We turn to Gym Fitness: Secrets of fitness and health success by Steve Shipside to answer this often, rather complicated question. If some time in the gym is good, then more must be better, right? If it’s virtuous to go to the gym three times a week, then five times must make me something of a saint, no? No.

Apparently, it’s better to work out smart rather than hard… and here’s why…

Junk Training
Just think for a minute about how you count your fitness sessions. Are you a runner clocking up miles? A calorie-burner staring at the dial as the numbers click by? A class-counter aiming to put in three classes a week? Or a clock-watcher ticking off the hours? Maybe you haven’t even asked yourself the question yet because you go to the gym pretty much when it’s convenient and do some stuff for however long that takes.

Maybe that suits you, but the chances are that if you’re reading this it’s because you feel that somehow things could be better, more interesting, more rewarding or more effective.

What happens to many of us is that having started to go to the gym we feel better about ourselves and then a gentle confusion sets in. It seems like being in the gym is what makes us feel good. So we go and try new classes. We may spend an extra half an hour on a machine, particularly something nice and comfy where you can sit down. Next time we may even take a relaxing read on the exercise bike and come away an hour later feeling that this exercise thing really isn’t at all bad. Which is just fine for as long as it works, but this kind of exercise isn’t really training, it’s more about remaining in a comfort zone.

Are you cancelling out your gym efforts?
While it’s true that using a machine or going to a class will always achieve some goals (burning calories for example), you need to take a good look at the rest of your life to ensure that you’re not then wiping them out afterwards. A lot of people reward themselves for having gone to the gym. That may be as obvious as a face-full of snacks afterwards, or it might be something more insidious like not taking the stairs or driving to the newsagents because, well, you are going to the gym regularly after all. This is the danger of junk training. It doesn’t actually do any good in itself, and because it lets you kid yourself you have worked out, you may let things slip elsewhere.

This doesn’t mean that the gym always has to be about pain, just that if you don’t have a clear goal for each and every visit then you might be better off skipping that session. Similarly if you’re not feeling good enough to reach your goal, then why not take the day off and go for it next time instead? Going for qunatity not quality works fine for a while, but before long you’ll hit a plateau of tiredness, boredom and disappointment.

So what’s the answer?
The answer is to draw up some goals, and the means of measuring them. Working out three times a week or spending five hours in the gym is what’s called a process goal because it focuses on the process not on the actual outcome. If that’s all that’s getting you to the gym, then you’ve probably already seen the limitations. Time to move on beyond the process and start setting yourself outcome goals. Typical outcome goals tend to be along the lines of:

■ Lose weight

■ Build bigger arms

■ Tighten that bum

■ Get back into a size ten

■ Get fitter

All of which are admirable in themselves, but a bit vague. If you want results you need to work out how to measure them and give yourself a deadline:

■ Build 2 cm of muscle onto the arms by that short break at Easter

■ Lose 2 kg before the end of next month

■ Get fit enough to run a sub-fifty-minute 10,000 m on a fixed date.

Now you have goals, ways to measure them and deadlines, you can go back to the gym and decide whether you are really achieving something, or just junk training.

About the Author: Steve Shipside is a qualified Pilates and fitness instructor, and a member of the Register of Fitness Professionals. In his spare time he is also an Ironman triathlete, marathoner and ultrarunner. If Steve can do it, you can.

Published by Infinite Ideas (www.infideas.com)