The Gym as a Tool

Quite arguably the best tool in the arsenal to lose weight is your local gym. While it’s possible to lose weight and gain strength without one, I think that most people feel the need to have a gym at their disposal. I joined a gym years ago when I lived in Seattle that was acquired by 24 Hour Fitness. It worked out great for me, I have unlimited access to the majority of 24 Hour Fitness gyms for a mere $10 a month now. It’s a monthly fee I’ve often paid years for when I have never even used it. But now that I’m living close to one, and they seem to be more prevalent is the area I live, I don’t regret that the years of non use at all.

Most gyms are broken down into several distinct functional areas:

Weights/Free weights/Machines
– The main floors of most gyms have a free weights section comprised of dumbbells, weight benches, bars, and other types of interchangeable weight systems. They typically also have all the machines that can take weight plates and racks for doing squats. Weight training is good for burning calories and for building muscle.

Cardio Equipment – These consist of the machines used for doing cardiovascular training like treadmills, elliptical  stair masters, stair climbers, and rowing machines. These machines are great for cardiovascular training and fat burning. Cardio machines typically are a great way to burn a high amount of calories with the right type of workout.

Spin Bikes – Although technically cardio equipment, I like to break spin bikes out into their own category, as most gyms keep them all together. They are typically located near the other cardio equipment, but you’ll often find gyms that have rooms full of nothing but spin bikes. These spin studios are used for spinning classes and bike related workouts. Spinning is a great workout, and is ideal for almost anyone as they require no special skills to use.

Zumba/Pilates/Aerobics/Dance/Yoga Studios – Another thing that most gyms have is some sort of dedicated studio for Yoga, Pilates, Aerobics and Dance type of workouts. These type of workouts are great for people that like to work out with a group of others, and change up the monotony of being stuck on cardio equipment.

Pools/Sauna/Steam – The pool is one of the best low impact, high calorie burning workouts you can find. Swimming laps takes a significant amount of energy, and can be a very challenging workout. A lot of gyms also have some other pool related amenities available like Sauna, Steam Rooms, and hot tubs, which are all great after a tiring workout. They’ll make you sweat, and the heat feels great on sore muscles.

Basketball – Playing one on one, or traditional basket ball is a great way to raise your heart rate and burn calories.

Stretching/Floor Areas – There are typically multiple areas where you can do stretching and floor exercises like push ups, sit ups, and exercise ball work.

A lot of gyms also offer low cost day care that you can take advantage of for those times when you have your little ones with you. Finding the right gym for you is important, as if you don’t like the gym, you ultimately won’t go. Why would you want to spend your hard earned money each month for nothing? I know that memberships at my gym start at around $40 per month for unlimited access to that single location.

Watch for sales, and deals too. Costco is a great place to check, but make sure you read the details, some clubs have different service levels, you don’t want to buy a 2-3 year membership at a discount to find that it didn’t work for the primary location you were considering. Be sure to do your homework and ensure that the membership you purchase works for you. Also keep in mind that there’s generally some wiggle room when it comes to joining a gym. Be sure to remember you can negotiate some, if they won’t come down on monthly fees, or waving initiation/joining fees, ask for a few free personal training sessions. The gym should be able to do something to win your business!

Finding a gym with all of the things listed above is a great step in having the tools you need to create a workout routine that will lead to your weight loss success!


My First Spin Class – Or What to Expect When Spinning

The spin studio at your local gym is a good place to add a new tool to your exercise routine. It may seem intimidating to walk into a room that has nothing but spin bikes in it and it may seem even weirder to see a bunch of people adjusting the bikes to the settings they know by heart. You’ll probably feel a little apprehensive going your first time, but there’s nothing to fear. When you go to your first class be sure to say hello to your instructor, and let them know that it’s your first time. They should spend a few minutes with you showing you how to get the correct adjustments and fit on the bike to make it the most comfortable and efficient for your workout.

One of the things that I really think is cool about spinning, is that just about anyone can do it. It seriously requires no special skills. Unlike a treadmill, there’s really no balance, or danger of falling off. If you can walk… you can do a spin workout.

There’s three main settings on a spin bike as far as fit goes, seat height, distance of the seat from the handlebars, and handlebar height. Once you know your settings/numbers, it’s a breeze. I set my seat height to a “J”, the distance from the handlebars is set to “4”, and the height of the handlebars is a “6”, I just try and remember J46.

The pedals of the bike are two sided with two different options. One side has a “cage” that you can wear tennis shoes with and they slide into it and rest on the pedal. The second side is configured to allow cycling SPD style shoes to snap in to the pedal. It’s exactly the same as road/mountain bike SPD pedals. Click in by stepping down on the pedal, and kick your heels out to clip out. You quickly learn that you can use your body to press down on the pedals as well as pull up on the pedals using either pedal configuration.

The last setting you’ll need to know is the tension knob generally below the handlebars which adds resistance to the front wheel. There’s really not a way to measure it, turning it clockwise adds more resistance simulating a hill and turning it counter-clockwise removes that tension. If you’re pedaling at a high rate of speed, and you need to stop the pedals quickly, you can mash down on the tension knob by just pushing it down, this acts like an emergency break and stops the motion of the cranks.

My first class I was kind of clueless, the instructor was very nice, and helped me fit the bike correctly, I had a small towel, and a bottle of water, and my trusty heart rate monitor for measuring the calories I burned during the class. I got on bike and had my first ‘duhhhh’ moment. I’ve ridden bikes a lot over the past two years, long bike rides, like 70 miles in a half day, and I had forgotten bike shorts. It wasn’t awful without them, but I’d rather have the extra padding and shorts that were made for cycling than not.

My second ‘duhhhh’ moment came about 15 minutes in to the class when I realized when the instructor was saying to make a turn, it wasn’t the direction of travel. It’s a stationary bike, “How am I supposed to turn???” I remember thinking, well, what she meant was to turn up more resistance on the tension knob, increasing the difficulty of pedaling, and giving you a more challenging work out. They play fun, fast music, and the instructor wears a microphone, it’s in a decent sized studio, but with the music, and microphone, and echoes sometimes it’s hard to hear what they’re saying.

My third moment came when I realized I had sat in the middle of the room. I couldn’t figure out why everyone else was flanking the sides of the room until about 2/3 of the way through the class and I looked up…. no fans above me. Everyone else was pretty much situated under large fans that blow a nice cool breeze. Look up, duhhhh!

I do have to say that working out with a group of people, being challenged to work hard and being part of a group mentality absolutely pushes me to a new level. I’ve tried to replicate the experience on my own, but it’s just not the same. I really like the spin classes, and most of the instructors so far have been a lot of fun. I’d really encourage you to give it a try if you’ve never tried it. I’m in my fourth or fifth week of spinning twice per week, and I can’t see getting tired of it any time soon.

Spin Class – A Beginner’s First Impression

Finding new things to do at the gym to keep your workout fresh and invigorating can be a challenge. I have a road bike that I used to ride a lot (planning on getting back on it in better weather) so I thought that trying a spin class at my gym would be a good idea.

I did my geek due diligence of doing some internet searches on what to expect in a spin class, how they work, etc. I already own bike shoes that clip to my bike’s pedals and was excited to learn that the gym’s spin bikes use the same system. I found the class online using an application on my iPhone, added the class to my calendar, and was looking forward to checking it out.

One of my colleagues at work is a hard core biker, so I asked him about spin classes. He smiled, and was excited to tell me his impression, we sat in his office and talked a bit about it. “First of all, let me tell you the number one thing you have to know about ALL spin instructors…. they are all full of it.” I was a little taken back, he further explained “They’ll tell you to add more resistance to your bike, and convince you they’re doing the same, but I think a lot of them pretend to add that resistance, or don’t do as much as they’re telling you.” It made me laugh to hear his thoughts, as it’s someone in my office that I have a great deal of respect for. He went on to tell me several useful things about going for the first time, told me that I’d be hurting the first few times, that it can be a tough workout, but the synergy of spinning with others creates an energetic, fun, and challenging workout.

He’s 100% right, on the mark about all of it. It was a monster first workout for me. A 45 minute class I burned over 600 calories, and was dripping with sweat. They play music and the instructor has a microphone and tells you what to do as you go through each part of the class. Some classes focus on a big hill climb, with sprints in between. Other instructors have different styles, spin to the music, go balls out for 5 minutes, and then slow down for a bit. The one thing that I really enjoy is that it’s fun, upbeat, and the time goes by fast. All of the instructors that I’ve met so far are very upbeat, positive, and welcoming.

The point I’m trying to make is you should go outside your comfort zone and try something new, try something that you maybe wouldn’t consider doing. I’m doing the spin class twice a week now, and it’s fun, I’m starting to get to know people, and having a lot of fun. Anything you can do to add fun to your exercise routine is a good thing in my book.