Youngsters with buff bodies barely covered by skimpy Lycra, admiring their glistening muscles in a mirrored aerobics studio, while grunting bodybuilders pump iron in a sweaty weights room.
If that’s how you picture a gym, no wonder you’re not rushing to sign-up for a regular workout.
But gyms have changed so much since the times of Jane Fonda and Arnold Schwarzenegger, which means your off-putting mental image could be causing you to miss out on a great opportunity to ease your aches and pains, improve your fitness to do the things you love and make some new friends as you do it.
Nowadays, gyms cater to all types of clients, from those who want to build serious muscle, to those keen to ensure they don’t get out of breath when climbing the stairs.
That said, we understand that stepping into even the most welcoming gym for the first time isn’t easy, so we’ve worked with Fernwood Fitness, Australia’s biggest group of female-only fitness centres, to give you the info you need to walk into a gym feeling confident and ready to change your health for the better!
Definitely not! Comfy clothes, such as a t-shirt and tracksuit pants or leggings, are fine. It’s important, though, to make sure you have appropriate footwear for the exercise you intend to do, especially if you have existing foot problems such as bunions or poor circulation.
When getting ready for a workout, it’s also important to wear a comfortable and supportive bra. An unsupportive bra can cause you to slouch when exercising, resulting in a headache and neck, back and arm pain. It may be an initial investment, but it will ensure adequate support.
At some point, everyone in the gym was getting into fitness for the first time so although you may feel a little nervous at your first workout, you’ll quickly find that your fellow gym-goers are very accepting.
You might be surprised to find that gyms can even be a good place to make friends. Many have social groups that organise activities outside the gym and some offer a member’s lounge where you can drop in any time for a cuppa. (Fernwood goes a step further than most by serving a free breakfast every day.)
But even if you don’t end up striking up a conversation with other gym-goers straight away, fitness coaches are usually on hand at all times to help you work out how to use new machines and adjust your exercise techniques.
If you’ve never been to a gym before, there’s a little bit of gym etiquette worth knowing too. For one, if the gym’s busy, be prepared to share equipment, usually by taking turns to do bouts of exercise. And if you are using weights, it’s important to remember to re-rack your equipment; leaving loose weights all over the ground rather than on the rack provided for them is one of the biggest gym no-nos.
Lastly, don’t forget to bring a small towel to wipe away any sweat you may have left on equipment. Gym fans are happy to share equipment and tips but definitely not their sweat!
Today’s fitness classes don’t sound like anything you heard on a Denise Austin aerobics tape, but you’ll find that the skills you need haven’t changed much. Even better, there’s now such a wide variety of classes catering to almost all levels of fitness and physical abilities, you’re certain to find at least one that takes your fancy.
To give you a taster, though, here’s what to expect from some of the more popular types of group fitness.
Lite Pace classes are offered at many Fernwood gyms, and are specifically designed for newcomers to the gym world. These classes are low-impact, which means there’s no pounding your feet on the ground. Instead, one foot typically remains on the floor all the time, which makes low-impact exercise great if you have painful joints or incontinence.
That doesn’t mean that low-impact exercise is less effective, though. Just because you’re not jumping around doesn’t mean you’re not getting an aerobic and strength workout, and even brain-health benefits. Low-impact exercises range from walking and light weights, to stretching and sit-ups, and help you slowly build up your stamina and muscle tone without damaging your joints.
Cardio classes are available at almost all gyms and are focused on – as you’d guess – your cardiovascular fitness, which is so important for good long-term health, with impacts on not only your heart and lungs but also your brain.
Fernwood offers a wide range of cardio-focused classes that are designed to get your heart-rate up and burn calories at the same time, but if you prefer a gentler form of cardio, there are Fernwood walking groups that get out and about outdoors to improve their fitness.
A typical step class involves a choreographed aerobics routine that uses a wide step (you can adjust the height) to really work your bum and thighs. It does require good foot coordination and involves some impact, but you can decide how hard you pound the step and how high you jump.
Body Pump classes are popular at most gyms. They usually involve using light to moderate hand weights and lots of repetitions of moves to help you tone up quickly and burn calories. It’s also great for bone health, because weight-bearing exercise is known to be key to supporting your bones in later life. There’s no fancy footwork to learn but it does require some dexterity with your arms and hands, legs and ankles.
Resistance training, where you use elasticised bands to make it harder to push your muscles, is another type of weight-bearing exercise you can try if you don’t have the strength to get straight into weights.
If Body Pump sounds sweatier than you prefer, Fernwood offers a class called Osteo-cise, which involves a mix of aerobic and weight-bearing exercises especially designed for women with osteoporosis or at risk of developing the common condition.
Zumba’s the fitness fad that keeps on going! If you love to dance, it’s the class for you. The exercise moves are set to music that alternates between fast and slow; it’s a version of what’s known as ‘interval training’, or alternating short bursts of high- and low-intensity activity, interspersed with rest periods, which is proven to improve cardiovascular health, thus increasing your stamina, as well as burn calories.
Zumba can be a sweaty workout but the catchy music and the enthusiasm of the Zumba converts in the class make it pretty addictive if you’ve got natural rhythm and love a laugh with the girls. Don’t expect to learn all the steps on your first go, just enjoy yourself because no one’s judging you!
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a more intense version of interval training. It’s fast and furious – classes are usually just 30 or 45 minutes long – and it sure gets your heart pumping! There are no tricky moves, just hand-weights and other simple equipment, so all you need is the ability to stick it through really short bursts (think a minute or two) of serious exercise, with a breather in between.
As with Zumba, HIIT is great for your cardiovascular fitness, which means it improves your heart health, including potentially lowering blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels.
Classes involving exercise bikes are usually known as Spin or Cycle classes. They may be done sitting down but that doesn’t make it easy! Imagine a room full of exercise bikes and an enthusiastic instructor who will guide you through a range of ‘terrains’ on your bike. Expect to tone your muscles and improve your stamina – both of which, as we’ve mentioned, are great for both bone and heart health.
There are as many types of yoga as there are exercise classes, but in general, yoga classes are designed to improve your strength and flexibility and at the same time give you a feeling of peace and relaxation, all at your own pace.
That’s because yoga allows you to moderate your movements to fit your ability, while gently offering the opportunity to push yourself a little bit more each time, and is known to help reduce joint and back pain, give brain health a boost and even lessen depression. Fernwood even offers Yoga Nidra, a relaxation-focused session that has the restorative effect equal to four hours of sleep!
Pilates is somewhat similar to yoga in that it involves holding a series of poses, while reformer Pilates incorporates simple machines, usually made up of benches and ropes, into the workout to add additional resistance.
Pilates is low impact and great for your core strength, which is important for maintaining balance and posture as you get older. Expect to leave a Pilates class feeling stretched and stronger with a soothed mind, but without the panting and heavy sweating.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.
At Fernwood, we are for every woman. No matter your age, gym experience or fitness levels, we’re here to help you achieve your health and fitness goals. Plus, if you join us during our Zero Joining Fee sale, you can save $199! But hurry, this offer is available for a limited time only.
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