You’ve got your workout clothes on, sneakers laced up and your new playlist ready to go. Yet somehow you don’t feel all too comfortable leaving the locker room and stepping out onto that gym floor. The machines, free weights, cardio equipment..they’re all intimidating. There are a million and one possible exercises, how are we supposed to know which to do?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions I get in my inbox: “How do I choose which exercises to do in the gym?” We start to feel intimidated not only by the overwhelming amount of equipment around us but also the other people in there. What if we do something incorrectly and look stupid? That would be an epic fail, right? (Nah, because more than half of people in the gym do movements without any rhyme or reason behind them.) But imagine if we came into the gym with a plan; exercises written down with rep schemes that matched our goals. That would be a game changer. We’d feel motivated to get there because we’d know our workout has a purpose. Movement that matters is the very best kind, physically, emotionally and mentally.

So how does someone who isn’t a personal trainer plan an effective workout? Here are my top 5 tips for you. Keep in mind these will vary depending on your goal. If you still aren’t up for the task of writing your own workouts after reading these then head over to Complete Coaching with Cait, my 1 on 1 online training program.

  1. Choose movements that incorporate a lot of muscles at one time. These are typically called “complex movements.” An exercise like a squat  is much more complex than the leg extension machine, for instance. The more muscles we can recruit at one time the higher our heart rates will get, increasing our metabolic rate and burning more calories. Some of my favorites are squats, deadlifts, push-ups, chin-ups (with assistance is fine!), walking lunges and rows.
  2. Lift heavy, please. When selecting weights for an exercise go with as heavy as you can while maintaining proper form. If you’re doing 3×10 for a movement and can easily do another 5 after you’ve reached 10 reps, you aren’t challenging yourself enough. The 10th rep should be hard enough so you can’t do another 1 or 2 afterward. There are a ton of benefits to lifting heavy: Strength correlates to the release of fat burning hormones in both men and women. The stronger you are the faster your metabolism will be. Reduced risk of osteoporosis, muscle hypertrophy and being a badass are also positives that come from lifting heavy. 
  3. Design your workouts with a combination of full body exercises. A program template can look something like this:
    Circuit 1: Lower body movement, upper body push, upper body pull, core
    Circuit 2: Lower body movement, upper body push, upper body pull, core
    You can even add a quick metabolic sprint after the core if you’re looking to spike your heart rate.
  4. Rest as needed between sets, but only as needed. I see this one a lot. We do a set and then go on our phones or talk to a friend for 5+ minutes. What happens then is we lose momentum and our heart rates lower a lot. A general rule of thumb for someone looking to burn fat during a workout is to rest as much as needed in order to go back and give maximal effort to those exercises again. For some this may be 30 seconds and for others 3 minutes. Remember, you want to keep the intensity up throughout the workout (always while maintaining proper form).
  5. Add in 1-2 days of high intensity cardio into your workout program. Pick a piece of cardio equipment you enjoy and work your butt off for 20 minutes. Sprint for 30 seconds and rest for 1:30, repeating for a total of 20 minutes. You can do this on a treadmill, elliptical, rowing machine etc. All that matters is you’re working as hard as you possibly can for those 30 seconds and then going nice and slow allowing your heart rate to come down for 1:30. This can be done all on it’s own so you’ll have your sprint days and then your lifting days, or if needed you can do them right after your lifting workout but I prefer the former so you have more energy.

The gym can be an intimidating place but it doesn’t have to be. Take a moment to jot down a program for the week. This will not only motivate you but also hold you accountable.

*If you feel like you still need help with planning workouts, nutrition and accountability fill out this contact form to get in touch with me about Complete Coaching with Cait, a personalized 1 on 1 online training program.