One of the most common questions people have before going to the gym is, “What should I do?” While this is a very loaded and complicated question, there is a general structure you can follow with all your workouts. The workout will typically consist of 3 to 4 sections that should always include:
- Resistance training
The first thing you should do when you walk into the gym is warm-up. This can be a general warm-up or a more specific warm-up. Elevating your heart rate is the most important thing to get out of your warm-up as it prepares the body for what is to come. In general, hopping on a piece of cardio equipment for 5 minutes will be enough to elevate your heart rate and get the blood pumping. If you wanted, you could do an extended warm-up to prepare yourself for the exercises you plan on doing. Let’s say you know you are going to work on shoulders that day. Do the 5 minutes of cardio to get the blood flowing but then also do some lightweight dumbbell or band exercises for your shoulders to specifically get them ready for the movements they are going to do.
Resistance training and cardio can be lumped into one section as they will make up the bulk of your workout, and you don’t have to do them both in every workout. However, if you plan on doing both, it is essential to do resistance training before cardio due to the way your body uses its energy sources. The three energy sources are Anaerobic, Glycolytic, and Aerobic. If you did aerobic exercises (cardio) before weightlifting, then you would have sapped all your anaerobic energy and glycolytic energy, which is primarily used in resistance training before finally using your aerobic energy system. By the time you get to resistance training, you are going to feel much weaker than you would if you did resistance training first.
When structuring your resistance training, you want to do compound movements before doing isolation exercises. Examples of compound movements are; chest press, leg press, overhead press, and pulldown. Examples of isolation movements are; bicep curl, triceps pushdowns or leg extension. The reason you do compound movements before isolation work is since they work more muscles and require more energy to perform. Performing the compound movements first will allow your muscles to work much harder during the harder lifts.
When structuring cardio, there are two general methods to choose from. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS). A HIIT workout will typically last around 15 minutes, while a LISS workout will last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. There isn’t a clear health benefit to doing one or the other. The main advantage of HIIT workouts is it doesn’t take as long.
The final and most often ignored part of the workout is the cooldown. The cooldown can look very similar to the warm-up. Hopping on a piece of cardio equipment and going slow can help ease the heart rate back down to its normal rate. You should also use this time to do stretching. Stretching while the muscles are warm is a key component of recovery. If you were to just walk on out the gym after your workout, you would feel sorer than you would be if you had done a brief cooldown and stretching session at the end. You also want to stretch at the end of a workout and not the beginning because the act of stretching lengthens your muscles, which makes them weaker.
There is a lot that goes into making an effective workout program, but this can help you get started. Hopefully, this article will help you out the next time you come into the gym.