Beyond physical benefits, committing to a gym program can help develop routine, create access to new social circles and give you access to a multitude of health professionals and services. However, to get the most physically out of your program you should ask yourself a few questions; what am I training for? What kind of training suits my training background? What kind of training suits my body? Logistically, how can I fit this in to my life and current routine? With the right assistance, the right questions will lead you to the right program. Without these, you’re likely to end up not getting the most out of your time and body.
In terms of fitness goals, whether these be aesthetic or performance-based, they need to be relevant to you, driving you to maintain consistency and diligence for the optimal outcome. Micro and macro goals help guide individual sessions, as well as longer term training programs. For a more casual approach these can be renamed as a ‘focus’ rather than a ‘goal’.
A micro focus refers to the specifics of your session. Within your session ask yourself whether you are primarily aiming to train strength, hypertrophy/muscle bulk, power, motor control/balance/coordination, specific structure loading, or the cardiovascular system. The overall structure of your workout will depend on your answer to this question. How much load does this system need in relation to my longer term focus? This will determine the specifics of each exercise and the workout as a whole. Some things to consider; the number of sets and repetitions within a set, the speed of the movement (especially if training for power gains), the order of your exercises and whether exercises should be combined such as in a superset (which exercises should be performed fresh versus fatigued), rest times, amount of weight (heavier may not be better, for example with power training as movement velocity must be considered), movement complexity (heavy resistance with high complexity carries a high risk of injury) and specific structure loading for each exercise.
Following on from this last point, discovering how to target specific structures within a session will improve training adaptations as well as decrease your risk of injury. In basic terms, muscular tissue will take the most load with slow eccentric-based training (loading as the muscle lengthens), tendons are an energy storing device which contribute to ballistic movements (anything that involves ‘spring’), joint surfaces and joint stabilisers (connective tissue and ligaments) are loaded with impact, and bone cells are loaded with impact and muscular traction (muscular torque). This is relevant to both untrained and trained gym-goers. The body likes gradual changes in structure loading, adequate time to recover (usually 48-72 hours) and consistency.
Bigger picture; macro goals may be based on physical adaptation times or athletic event dates. These need a timeframe relevant to your aspirations, even if these timeframes are fluid. Training effect and tolerance is dependent on multiple factors including but not limited to; genetic predisposition, gender, age, training history including during adolescence and early adult years, lifestyle factors (diet, sleep, stress), other daily physical requirements (such as job demands), flexibility (with greater flexibility not necessarily being advantageous) and mental capacity (alertness, concentration, motor control and ability to learn). Of these, identify which of these are modifiable for an improved training outcome.
Structure and system adaptation times also vary, with some structures taking years to adapt to certain training loads. Working to your weakest link, which is rarely muscular weakness, will ensure you continue to not only stay injury free but enjoy a progressive training program with well-earned rewards.
If training is new to you and the thought of very specific goals is a deterrent, realistically a training effect is likely no matter what kind of training you do. Goals relating to consistency of training may be a good place to start.
Knowledge is power. Asking the right questions can lead you to the right professional to help structure a new or existing program, whether this is a strength and conditioning specialist, health professional, sports doctor or personal trainer. A professional will be able to ask you the right questions, as well as educate you on training principals that are specific to your training aspirations and background. Most importantly, keep asking ‘why’ and your program will continue to evolve.