This blog follows my journey as I look to get fit – building up my strength and losing some fat – as I try to improve my health in general.
On the first Saturday after my successful first week in the gym, I headed to my first football match of the season, coming on to play the final 30 minutes.
I’m astounded that I lasted longer than two minutes. I found myself gasping for air as if I’d swam a mile underwater. I became convinced that my childhood asthma had returned. It was awful.
Not only was my lung capacity horrendous after so long out of the game, my stamina was too. My legs seriously lacked the strength I needed to run and then kick the ball with power and composure. This made me realise just how important it was that I start lifting weights and improve the stamina and strength in my muscles, so I faced up to my second week at the gym with a grim determination and started on the weight machines.
Weight training isn’t new to me. Growing up as a hopeful athlete and footballer, I did a lot of bodyweight exercises, and spent a fair bit of time with weight machines at my tiny school fitness suite. I was never ripped with a sculpted six pack, but I was in decent enough shape for my sports.
It’s been a long time since those days, and although I was looking forward to getting stronger, I knew my body would be considerably weaker than it used to be. This meant I had to be smart about my training and start light, allowing myself to build gradually over time so as to reduce the risk of injury, which would only set me back on my fitness goals.
Back in the gym
So, Monday. I did the same warm up routine as in my first week (15 minutes of light running on a treadmill), and then headed downstairs into the room full of fixed weight machines.
Having already decided I would alternate between upper body and lower body/core each day, I set about using a number of leg weight machines. These included leg extension machines, leg curl machines, seated leg press machines – each of which I had used before – and then also a thigh abductor machine, which was new to me.
Because I had never used this machine before, I asked a member of staff to demonstrate how to use it correctly because the last thing I wanted was an injury simply from using a machine wrong. The giant fitness instructor sat and demonstrated how to use it, and then – having made sure to bring the weights back down to a human level – I completed a few reps with him checking my form.
For each of the machines, I completed three sets of 10 repetitions on each (30 reps in total for each machine), lifting weights which were approximately 50 per cent of the maximum I estimated that I could manage to lift. I did this to ease my body into more intense exercise gradually, minimising my risk of injury and soreness.
Between each set I had a 60-second rest, and between each machine I had a five-minute rest. Once I was done with each of the leg weight machines, I used an ab bench, set at a 45 degree decline, to work on my core. Again I performed 10 reps three times, before calling it a day for the weight room and going upstairs to cool down using the treadmill, and then headed home.
The morning struggle
The pain. Everything was sore. Even though I thought I’d taken it easy, I was aching in places I didn’t know existed. Just getting out of bed felt like a workout.
Despite going easy on the weights, my body was hurting. However, I’m no quitter and I returned to the gym after work, this time to focus on my upper body. I did pull ups and triceps dips, and then used the bench press and more arm weight machines.
I thanked myself to the heavens and praised my own name that I had opted to go for a sensible, alternating gym routine, working different parts of my body on consecutive days. It meant my legs and core got a rest while the bits of me that weren’t hurting got the workout.
I performed the same number of reps and sets as I had on the previous day. The temptation to push myself and go for heavier weights was there, but I understood that I was merely at the earliest stages of my path to getting fit.
Clipboards and phones
It took me a while to work out that the people wandering around with a clipboard weren’t inspectors or judges (I couldn’t think of anything worse than Simon Cowell turning up to critique me on my training), but were taking notes on their workouts.
I hadn’t considered taking anything to keep a record of my progress, but it made sense. It seemed like a good idea so that I could see any improvements as time went on. I then also realised that the people using their phones at the gym were probably making notes of their own on their devices (or in some cases, Snapchatting and posting gym selfies), so that night I downloaded a free notepad app onto my phone.
The whole week was basically me working out through the soreness, lifting relatively light weights, to limit how sore I would be each day. Although my body ached, this is to be expected when starting out, it’s just important to make sure it isn’t an injury or an concerning pain.
On the whole, this second week went alright, but I was annoyed that my body felt so tired throughout. I pinpointed my diet as the problem here, and vowed to change my ways to provide me with more energy going forward, allowing me to make more gains.
It became apparent to me during this week that I needed to fix my diet. Drastically.
I’ve never eaten particularly healthy even when I played sport every day, and I find it very easy to be tempted by sugary snacks. I understood that in order to make real progress, I needed to change things up.
My lunchtime chocolate bar became a banana, my pasta pot became two chicken breasts and salad, and I began eating breakfast again (porridge).
This would not only help provide me with more energy throughout the day and during my workout, but also provide me with more vitamins and minerals than I was previously getting, making my insides healthier.
I read up on a range of different diets and recommendations for healthy eating, and although I haven’t decided to follow an official diet plan, I believe a low-carb diet is best for me, and the easiest for me to stick to.
I simply swap out those unhealthy foods which are high in carbs (such as cakes), for foods which are low-carb and taste good (such as eggs). It makes it much easier to stick to healthier eating if you can find an enjoyable way to do it; it stops it becoming a chore.
The best advice I ever heard in terms of dieting is that you should follow whatever healthy change it is easiest for you to stick with in the long term, as that is what is most likely to bring you success.
Sure, some diets will provide you with rapid, short-term weight loss, but often, people end up putting this weight back on in the long run. Make sure you check with your doctor before making any massive changes to your diet, just in case, especially if you have any medical conditions.
Weight training can be a daunting prospect at first for many people, but it’s nothing to worry about.
How did you get on when you started lifting weights? Share your gym experiences, weight loss tips and diet successes with me below.