We’ve all been there. Hovering past every machine on the gym floor, attempting to decide between abs or arms, before listlessly moving on, because although you vaguely know what you SHOULD be doing, it’s nowhere near enough to refine into a comprehensive and productive gym session.
More importantly, your gym buddy is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they’re on holiday, or at work, or maybe just still in bed. Either way, there’s no-one there for that crucial support/competition/motivation.
So instead of just getting on with it, you take a sneaky look at what everyone else is doing and just sort of wander around aimlessly, slowly losing motivation and ideas as the last bursts of energy from your morning coffee drip away.
Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.
This is probably the spitting image of me a few months ago, the first few times I found myself having to work out alone.
When I started going to the gym, I was always, always with my best friends. The three of us would go religiously during university, our impending holiday to California the sole source of motivation for relentless ab and glutes workouts.
Then, when I got a job and changed gyms, I met my now-boyfriend, who was a Personal Trainer at the gym where I was a member. Our how-we-met story is such a ridiculous cliche but hey, it worked for us so I’m not complaining.
Needless to say this relationship worked out pretty well in my favour- I no longer needed to motivate myself or even use my brain at all when it came to our sessions- I had someone explaining what to do every step of the way and encouraging (or shouting at) me if I ever threatened to stop.
Then, a few months into our relationship, he got a different job, at a different gym and thus arrived the inevitable. I had to start working out- by myself.
I hated it at first, with a passion. I felt really alone and was finding it so difficult to motivate myself to do things that I knew I could do – but somehow I’d get a mental block because I was scared that by myself I’d do it wrong.
One day though, after spending one too many wasted hours on unproductive gym sessions, I gave myself a talking to. I’ve always been very independent and I hated the fact that I was now so reliant on other people. I told myself that I’m a grown ass woman and if I want to have a killer gym sesh then I can bloody well do it whether or not anyone is with me. Excuse my language.
So I did. It’s been a work in progress but I quite like training by myself now. Obviously I still love training with my PT/Boyfriend, and it’s useful to have him around (especially training strength, in case I fail mid-squat). But training alone no-longer scares me and it’s no-longer something I have to motivate myself to do – I’ve also learnt a lot since I started actually using my brain during my sessions.
So these are my go-to rules for going to the gym without your gym buddy. They’ve helped me out a lot, and I hope they can help other people too – but if you motivate yourself differently, or have any other tips and tricks, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
1) Plan Plan Plan (but not too much)
My number one go to rule for working out alone and it’s so important, because you can’t stick to something if you don’t have anything to stick to! I’m not saying you have to detail every single exercise that you intend to do, and you also don’t have to plan the whole week’s sessions in advance (you can if you want of course, but just bear in mind that plans can change). Just spend a few moments thinking about what you’re going to train that day, or the next, so that when it comes to the gym floor, you know where you’re headed. Choose a boring, mindless chore- like cleaning your teeth or taking out the bins – and use it to think about what you’re going to do at your next session. I decide what I’m going to train on the morning walk to the gym – it makes a long and tedious journey go much quicker!
2) Break it down
Split the body into however many days you’re planning to go to the gym that week. I’m aware that most of my readers possibly have more of a life than I do, so you may not be planning to go 6-7 times or more in one week. But if you’re planning on going twice, then split the body into two: Upper Body and Lower Body. If you’re planning on three work outs, make it Arms & Chest, Shoulders & Back, Legs & Glutes. Maybe you’re planning on going every week day, and then having the weekend off, in which case I’d go for Legs & Glutes, Chest, Back, Shoulders and Arms. FYI, I tend to add a little bit of cardio and 15 ish minutes of abs to the beginning and end (respectively) of every session. Breaking it down gives you focus – and it means that you don’t end up doing the same thing two days in a row – the body should ideally get 24-48 hours rest for recuperation and maximum effect.
Ps. If you’re like me and are terrible at making decisions, write each body section down on a separate piece of paper and pick them out a hat every morning. Thus the decision-making process is avoided altogether.
3) 5 is a Magic Number
Obviously this will vary depending on how long you’re actually planning on spending in the gym, but for a quick pre/post work session, choosing at least 5 exercises that you want to do will give you a POA to work through. Have a couple of backups in case someone is hogging one of the machines that you want to use – this is bound to happen every now and then so it is super useful to have a spare exercise in mind that will work whatever body section you’ve chosen for that day.
I like to make sure to include at least one compound exercise (lots of muscles being used at once, such as a squat) and then choose other ‘accessory’ exercises based on what muscles are important to overall improve the compound exercise.
If reading all this is just confusing you, take a look at my planner, as it might help explain better!
4) Asking isn’t cheating
Gym memberships don’t tend to come cheap these days. So make the most of the money you’re spending and ask the staff for help. There’s always a fitness instructor or personal trainer on the gym floor – and if there isn’t then go ask for one at reception. Asking just a couple of questions about how to use a machine or how to correct your technique doesn’t mean you’re signing up to a full blown PT programme (although they might try!) so make the most of their knowledge. Asking isn’t cheating and the more you know, the more options you have to choose from.
5) Write it all Down
This was without a doubt the best thing I did when I started working out alone. It’s all very well planning, but if there’s no one by your side, how do you motivate yourself to do the session that you set out to do?
Channel your inner competitive streak – everyone has one, and it means you won’t want to fail, especially if people know about it. So what I do after each session is write down every single exercise that I did, including sets, reps and weights. I then take a picture or a screenshot of what I have written and I send it to my boyfriend/PT. That way, I really make sure that I push myself because I won’t want to send him the picture of my session if I don’t think it’s good enough.
So find a friend, or family member – they don’t necessarily have to be into fitness but it does help! I’m sure they won’t object to receiving your post-workout session photographs and knowing you have to log your workout with someone will give you the push you need- it might even inspire them to join you next time!