How to Experience Progress at the Gym
Last week I completed an 8 week fitness plan I was following for my Summer break from work. Last year, my sister (Leila), purchased Katy Hearn’s Spring Challenge. When I first got a gym membership last Summer, I was doing some of the workouts with my sister, but definitely wasn’t at her level yet. This Summer I decided that I was going to try the workout plan on my own. I didn’t do the challenge (Katy changes it each season, picks winners based on transformation and progress, and awards them with money or trips to her gym) or track macros. I just wanted to use the program for intense guided workouts that were already planned.
In order to monitor my progress and keep up with workouts, weight, sets, and reps, I brought along a notebook to the gym. This notebook now has at least 40 pages of daily workouts including individual details from each day.
My goal for this Summer was to tone up and hope to see more definition in my abs. Though I do see some tonnage, I am still not where I want to be just yet. My sister said it took her a year after doing the challenge to be where she is now. So even though I REALLY wanted the abs, I still realized I gained so much more from doing this workout plan.
After all, progress doesn’t always have to be physical or something tangible.
The 2015 Loretta was too embarrassed to do a few of the workouts in the plan. I remember telling my sister, “I probably wouldn’t do this if you weren’t here”, because some of the workouts were awkward. In fact, I felt like a lost puppy in general when I would be in the weight section of the gym. I used to think that’s where all the guys hang and it can be kind of intimidating. So, I really only liked going to the gym if my sister was there with me and I was doing workouts with her. Now, even though we go to the gym together, I do my own thing. I have been the only girl in free weight section or the cable section many times. Guess what?! I even do workouts I said I would never do alone like cable rope crunches on the ground and glute bridges on the hamstring curl machine.
How can you gain more confidence at the gym?
Ladies, (and I’m speaking primarily to the ladies because guys don’t seem to have this concern) just get over the fear. Just have a plan in mind and go do it. Put on some great tunes, get in the zone, and act as though no one is there. When you stop worrying about what everyone else thinks at the gym, you’ll notice you have a much better workout. Do I sometimes still feel weird to thrust my hips in the air while facing the people on the cardio machines? YES! However, I just think about how I’m doing this for myself. I don’t go to the gym for anyone else except myself. So, if someone thinks my workout is weird or awkward, so be it. At least I’ll have some muscle and strength to show for it. I think that’s a great trade off.
Yes, it’s great to go up in weight or reps on a workout, but form is extremely important. Firstly, improper form can lead to injury. Secondly, you may not have as effective of a workout if your form isn’t right . Another reason I used to be so shy of trying new workouts at the gym was because I was afraid that I would have terrible form. Let’s talk about dead lifts for a second. When my sister would say, “we’re doing dead lifts”, I would feel the instant dread. I didn’t know how to lift more with my legs and less with my back. My back was arching too much, I didn’t know how to hold my head, hands, or where to place my feet. I didn’t understand the motion to work my hamstrings. I would always ask my sister if I looked right and to correct me. It was just a hot mess and I was so self conscious about it.
In Katy’s plan, she has dead lifts at least 2 times a week. So, I couldn’t just avoid them. Instead, I practiced my form. I watched videos of Katy performing dead lifts and analyzed every aspect that I was lost on before. Once I started to get the hang of it, my body got used to how dead lifts should feel. Now, I am totally comfortable with dead lifts, do them on my own, have gone up in weight, and actually don’t mind them anymore! Talk about progress!
How can you improve your form at the gym?
I could have easily given up when it came to deadlifts. Instead of giving up on something you aren’t good at, find ways to progress in that area even if it’s baby steps at first.
- Look up videos on Instagram using workout hashtags. Watch the little aspects you might ignore otherwise like hand placement, foot stance, and head position. Watch videos of “what to do vs. what not to do” so you can get an idea of right vs. wrong.
- If you feel comfortable, ask a friend or someone at the gym how your form is if you are unsure.
- Even better, watch yourself in the mirror if possible.
- Think about your workout as you do it. Once you get the hang of it, you can zone out, but not at first. When I did deadlifts I would constantly say in my head, “stiff legs, natural spine and head, squeeze at the top, put righthand under and lefthand over, keep the bar close to your legs, stick your butt out…”. I no longer have to do that because I know the motion now. Once you do this a few times, the workout will just feel right.
- Also think about what muscle group you’re working. For me, the hardest thing is to avoid using my back or arms too much in workouts that are not back or arms. So if you’re working hamstrings but you only feel soreness in your back, then you aren’t using your hamstrings properly. Pretend as though you aren’t able to use your back and you only have your leg string. Push through with that mindset and it helps.
Perfecting form is an ongoing process.There are still some workouts that I am improving upon before I go up on weight. So, don’t think you’ll be perfect at all workouts just after a few weeks. However, the more you practice the easier it will be to adjust.
I am going to account a lot of persistence I had these past 8 weeks to the fact I did have off work the entire time basically. However, I could have slept in each day too, but life is about choices. I chose to wake up around 5/5:30 each morning so that I could complete my workout for the day and start the day off right. The gym was emptier at that time, so I was able to get the equipment I needed to use as well. Using the set plan also kept me accountable and on track each week. I did have some flexibility with workouts if a machine was taken or if a certain workout causes too much knee pain. However, I didn’t skip a day and in fact I did extra days of my own workouts or cardio.
How can you be more persistent when it comes to working out?
- Follow a workout plan. You don’t have to purchase one like my sister did, just simply do some internet research. There are tons of plans for free on Pinterest. Search on YouTube. There are plenty of guided workout videos to get ideas.
- Bring a notebook. I know some people think this makes you look like a beef head, but again who cares what other people think if you’re doing something good for yourself? My notebook kept me accountable. I was able to see how I was progressing throughout the weeks so it pushed me forward even more.
- Have an accountability partner. Even though some days I went alone, it did help to know that my sister was waking up at the same time with the same purpose. We would drive to the gym together and have to stay as long as the other person. So pick someone who will push you and not just say, “let’s go home” or “no cardio today” every time you’re at the gym.
- Make going to the gym a part of your routine. It was pretty much unquestionable that I had to fit my workouts in to each day. Majority of the time I went in the mornings, but sometimes I had appointments and had to switch it up. If it’s a priority in your day just as eating your three meals, then it doesn’t seem like a task. It will just seem like a routine thing that you always do.
Gains (Physical & Mental)
Not to sound cliche about the gym, but gains both physical and mental can really be some great motivation. Over the past 8 weeks it has been awesome to watch my muscles grow. It’s even more exhilarating when you realize you are a lot strong than you thought you were. I have pretty much gone up in weight in all workouts since I first started. Its easy to remain comfortable and safe, but I decided to go up 2.5 pounds or 5-10 pounds just to make even more progress. I don’t want to plateau, so if something became fairly simple, I decided to increase weight and/or reps. Even if I questioned doing less reps or lower weight, I’d tell myself “no”. Getting over the mental doubt is the hard part, but I gained control over that, I was able to obtain more gains!
How can you make gains?
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”
You’ve heard that right? Do you want change? If so, then you are going to face challenges and that is okay! If you just keep doing the same workouts with the same weight and the same reps, do you think you will see any progress? Maybe at first, but once you plateau your body will not progress much anymore. So if you want to continue moving forward, you need to challenge yourself.
- Push yourself. Most of working out is mind power. If you have a mindset that you can only curl 5 pounds, then yes, you’ll only be able to do 5 pounds. However, give it a try. Start with less reps than you usually do. You can do a pyramid by starting heavy and decreasing weight throughout your sets.
- Think of the 40% rule. If you haven’t read my post on that yet, go ahead and click on that link to see what I mean. It’s life changing.
- Switch up your workouts. Don’t do the same leg workout for 4 months straight. Not only will you be bored, but your muscles will be bored too.
- Each day, be grateful for the fact that you are capable of working out and improving your body. Imagine if our bodies could never change regardless of what we did or ate. When you really appreciate that, then you start to love working out. A healthy fitness addiction can be a great way to reach gains.
Even though I still have some goals to work toward, I did go back and look at some old pictures. Now it’s hard to find pictures where I’m in the same exact clothing, lighting, angle, etc. That can definitely impact the look in a picture. I honestly see my progress more in person, which is more important to me. On camera it may not look like much, but some things are gradual. There’s only more progress from this point on, so I’m excited for that. Hey, watch out, next year I’ll have the before and after ab pics! 😉