The gym can be intimidating, especially if you are a member of the recently initiated “new year, new me” group. With complicated machines, large humans screaming as they lift superhuman levels of weights, and of course, the physical barrier of getting over the initial gym hump, it is difficult to start working out. If you are a new gym goer or a beginner in the world of exercise, it may be comforting to know that there are people who want to help you achieve your goals in mental and physical health.
There are tons of resources at McMaster, along with other community recreation centres, that can help you stay on top of those fitness and health goals. If you have ever signed up for a gym membership, you may have gotten lost in the plethora of open activities, exercise classes, bootcamps and workout plans that were available. We’re here to break down the benefits of each so you can find what would be best for you.
Let’s talk about ways to exercise that don’t even involve the gym in a traditional sense. Your local gym has much more to offer than cardio decks and weights. Take McMaster’s David Braley Athletic Centre as an example, which holds so many more exercise opportunities than just weights and treadmills.
You can find drop-in sports opportunities at DBAC and other local recreation centres. Drop-in sports require no commitment, offer free equipment and allow you to play with others who may have similar interests. Drop-in sports don’t feel like exercise, at least not in the same way that lifting weights would. And yet, they are a perfect way to get moving. This could be a great option if you feel like spending time at the gym is a drag, a game of pick-up will pass by quicker than you think. If you enjoy being in groups and don’t enjoy exercising alone, the social aspect of drop-in sports would also be a plus for you.
“Drop-in sports provide a much-needed enjoyment when it comes to exercise. Games allow us to work harder and longer without the need for mental resiliency towards exercise“, Ben Bahrami, the Coordinator of McMaster Athletics strength and conditioning, remarked.
The McMaster Recreation app, available on the App Store and Google play, has all of the openings for drop-in basketball, volleyball, badminton and more.
Do something different
As shown on the McMaster Recreation app, there are other ways to engage muscles that you may not use in your everyday life and train your physical health. This includes recreational swimming at the pool in DBAC. The weekly schedule includes specific times for women only and men only, along with different times for shallow end and deep end swimming.
Water running is also offered in the pool schedule. Not only is this a great exercise to build runner-like endurance and strength, but it can also help the healing process of rehabilitation for certain fractures or damaged muscles. This is a workout that can maintain your fitness while avoiding stress on your joints that often comes from heavy weightlifting or running. DBAC has allotted times for deep end water running in their pool on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM. There are certain injuries and cases where water running may not be well-suited for you, which is why we recommend calling DBAC in advance before you try this.
DBAC’s climbing wall within The Pulse has open hours between 4 PM and 10 PM on most days of the week. With a climbing wall, you have many opportunities to go at your own pace and challenge yourself when you feel ready. You could easily do this alone or with a group, and it could also be a chance to get used to the gym environment if you want to be more comfortable with being in The Pulse. With climbing, every move will likely feel slightly different. You will engage multiple muscles and parts of your body at once, without the repetitive nature of lifting or swimming. Because McMaster’s climbing wall is right in The Pulse, you could also incorporate climbing into your workout to add some diversity to strength or cardio training.
We are lucky to have a campus that has a variety of hiking trails in its backyard — why not use them? Using the outdoor environment as your gym allows you to breathe freely and escape the stuffy gym air.
“Hiking provides a great aerobic stimulus on uneven ground, which helps promote hip health and fight against back pain, while there are documented mental health benefits of spending time outside getting fresh air and vitamin D,” said Bahrami.
Using the environment as your gym, as Bahrami said, is not only great for the body but it is also powerful for the mind.
Go to the gym
One of the more obvious forms of exercise is in the traditional gym. A traditional gym gives you the ability to create and follow your own workout plans and take advantage of a variety of different machines. With the help of a personal trainer, you can learn new exercises and proper form to prevent injury and maximize performance.
Since there are so many types of exercises you can do with free weights alone, a gym membership can be the best way to meet your personalized goals. It is also easier than it seems. The staff at gyms, especially personal trainers, are more than happy to help you do a workout plan or correct your form. At McMaster specifically, the personal trainers are mostly students. It may be easier to ask them for help and because of their shared experiences and similarities. If you are starting out, it may be helpful to know that stationary machines, such as rowing machines, are associated with lower risks because they provide more support compared to doing something like a deadlift.
Whether you are brand new to working out at the gym or a consistent member, Bahrami recommends you do a combination of cardiovascular and strength training. Implementing a combination of drop-in sports, climbing, swimming and gym workouts into your week is one way to accomplish this.
“A combination is always best. A healthy cardiovascular stimulus can do tremendous things for the body. Weights also allow us to maintain postural health along with bone density.”
You wouldn’t go into a final exam without studying or reviewing course material and the same principle can be applied to weightlifting. Before pursuing complicated workout plans or pushing yourself with heavy weights, it is important to build a strong muscular foundation to support you. As many say, you cannot build a house without a foundation.
Bahrami recommends that you start off with exercises that reverse the negative effects of poor sitting posture in your everyday life to strengthen key muscles which aren’t typically used on a day to day basis.
Some beginner exercises that Bahrami recommends include glute bridges, split squats, deadbugs and side planks. These exercises focus on building up core strength and key muscle groups like the back, chest and legs.
Many in the weightlifting community say that the best way for a beginner to start is by mastering the three main compound lifts: bench press, squat and deadlift. However, Bahrami remarked that these exercises can be dangerous if not performed properly. With that being said, beginners can still attempt them — but they should build up to them and seek guidance from a fitness professional in order to reduce the risk of injury.
There are clearly many ways to stay healthy, exercise and live an active lifestyle. Whether you are looking to continue those new year resolutions or just get going on one, you have many options available to you at McMaster. As Bahrami noted, there are exercises for everyone, and there is no superior way to be working out.