Let’s be real. We all want to do badass things at the gym—squat a new PR, do 30-inch box jump burpees, or pull-up until the cows come home.
Of course, it is absolutely possible to achieve your awesome goals with determination, dedication, and practice. You need to have the confidence to try new things and challenge yourself in order to improve. However, you also need one more thing: humility.
It’s easy to forget about the basics and safety when it comes to working out, especially among us fitness fanatics. We want to be badasses in the gym (or in our fitness classes, races, etc.), but sometimes we hastily jump into skills or workouts without really knowing what we’re doing. Maybe your back starts hurting doing deadlifts. Perhaps you’re doing push-ups with an arched spine because your core is too fatigued. Or maybe you’re becoming discouraged because you can’t do a bar muscle-up after trying so many times. Your first instinct may be to just push through with pure grit, because you want to finish what you started. But often, the best thing you can do is to take a step (or five steps) back.
I’m 100% guilty of not wanting to look weak at the gym, but as a future physical therapist, I feel obliged to change my ways and inform others about when and why it is smarter to take things slow sometimes. You may not “look” like the fittest guy or gal in these moments, but…
1. Fitness is not just about looks and image (plus, people at the gym don’t care about you that much).
2. We need to focus on good technique before we can safely and effectively achieve our fitness goals.
So without further ado, here are five times when you and I both need to learn to swallow our pride at the gym.
*Please keep in mind that I am still in school to become a physical therapist, but I am not yet a qualified physical therapist. These tips are based on things I’ve learned in training and from my own experience.
1) Warming Up
Most people agree that warming up is important, but I’m willing to bet that no one really loves doing their warm up. It can seem like a drag to spend 5-10 minutes doing easy exercises, because we just want to hit our workout already!
It may feel like a waste of time, but a proper warm-up is essential for preventing injury and preparing our bodies for the movements we are about to perform in the workout. One of the best ways to warm-up is to do modified versions of the exercises you are about to perform. Dynamic movements that move your body in multiple planes is key.
For example, if you are about to deadlift, you might want to do a few rounds of resistance band deadlifts (yes, that little resistance band in the corner of the gym—don’t be afraid to use it!) to warm up the glutes, air squats to warm up the quads, and planks to warm up the core. Air squat and resistance-band-deadlift like you mean it, even though it’s easy!
Maybe an elliptical dance?
2) Learning a New Exercise
Trying new exercises is awesome. It’s the only way we can grow in our fitness journeys. That being said, we have to learn the right way— with progressions. Shortcuts do us a disservice for several reasons.
First of all (and most obviously), doing an exercise full-out without modifying as needed is not always safe. Secondly, it is easy to compromise form without going through proper progressions. You might learn how to do 50 pushups in a row, but are you doing them with proper form? Lastly, accomplishing the exercise without progressions can take a much longer time, which is discouraging. It’s more exciting to proceed from one progression to the next with so many little successes.
So even if you’re doing push-ups on your knees or squatting instead of squat jumping, if you’re focusing on using the proper muscles and form, you’re doing a kick ass job.
3) Working on Balance and Stabilizing Muscles
The colorful resistance bands, stability balls, and BOSU balls are not just for those who fear the weight room. Also, don’t forget about “accessory” work for those smaller (yet indispensable!) muscles.
For instance, those people doing side lying leg raises on mats are doing something great for their balance and hip stability. They’re working their gluteus medius, which is an often neglected muscle. In addition, working with lighter weights on uneven surfaces, such as a BOSU ball, can challenge the core and little muscles that you never knew you had.
Serena Williams is on board.
4) You Cannot Perform an Exercise with Proper Form (be honest with yourself!)
This is a given. If you’re cranking out reps upon reps with bad form, you’re not only risking injury, but you’re probably not working the proper muscles, which is not conducive to improvement. Even in the middle of a fast-paced workout, don’t be afraid to pick up a lighter weight or modify the exercise. Form over everything!
Paying attention to range of motion will help you squat lower, loosen those shoulders for a full pull-up, and maybe even get that pistol squat. Stretching may be boring, but the more you work out, the tighter your muscles, tendons, and ligaments become. Maintaining flexibility by stretching well for a few minutes after your workouts will allow you to reach your fitness goals in the long run. (P.S. hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds!)
Stretching feels good!
Keep hustlin’, but stay humble, fit friends.
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