15 ways to upgrade your gym workout

Are your resolutions slipping? Bored with your workouts? Here are the latest ways to get back in shape at the gym

Februrary is the month when your fitness resolutions start to slip, but the good news is that gyms are evolving fast to offer you a new, sophisticated and effective way to get results. Mix up your training, try different classes, get involved with a personal trainer or devise your own mini circuit sessions. Here are 15 ways to kick-start your gym workouts, boost results and have fun while you get fit…

1.Try outdoor bootcamps… inside!
Such is the success of outdoor bootcamp classes, they’re now coming to the gym floor. ‘We’re seeing a lot of “outdoor-style” activity in the gym,’ says Technogym master trainer Steve Harrison (technogym.com). ‘They involve plenty of space, lots of running drills, small group interactions and shorter, sharper classes.’ Bootcamp classes are varied, improving your cardio fitness and stamina as you’ll be running, doing intervals and encountering obstacles. You’ll also boost your  strength using dumbbells, resistance bands or your own bodyweight for resistance. Some classes even add in some yoga poses to help your flexibility. You may focus on upper body and abs one week, then lower body the next, giving good variety. Pumping music will get you motivated.

TRY: David Lloyd’s Orangetheory class, for example, is a 60-minute session for up to 20 people. Like a Bootcamp class, it also consists of cardio and strength-training intervals, featuring treadmills, rowing machines and weight-training blocks. It’s claimed to burn at least 500 calories per class.

2. Form a group
Create a mini workout club at the gym. Devise your own group circuits, or train together on the cardio machines. You’ll burn more calories when training with friends. A study of 1,000 women carried by Virgin Active shows that women who exercise with friends burn up to 236 calories, compared to 195 for those who train alone. The study also showed that 64 per cent of women push themselves harder when training with friends. ‘I can see more and more people forming HIIT groups and working out together,’ says personal trainer Philip Kasumu, an ambassador for BioSynergy. ‘Training alone can be daunting and working out together is a great way to socialise.’

TRY: Forming a group with friends and working as hard as you can in HIIT sessions. Go to a HIIT-based class for inspiration, then do your own to suit your availability.

3. Be the boss
Want some one-on-one advice but don’t like the idea of being bossed around by a PT? Good news. There’s a new, more empathetic breed of personal trainer, re-shaping themselves as lifestyle coaches and trying to find out what really makes you tick. The result? You get to take control of the sessions. ‘I tell trainers to let the client lead the workout,’ says Harrison. ‘There’s no point having a varied workout if the client doesn’t like it. I encourage personal trainers to ask the client: “Do you think you’d like to run?” “What sort of activities did you enjoy on holiday and how can you bring them back into daily life?” The aim is to get people relaxed and to have fun.’

TRY: Tell a prospective personal trainer what exercises you like and dislike. A good trainer should be willing to ditch those you don’t enjoy and offer alternatives.

4. Train for an event
Competing in an event such as a triathlon or a 10K run is one of the best ways to boost your motivation to train. Too daunted to sign up? Many gyms are now offering classes to help you get fit for triathlons and races, with classes ranging from triathlon training to express treadmill classes.

TRY: Some Nuffield Health clubs run Express treadmill classes lasting just 15 minutes and aimed at setting the right pace for you and improving confidence, which is ideal for new runners or those training for their first 5K.

5. Make it short
Gyms know your time is precious, so increasingly, they’re offering express classes to get you fit in half the time of regular ones.

Afterwards, your metabolic rate will be elevated, meaning calories burned at a faster rate post-exercise. Kettlebells are great for improving your strength and power, while also giving you a cardio workout, as your heart rate will soar, even while you’re doing the basic kettlebell swing. ‘During a shorter session, you tend to push yourself harder and the results are long lasting,’ says Harrison.

TRY: Nuffield Health offers Express Kettlebells classes and Express Circuits that work your whole body in half an hour. Both are high intensity, so your heart rate will rise and you’ll burn optimum fat and calories.

6 Train in 3D
It’s all too easy to focus on exercises that involve moving in a straight line, such as squats or forward lunges. Yet in real life, we move in all sorts of directions. We rotate our bodies diagonally, twisting, turning and bending in many directions. Even when we run, we have to twist and turn to avoid pedestrians, other obstacles and potholes. So it makes sense that your training routine should reflect daily movements.

 ‘I like to incorporate functional training into my workouts,’ says personal trainer and fitness model Phoebe Robinson Galvin, an ambassador for Bio-Synergy. ‘We work on rotational lunges, rotational ball throws and standing ball cable woodchop, as I believe working in this range of motion helps to prevent injury.’

Multi-directional training will also help to improve sports performance, as many sports, including tennis, squash and football, involve multi-directional movement.

TRY: Nuffield Health and Virgin Active offer ViPR classes, where you move the cylinder in all directions, twisting and turning it across your body. You could also do moves such as hip crossovers on a Swiss ball.

7. Devise your own circuit session
If you want a flatter belly but don’t have time to join a circuit class, set up your own workstations – high-intensity circuit training is an effective way to reduce abdominal fat, reports the American College of Sports Medicine.

Circuit-style training is one of the fastest ways to improve your cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance, giving you a lean and toned body. And it’s easy to devise your own 20-minute circuit.

Make sure you have plenty of room and build in adequate rest breaks. Try setting up six workstations, then perform a minute on each workstation and move to the next one without resting, then rest at the end of one complete circuit. If this is too strenuous, reduce the work period on each station down to 40 or 30 seconds, then complete the circuit and have a minute’s rest, or rest for up to two minutes if you need more time to recover in between circuits. Depending on which body parts you want to work, you can set the circuit up in several ways: either to focus on a particular body part – such as doing three abdominal exercises back to back, (crunches, twists and reverse curls) or legs (deadlift, squats, step-ups) or you can alternate between upper and lower body exercises.

If space is limited, it may be safer to bring in more bodyweight exercises that require less equipment, such as squats, box press-ups and crunches.

If you’re new to circuits or new to exercise, it’s best to work on technique and perform each exercise at a slower pace to reduce injury risk. If you’re fitter or familiar with the exercises, you can perform each rep at a faster pace.

TRY: Squats, Push-ups, Kettlebell swings, Shoulder presses, Bench dips and Ab crunches. Rest for a minute at the end of the circuit, then repeat twice more. Make sure you stretch afterwards.

8. Be ahead of the rest
Keep your fitness ahead of the game and keep your motivation sky high by being the first to try new kit when it appears on the gym floor.

TRY: Some Fitness First and Virgin Active gyms now have Woodway Curve Treadmills in their gyms, which are self-powered. There’s no motor or button – the treadmill works by your own effort. Walking on a Woodway Curve could give you the same cardio workout as running on a motorised machine. Powering yourself means you burn 30 per cent more calories than on a normal treadmill. The harder you run, the more power you generate. The curve shape of the belt also means less impact on knees and joints, and it works your core, too.

9. Lift your own weight 
Using your own body weight for resistance (with exercises such as press-ups and pull-ups) is a great way to get really strong and toned. Many gyms are now offering gymnastic rings, TRX machines or rigs consisting of ropes and pulleys to help you improve upper-body strength and build up to supporting your own bodyweight.

TRY: Use a TRX Suspension Trainer to do squats, reverse lunges, side lunges, chest press, rows for your upper back and many more moves. Change your body position to add or decrease resistance. For example, if you’re doing rows, the lower the angle of your body to the ground, the more of your own body weight you’re lifting. Remember to engage your core muscles while doing the exercises to support your body and strengthen your abs.

10 Beat the plateau
It’s easy to get stuck in a training rut or think you’re not improving. Checking your progress every four weeks will help you see how far you’ve come. For instance, if weight loss is your goal, you can check your body fat every four weeks (try the Omron BF306 Body Composition Monitor, £31.98 at www.amazon.co.uk). Having a varied training programme will also boost motivation and prevent boredom. ‘Continuous training with a clear goal in mind will get results. I keep measurements to track progress every few weeks,’ says personal trainer Carl Wallace from PureGym in Stoke says. ‘Change your workouts week-by-week, focusing on both cardio and resistance training. This will keep sessions fun and interesting.’ Another way to track progress is to set regular fitness tests.

TRY: Run 1K on the treadmill as fast as you can, record your time, and try to beat it four weeks later, after running regularly. Or complete 5K on the cross-trainer, again recording your time and try to complete it in less time in four weeks.

11. Find a swimming coach
If you did a lot of swimming on holiday, why not keep it up and improve? Hiring a swim coach can give you a better workout because if your swimming technique is stronger, you’ll be more efficient. This means you’ll have the energy to keep swimming for longer, burning more calories and making you fitter, plus improving your endurance.

TRY: Fitness First has a number of clubs offering Swimming Nature, a tailored instructional swimming programme, while Nuffield Health offers Swimfit classes. ‘Around 95 per cent of our centres have swimming pools and most of these offer swim schools,’ says Sarah Henderson, communications manager for Nuffield Health.  

12. Count time, not reps
If you want to burn more calories, forget about counting the number of reps for each set of an exercise – try ‘time under tension’ instead. This simply means timing your exercises, rather than counting reps.

‘Remember, if you’re burning more calories, you’re burning more fat.’ It will also improve your strength too. A study published online in the Journal of Physiology showed that slower lifting movements create more strength.

TRY: ‘Do 30-45 seconds flat doing as many reps as you can, which will burn more calories than counting reps without worrying about a time limit,’ says Anthony Mendoza, David Lloyd platinum personal trainer.

13. Create an ‘afterburn’ 
Rather than just focusing on how many calories you’ve burned in your workout, create a fat-burning effect that lasts way beyond the session. ‘Triggering excess post-exercise consumption (EPOC) or ‘afterburn’ is crucial in prolonging the benefit of a session, as calories can continue to be burnt for up to 36-48 hours post workout,’ says personal trainer Alastair Crew. ‘I use a heart rate monitor to help gauge the correct intensity for myself and my clients – in a typical workout I’d like to achieve a minimum of 12-20 minutes at 84 per cent of maximum heart rate in order to trigger the EPOC effect.’

EPOC, also known as ‘oxygen debt’, is the amount of oxygen needed to return your body to normal after a workout. Exercise that places a greater demand on the body can increase the need for oxygen after a workout, creating the EPOC effect. High-intensity interval training is the most effective way to stimulate an EPOC effect.

TRY: To work out your maximum heart rate, deduct your age from 220.

14. Make cycling harder
Ditch the stationary bike and check out the Wattbike. It’s a serious way to burn more calories. The Wattbike can measure your power, your pedalling technique and heart rate, giving you instant feedback on your progress. It has a dual braking system, offering gears and a braking system on the flywheel to create the feeling of climbing hills. As it’s like a normal bike, it’s easy to vary the intensity and choose between sprints and climbs.

Try: The Watt Bike is available in David Lloyd health, Nuffield Health clubs, 29 Fitness First clubs and many Virgin Active gyms, while PureGyms have similar bikes called Matrix.

15. Beat the Plateau
It’s easy to get stuck in a training rut or think you’re not improving. ‘Change your workouts week-by-week, focusing on both cardio and resistance training. This will keep sessions fun and interesting,’ says personal trainer Carl Wallace from PureGym in Stoke. Another way to track your progress is to set regular fitness tests.
TRY: Run 1K on the treadmill as fast as you can, record your time, and try to beat it four weeks later, after running regularly in the intervening period. Or complete 5K on the cross-trainer, again recording your time and then try to do it in less time four weeks later.