Weight room question

I’m very new to working out on weight machines. I’ve been going to the YMCA for a month now and am slowly learning how each machine works. Fortunately it’s never crowded when I’m there, so I can study the diagrams and figure out what to do. The personal trainer who walked me through at the beginning is never there when I’m there, and I have a question, so maybe you all can help me.

I usually try to do (I hope I’m using these terms right) 5 sets of ten repetitions, with a short recovery break between each set. So I’m doing ten leg presses (slowly, the man said) rest for a few beats, ten more, etc. for a total of 50. Since I’m so out of shape, I’m usually at my limit by the end of each machine, and I feel I’ve worked.

But I’ve been watching the people around me, who are there every time I go and seem very familiar with the equipment, and their usual pattern is to sit down at the machine, do a quick ten or 15 leg presses and then move on to another machine. I spend more time adjusting the seat than they do working the machine, and I wonder if they are getting any benefit from such a short stint. And most often they are not using much more weight than I am, and I’m weak! Except for the guys lifting weights on barbells, no one seems to spend as much time as I do.

Now I know everyone has there own routine and needs, but I wonder if such short burst are effective, or is my method more of a workout, in general? Oh, and today I increased to 6 sets on each machine, woo woo! Now I just have to learn the upper body machines. What is your workout like? I also do time on the EFX and the treadmill, and hope to start water aerobics soon.

You’ll see a whole lotta different people, getting a whole range of excercise, from really really intense to ‘you’ll get more excercise sitting on the couch and breathing’. You’re interested in doing it right. That’s an important first step. You’re watching everybody else, they may know less about working out than YOU do.

I’ve got some suggestions for you:

  1. go to 12 reps per set. Why? I forget, but I’ve heard less doesn’t work you as hard and more is wasted.
  2. Warm up slowly, stretch, excercize, stretch.
  3. Drink LOTS of water. Hydration is critical, and you’re not working hard enough to need supplementary help from Gatodate et al.

After you do this awhile, you might try an instructor led excercise (spinning was/is my bag) You’ll have more fun in a group, work harder, and if the instructor’s good, they’ll make sure you stretch everything worked so it doesn’t hurt the next day.

When I was doing weights (I’ve dropped it for cardio and ab class) I was told three sets of 12-15 reps. Once you can do 15 reps three times, increase the weight by 5 lbs.

Ivylad (who was heavy heavy into weightlifting before he got hurt) tried to impress that slow is better. That way you’re actually working the muscles and not relying on momentum to bang through it.

Oh, and one tip I got on the ab crunch machine, the one where you sit down and bend forward? Don’t go all the way through the motion of the machine. Go forward a few inches, then back. You can really feel the difference.

Beware of over training. The law of diminishing returns applies to exercise as well.

Warm up for 10 minutes on eliptical trainer or treadmill

Stretch for 5 minutes or so

Starting with largest muscle groups first, then going to smaller muscle groups:

1 set of 12 at 80% of my maximum lift
1 set of 8 at 60% of my maximum lift
1 set of 6 (or as many as I can do) at 50% of my maximum lift

I also work opposing muscle groups (quads then hamstrings, chest then back, triceps then biceps)


10 minutes on eliptical trainer or treadmill

Every once in a while I’ll cut back on the weight and do 2 sets of 15 rep with only a 30 sec break in between.

Vary your workout, keep it fun, do what works for you.

If you watch those people who do just one set then move on, you’ll probably see that some of them come back and do a second set a few minutes later. They’re doing a circuit of exercises where they work the whole muscle group, but they want to make sure they work the whole group at full strength through one set, then kind of tired for a second set, then really tired for the third…

When I’m lifting weights, I lift as much weight as I can for at least 8 reps. If I get to 13 reps, the next time I lift I add weight. This is to add bulk strength and muscle, rather than your routine, which is probably better for overall toning and endurance.

You also need to look at your goals. If you are trying to tone up and not bulk up, 3 or 4 sets with more reps with less weight is the way to go. The people you are seeing who do a fast set with fewer reps may have heavier weights, as their goal may be to bulk up.

I’m a woman, btw. My goal is to be toned and maintain a healthy weight. About three times a week I:

  1. Use the weight machines for shoulders, chest, biceps, triceps, back, abs, hips. Three sets of 10-15 reps per machine. Weights around 40 lbs, depending on the body part being worked.

  2. Do 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer set on X-Train.

  3. Do an additional 10 minutes on elliptical trainer set on fat burner.

The thing you’re seeing is called circuit training. It’s a way of mixing it up a bit if you just don’t the attention span for doing the same exercise for 3 to 5 sets at a time. It’s also a good way to challenge your body diffently when you get used to the way you’re doing it and stop realizing gains.

There is any number of routines and theories that you’ll hear and read about as you get into working out regularly. Most have some level of truth as well as fiction in them and there is no one cure all.

I’d say for a beginner, 5 sets per exercise is a bit much. Increase the weight a bit and cut it down to 3. Also 8 to 12 reps for each set is plenty. You should adjust the weight so that you are exhausted by the end of each set. If that means can’t do as many reps by the third set, well then you’re on the right track.

Stretching is good and people find it relaxing but recent research suggests that it should be done after the muscles are warm and not as a prep for a work out. Also, stretch only to the range of motion your exercise or sport activity requires. In other words, you don’t have be as limber as a gymnast to play tennis. Stretch for the range of the specific activity.

Encorporate some cardio into your exercise regimen. Even if you are not trying to lose weight. Cardio will build stamina and imrove your endurance and well… cardio fitness.

BTW, the best magazine of helpful exercise and women’s fitness in general is Muscle and Fitness for Women. I’m a guy and I prefer it to the men’s edition.

Good luck.

My trainer at the Y said that the 2nd and 3rd sets of reps may not necessarily add that much value. So if pressed for time, just get in one set.

So that was probably me you saw zipping through the circuit. I’m always pressed for time. And of course you can’t really rush the aerobic part of the program.

In a nutshell, don’t worry about what others are doing. They will likely have different goals and different methods by which they expect to reach them.

The best advice I can give you is to decide what YOUR goals are. And not somehting nebulous like “get fit.” Decide what changes you want to see and then research how to make them.

You will find a couple of different approaches to each goal; pick the one that seems to generate the desired results for people whose body types are like yours. Work a certain way for six weeks, then change exercises/order/approach in order to shock your body and bust the inevitable plateau.
I’m not saying that this is you, but there are so many people who join a gym and train haphazardly, then bemoan their lack of gains and quit. The best way to avoid falling into this rut is to identify specific goals and map out a plan for reaching them.

I had a workout routine years ago when I had some extra time that really worked well for what I was trying to achieve and I’m just getting back into it again. My goal was not to add any bulk, if anything to take some off but to become very tone. It takes a bit of time but you’ll not miss the results.

It’s quite simple… you do 100 reps of whatever you can lift that many of and gradually add weight over time as your strength improves. You just do this one set but at every station. I had 22 to 24 stations so 100 x 22 x as much as I could handle, gradually increasing. In many cases, you’re just working out with, or at least starting off with, the bar alone.

Key to this though is either working out at a place or at a time that allows you to spend that much time at a station without impacting others but many of these were with dumbbells doing all manner of curls so probably 1000 of the reps impacted no one else (but you and boy do they do that!)

And absolutely DO NOT rest on a machine! Do a set, get up walk around, come back for the next one. Thank you on behalf of your fellow gym rats.

Oh, I’m not resting long between sets… maybe 15 seconds max. If I get up and leave the machine I have to wipe it down!