Training smarter not harder

Get the most from your workout by training smarter not harder – try being realistic about your commitment levels, trying weights and making your membership work harder for you.

When you look back on the evolution of the Irish gym, it’s come a long way since its humble beginnings in the 1960s. Back then gyms were basically smelly sheds full of cliquey bulked up men and scary weights; these days gyms have become streamlined modern affairs where all are catered for and there’s so much on offer you need never go near the weight section.

For a lot of people the classes are enough – and that’s great.  However, to get the most bang for your buck and benefit for your body, you really should consider making friends with weights. Resistance training brings about the obvious results; improved strength, muscle shape and tone and fat loss. But, did you know weight-bearing exercise has been shown to increase bone density, guarding against osteoporosis? While studies have shown regular weight training helps to lower blood pressure and regulate blood sugar improving heart health. Never mind the buzzy endorphin release.

Give weights a chance

While there has been quite a large shift in recent years with resistance training becoming much more popular with both men and women, the weights area is still an underused resource for many a gym member. And we get it, the weights area can be an intimidating place. You walk in and you’re surrounded by squatting, spotting, chin upping, grunting, buff looking folks… and that’s just the instructors. You’re conscious that your attempts with the weights could be at best a waste of time and at worst injury-inducing. And while the vast majority of gyms will offer you a program with your induction, if you’re a complete novice, it can be a lot to absorb in one go and you feel like you’ve been left with a giant list of exercises you need to get through and not enough knowledge to do it properly.

Which brings me on to the best bit of advice I’ve ever been given in regards to training, and that’s to keep it simple. You don’t want a program where you’re wandering around the gym for over an hour feeling the motivation leaving you like air from a whoopee cushion; so when your program is being devised ask your instructor to keep it simple. But what does that mean?

Train simple

It means that when you’re speaking to your instructor be realistic. Be realistic about your goals, about the time you will actually spend on your workout and how often you’re going to get to the gym. Don’t say three times a week because you think that’s what you should say; be honest about your commitment levels and watch as you get a programme that reflects where you’re at. If you get one weight session in, great! If you get two in – bonus!  Three? You’re on fire!  I limit my sessions to 45 minutes including warm up and stretch.  I don’t waste time, I get in, train hard for the 45 minutes and get out.

So back to weights, if you want a basic weights programme to get you started, then learn good basic exercises for the legs, back and chest which will hit all the major muscle groups; and work in exercises that will target the shoulders, biceps and triceps also. You will start on machines rather than free weights and make sure you’re working at a level which lets you get that last rep in. However, as with everything, consistency is key but a novice starting off with weights will see results very quickly, which can be very motivating to keep going. So all we are saying, is give weights a chance.


Grainne O’Driscoll first qualified as a fitness instructor and personal trainer in 1994 and while her career took a little bit of a detour, her focus on fitness and health has been constant. She now teaches Pilates and personal training, for more information visit graforfitness.ie