6 Tips For Gym Beginners

Gyms in Ireland have been back open for a week now. If you’re new to the gym, about to join or still consider yourself a beginner here are some tips that may help you.

Get A Member Of Staff To Show You The Equipment And How To Use It Correctly

Too often people join gyms and stick to using the only equipment they’ve used before. For most, that’s the cardio equipment. To get the most benefit from the gym learn how to use the resistance machines as well as other cardio pieces. It’ll help you get stronger and fitter as well as give you more things to do. This way you won’t get bored of doing the same routine over and over. Sometimes people also feel uncomfortable or embarrassed if they don’t know how to do things by themselves. These are big pieces of machinery with lots of moving parts and different setups. Ask how to set the machine up for your body that makes it comfortable for you and allows you to do the exercise safely.

Start Slowly And Progress From There

If you’ve been out of training for a long time or are completely new to training, start slowly. First learn how to execute the exercises safely and with control over the weight and/or your body position. When you have the correct technique for any exercise you can then start increasing the challenge. Don’t go too heavy too soon with resistance exercises. If doing bodyweight exercises master lower impact ones before progressing to higher impact ones. Walk before you sprint. Until your body gets fitter and stronger you may not be able to handle a lot of volume or recover quickly between training sessions. Give yourself time to adapt.

Don’t Copy What Someone Else Is Doing

If you look around the gym you’ll see people doing all sorts of different things. Even if you see someone who is incredibly fit or looks like they know what they’re doing, do not copy that person. They may still be doing an exercise incorrectly and are an injury waiting to happen. They may be much fitter than you and are doing an exercise too advanced for you. There are lots of different scenarios here. Get the help of a qualified trainer or instructor to show you how to train properly. Friends or family might be more experienced than you are and sometimes give you ideas of what to do. Again, they aren’t qualified either. You’d be surprised how many people have been training for a long time and yet have bad technique habits. Just because what they’re doing feels OK to them. Your body is different to theirs and unfortunately they might be on their way to an injury. If an exercise doesn’t feel right, is awkward or even hurts, don’t do it.

Focus On Yourself And Your Reason For Being There

Chances are that you joined the gym to get healthier and fitter. Whatever deeper reason you joined the gym for is your business. A lot of the time people will feel uncomfortable that people are watching or judging them for being a beginner or being out of shape. Everyone was a beginner at some stage. The majority of people in gyms who look fit and are in good shape didn’t start off that way. Don’t be afraid of doing something or pushing yourself because you’ll look sweaty, be huffing and puffing and people will see you. It’s a gym, everyone is there for the same reasons. To exercise, get fitter, healthier and stronger. Sweating is a consequence of that so don’t feel uncomfortable. 99% of the time everyone is in their own zone and not even noticing what others are doing around them. And if for whatever reason someone is looking at you, look right at them and ask “Can I help you?” They’ll snap out of it right away. They might also be unsure what they’re doing and are looking to copy you. In which case point them to this post!

Build Up Consistency

Every year people join gyms with all the best intentions in the world. They’re going to train every day of the week, change their habits overnight and everything is going to be amazing. What happens to most of these people? They quickly burn out and we don’t see them very long. Don’t let the same thing happen to you. Find a routine that you can stick to and be consistent with. If that’s a gym session once or twice a week, great. Stick at that if it works for you. Build up to 2 or 3 sessions per week as you get fitter or if your schedule allows it. Don’t immediately think you can go from no training at all to 4 or 5 sessions per week. What will happen is you won’t make it to all the sessions you planned, you’ll feel let down or you’ll do too much too soon and burn yourself out.

Enjoy Your Training

You’re taking steps to improve yourself by improving your health and fitness. If you’re improving your looks while at it and it gives you more confidence, even better. However, it won’t happen overnight, it won’t happen in just a couple of weeks either. The point is you should enjoy this process of positive transformation. If you’re feeling negative energy at all, you need to change something. Don’t put too much expectation on yourself to train so often or be great at the exercises straight away. The same goes for seeing results right away. If you’re a complete beginner with very little strength or fitness, you should see a big difference in a relatively short time. Strength and fitness can be worked on in the gym. If you have awful nutrition habits outside of training you might not see a big change physically. The good news is that can also be worked on. Find a way of training that you enjoy, if you like what you’re doing you’re more likely to be consistent with it. And in health and fitness consistency is the key to progress. Train twice a week for the whole year and you’ll do 104 sessions. On the other hand you could do 5 sessions a week but burn out in a month, you’ll do just 20 sessions and we won’t see you in the gym anymore.

If you want help and guidance to make the most of your training and nutrition contact me at 0870536322. You’ll be glad you did. Together we will work to transform yourself physically as well as mentally, saving you time and energy.

Don’t Be Afraid Of Weights Or Muscle

“I Just Want To Be Toned”

Before I start personal training with someone we have a consultation session or call. In every consultation I ask the person what they want to do and why? The majority of the time I’ll hear the quote from above. More often than not it’s women who say it. It is normally accompanied by wanting to feel more confident or to be happier in their skin. People like to feel confident enough to wear a t-shirt or a sleeveless dress. At some level we all want to look in the mirror and feel good about ourselves. Wanting to be more “toned” is absolutely fine. The thing is most people know the word from hearing it but they don’t actually know what it really means. Do you? What it means is that your muscles are more defined. How do you really get that look? You actually have to build some muscle and lose some fat that’s covering it if there’s some there to lose.

Two Different Points

Person A is overweight and their arms have no definition. Now let’s say they lose a load of fat and their arm gets smaller. Without any appreciable amount of muscle underneath the fat they lost they still won’t be toned. Their arm will just be smaller but have no shape. Losing the fat will be great for their health but we’re talking about aesthetics today. Person B is thin. Their arms have very little or no fat at all. But 9 times out of 10 they have no muscle either. Again this isn’t that toned look people are after. What is the missing link in both cases? Muscle.

And that’s the problem a lot of people have, they think building muscle will make them bulky. You might think this is something only women will say but a lot of men say it too. They think if they just start lifting what they believe to be heavy weights that they’ll somehow wake up looking like the Hulk. It’s unfortunate but it just shows how many people are ill informed.

I Understand Where They’re Coming From

People in this instance want to look smaller, not bigger. They see lifting weights as something at odds with their goals. In this scenario I mean weights that are heavier than those rubber coated, multi-coloured ones. Those weights go up to 5kg in most gyms. During the initial consultation I’ll ask what has the person done before to try and get the look they want. That’s when I’ll get the following answers a lot of the time. Yoga, spin classes, long distance running. I’m not going to knock these forms of exercise. There are a lot of people who enjoy them. But if I wanted to improve my physique I know that these things won’t do it for me. The general gym goer doesn’t though.

Two Questions For You

Firstly, if you’ve tried these forms of exercise (yoga, spinning, jogging) before and aren’t happy with your body do you think lifting weights or doing resistance training will actually make you look worse?

Secondly, if you’re over the age of 35 what age were you when you think you looked your best? I’ve actually asked this question to women who became very happy and successful clients of mine. Their answers mostly ranged from late teens to mid 20’s. If you said the same in your head, know this. Those ages are when you have the most muscle on your body without doing resistance training. Without training and after that time your body starts to lose muscle as you get older. So lifting weights in your 30’s, 40’s or older isn’t a bad thing. It might just help get you closer to your previous best body.

What You Need To Understand

Gaining muscle is actually quite challenging, even for men who have naturally way more testosterone (a muscle building hormone) than women. If it was easy you’d see every person who went to the gym and lifted weights be absolutely huge. That’s just not the case. There are people (mostly men) who are bigger and more muscular but realise that it took them a very long time, sometimes many years, to get to that point. You might see female bodybuilders (who may be taking steroids) or elite female crossfit athletes who are very muscular and think that’s what weight training will result in.

But you need to be eating a lot of food, lifting a lot of weight and training frequently to fuel muscle growth to get to be the size that some of these men and women are. Not to mention the added assistance of steroids or performance enhancing drugs that may also be present in some cases. It just doesn’t make sense to equate your training with theirs.

The Take Home Message

If you’re a woman you normally have very low levels of testosterone. You’re not going to be eating a ton of surplus calories because you want to burn fat. And you won’t be training like an elite athlete or bodybuilder. There’s literally no need to worry about lifting weights or growing a tiny amount of muscle. Muscle is what gets you that “toned” look and helps keep you that way. It’s built very slowly so you’re not going to wake up one day and be completely different. If you feel like you’re getting a look you’re not happy with you can just stop, muscle is very easy to lose. A lot of my female clients who saw more definition in their arms, legs and other body parts actually loved having a little more muscle. Maybe you will too. If you have any questions about training or would like to explore working with me to help you look your best get in touch at 0870536322.

Should You Use Ice To Recover From Training?

More often than not people will say “Absolutely, you need to control any swelling and it helps with numbing the pain!”. You’ve possibly said this yourself just now. Maybe you’ve been in a situation where you used a bag of peas from the freezer on a twisted ankle. If not for yourself you may have suggested an ice pack when someone got a bang or has sore muscles from training. Ice baths have been widely used by sports teams and athletes all over the world to aid in recovery from tough sessions. That’s what almost everyone thinks, but are they right? Does icing speed up recovery from minor injury or training? Should you use an ice pack next time you have a slight muscle strain or ligament sprain?


Let me explain why you shouldn’t bother. Dr. Gabe Mirkin is the man who first made the acronym RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) in his 1978 book “The Sportsmedicine Book”. For years it has been the go-to treatment for injuries and to help people recover from injury/training. However, in 2014 the very same man said that ice may delay healing instead of helping it. You can look for yourself here.

What happens when you get an injury? The injured area becomes inflamed or swollen. It might feel hotter or may even have some bruising. That inflammatory response is your body’s first stage in healing itself. Histamine is released causing swelling. Things called macrophages go into the injured site to fight any nasties that are there and growth factors are recruited. These growth factors stimulate a bunch of other good cells with fancy names to come in and start rebuilding the things that were injured/damaged. For this to happen optimally we need blood flow to and from the area. BUT when you start icing the area you slow that process down as cold makes our blood vessels constrict. You’re basically stopping the ambulances, fire engines and builders from going in and doing their job.

More Evidence

A study published in 2011 compared people who iced their torn calf muscles versus people who didn’t. The results showed the icing group had just as much pain in their legs after icing. They also didn’t return to work or activities any quicker than the non icing group. A scientific review in 2012 concluded that athletes who iced sore muscles or used ice baths regained strength and power slower than those who didn’t. Finally a study in 2015 found that subjects who used a cold therapy after training experienced less strength, size and endurance than a group who didn’t use cold therapy.

Take Home Message

When it comes to icing sore muscles after training, don’t bother. You’ll slow down your body’s natural recovery and also limit the benefits of that training on strength, muscle size and endurance. The same goes for anti-inflammatory medications if you’re using them post training. If you’re incredibly sore from training you could try some gentle exercise like walking to get some blood flow around the affected muscles. Or you could train smarter and not get to the point of being in incredible pain in the first place. Stimulate your muscles, don’t annihilate them!


Glycemic Index and Load

Often when people begin to look at their nutrition more closely they come across glycemic index and glycemic load. They hear or read that you need to make sure to eat foods that are low on both scales and avoid everything else. But as you’ll see in the next few paragraphs they’re not quite the same and the numbers for both can be conflicting.

What Are They?

The glycemic index (GI) gives a food a score on a scale of 0-100 for how quickly it is digested and released as sugar into the blood stream. Pure glucose (sugar) is given a score of 100. Lower GI foods cause your blood sugar to rise at a slower rate after eating that food. Higher GI foods cause the blood sugar to rise quicker. Glycemic load (GL) gives a more accurate assessment of how a food will impact your blood sugar levels. It does this on a ranking scale also but it measures the amount of carbohydrates in a serving of a particular food. Foods with a low GL rank from 0-10 and have very little impact on your blood sugar. A GL between 10-20 will have a moderate impact and a high GL over 20 can cause a sugar spike.

Watermelon As An Example

Watermelon is a very good example of a carbohydrate with a high glycemic index of over 70 but a low glycemic load under 10. The GI is high because it’s based on lots of watermelon but an actual serving of it has a GL of just 7. This is because watermelon is mostly water! Lower GI and GL foods tend to have more fiber and nutrients in them and help keep our energy levels more balanced throughout the day.

Insulin Release

You can still get a blood sugar spike from eating a lot of a low or moderate GL food however and so it’s also important to know the correct amounts to eat. When your blood sugar rises dramatically your body releases insulin to bring it back down. When this happens too frequently it can lead to insulin resistance and in some cases type 2 diabetes. There are many things that have an influence on your absorption of sugar from foods and their reaction on insulin release.

These things include;

  • Your fitness level
  • Amount of body fat you have
  • Genetics
  • Gut health
  • Amount of muscle you have
  • Whether you’ve trained recently, how hard and how long you trained
  • The time of day
  • What else you ate in a particular meal

The Take Home Message

Taking all of this into consideration I feel using the GI or GL is kind of over complicating things. If you want to improve your health and fitness just focus on doing the basics well and consistently. Eat mostly minimally processed foods that are higher in nutrients. Make sure you’re getting enough protein and vegetables. Exercise consistently and aim to improve your strength or fitness levels. When you can get more/improve sleep, do so. Give yourself a break now and then to try and manage stress. Keep things simple and enjoy the process without complicating things.

Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

The Sunshine Vitamin

The majority of people could do with more vitamin D. That’s right, the vitamin you get from the sun. Your body makes vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. The problem for us here in Ireland is that the sun comes out for about 2 minutes in between bouts of rainfall. You can also get the vitamin from fatty fish or some fortified dairy products but it’s challenging to get enough from diet alone.  Some people don’t even eat much of either of those. Added to the fact of not getting much sun exposure and this leads to a lot of people being deficient in vitamin D. While you can look up the many things that low vitamin D levels can lead to, I’ll list the ones that are most relevant to us.

  • Loss of strength and diminished athletic performance
  • Difficulty building muscle
  • Lower testosterone levels
  • Increased chance of Type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease
  • Depression
  • Low sex drive and function in women

If you don’t trust me on that last one see the following study;

Krysiak R, Szwajkosz A, Marek B, Okopień B. The effect of vitamin D supplementation on sexual functioning and depressive symptoms in young women with low vitamin D status. Endokrynol Pol. 2018;69(2):168-174. doi: 10.5603/EP.a2018.0013. Epub 2018 Feb 14. PMID: 29442353.

Looking at the above list I’d prefer to have more vitamin D wouldn’t you? It’s not my place to tell you how much to take should you decide to supplement with vitamin D however. The particular supplement that I take gives me 2500IU of vitamin D in one softgel. Most recommendations you’ll find in the training world will say take up to 5000IU per day. And just recently some studies administered up to 60,000IU of vitamin D to combat Covid-19. (See – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7761895/)