t quite the case for myself) the two had the exact same fitness levels at that moment, the personal trainer has a significant advantage.
For one thing, my knowledge and experience with exercise and weight lifting means I have broader programming options. My knowledge about muscle activation and mobility during warm ups means I can probably get greater benefit from the exercises I choose to do. And then of course there is the fact that someone who has previously been fit and healthy, however deconditioned they may be, will almost always find it easier to regain fitness than someone trying to get fit for the first time.
So, as much as my previous blog post gave a feel of being back at the very beginning, that’s not entirely true.
Not for the gym, anyway.
Whether I like the challenge, or just like to cause myself pain and discomfort, I decided to take up a new sport recently – one that is miles away from soccer and other ball sports, which is where my comfort zone and experience falls. Let me tell you, it really does feel like being a complete beginner all over again (because, well, I am). For the past three weeks, I’ve basically been living in a constant state of DOMS. My coordination and balance is all over the place, and I’m trying to keep up with people who are, what feels like, a million times better than me.
But what I’ve found is that being a complete noob has caused me to go back to the basics of sport and exercise in a way that getting back into the gym never would have.
Early on in our fitness quals, we learned the foundational knowledge and skills for exercise programming and recovery. It wasn’t long after starting work as a personal trainer, however, that I found fitness fads (I’m looking at you, functional training) and the constant drive to do better and be more creative with exercise prescription saw these foundational principles ignored or underused.
Perhaps it’s the humility of taking up a new sport, or that I really want to excel in it, but I’ve started to utilize and prize these principles like never before.
My gym sessions haven’t been go hard or go home lately. That’s how it would usually be, just because it’s kind of my personality. I like challenging my body and have fun lifting (fun being a relative term), so I like to push hard when I’m at the gym. But it’s actually counter-productive now if I hit the gym hard and am then too sore to train for my sport the next day.
I’ve started having to strip it way back to what’s actually necessary and helpful. Yeah, occasionally that still might mean I’m a bit sore for training, and I’ll just have to deal with that. But my gym workouts have become an accessory to the other areas of fitness and health/wellbeing in my life. And really, I’m starting to think that, for most people, gym should just be an accessory… like, an important accessory, nontheless, but still not the sole focus nor measure of your health and fitness.
The good old warm-up, an integral part of an exercise program that I think too many of us either ignore completely or rush through so it becomes essentially ineffective, has made it’s triumphant return to my gym sessions. I’m giving time to some warm-up cardio and core/glute activation, and mobility/foam rolling before I actually hit the weights. Then when I do, I’m working specifically on muscles that I need to get stronger so I don’t injure myself, and muscles that I need to get stronger so I can perform better. Other than that, I’m focusing on compound movements (exercises that require movement of multiple joints and are therefore, really, more beneficial for general fitness) and whole-body workouts, and actually giving time to a proper cooldown afterwards.
Another thing I’ve started actually giving good thought to is what I’m putting into my body. Not that I haven’t given that thought before, but when I’ve just spent two hours of high-intensity cardio and power movements, and sweat out my poor heart and soul, I am suddenly much more concerned about what’s going into my body and whether or not it will help me recover as quickly as possible so I can get back to doing it all over again.
No matter how hungry I am after a training session, the last thing I want to do is put something crap like fast food into my body. I think that’s not only because of how I want my body to recover and build well, but because I’m developing a new-found respect for it too. Something about giving your all in a sporting match or training session and seeing how your body responds just hits differently.
But my eating isn’t crazy intense. I’m not going super in depth into micros or anything. I’m a pretty simple eater, and generally take the lazy approach to whipping up dinner if I can. I’m just making sure that I’m staying hydrated during the day, replenishing fluids (and electrolytes) lost after a session, eating my fruit and veggies, and getting my carbs, proteins, and good fats after a hard workout.
Finally, I’ve reacquainted myself with the concept of rest. I’ve previously had a bit of a “do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do” attitude towards proper rest. I love talking about it, and I harp on to clients all the time about how crucial good rest between sessions is, but also how important it is to have at least one rest day a week (which conveniently tied in well with my faith too)… but I can’t say that I’ve been the greatest at practicing it before recently.
I’ll push through the DOMS and stiffness most days, but eventually, if I don’t want to injure myself, I have to concede a dedicated rest day. Not a passive, inefficient rest day, but one that’s deliberate and effective. I might do some hydrotherapy, or meditation, or a long session of stretching and mobility work.
Sleep has also become more important to me. Sleep is, as most of us know, the most effective and beneficial form of recovery from exercise. Being physically exhausted makes sleep easier, but it also makes me more dedicated to getting into bed on time and having a full night’s rest.
All these little things have suddenly become so much more important to me now that my ability to train and live pain-free depend on them. And as a result, I feel healthier and more balanced than I have in a very long time, which makes sense. If you can’t to the basics right, whatever you pile on top won’t really be very beneficial anyway.