How to get the most from your fitness park visits

Getting the best workout from a gym, fitness centre or a fitness park is not as hard as you might think even if you haven’t worked out before. Your body has several built in sensory systems providing you with real-time feedback on your posture, your exercise form, and your muscular effort. Besides the feedback your body is providing you with, there  are some important guiding principles to be familiar with. So, equipped with feedback from your body and an understanding of the guiding principles, you are ready to be your own personal trainer. Let’s take a introductory look at the Top 8 Training Hints to keep in mind whenever you work out:

Before beginning any workout at the fitness park, do a thorough warm up. This could be a walk from your home to the fitness park, or a walk around the school for 10-15 minutes. Mobilize your joints as you walk, and visualize what exercises you’re going to do for today’s workout. “Warming up” prepares you for working out and may help to prevent injuries. Stretching can be included at the end of a warm up, and individual stretches can also be performed between exercises targetting the muscles you’ve just worked. Once you’ve completed a workout, think about another 5 minute walk to “cool down”, and maybe do some more stretching exercises focusing on relaxing and letting go of tension before you head home.
Before performing any exercise, take a moment to set your posture to “active” mode. Whether the exercise involves standing, sitting, lying, kneeling, or bending: keep your spine long, right through the top of your head. To help, imagine a cord attached to the top of your head. As the imaginary cord is pulled upwards, your spine naturally lengthens. Moving down the posture chain: open your chest, float your sternum, relax your shoulders, lengthen your abdomen, and draw your belly button inwards towards your spine. Maintain a gentle lower back curve. Working out with an “active posture” helps you to be very sensitive to your body as you’re exercising. Being sensitive to your body, you will be able to feel the work and know when to stop.
A common question about resistance training is “how many reps do I do?” For best results with any exercise, perform as many reps as you can without struggle or compromising posture until you feel some muscle fatigue. Muscle fatigue shows your muscles are being challenged and beats reps as a indicator of when to stop. You can stop once you feel a little muscle fatigue, or you can move further into the fatigue zone, extracting more work from your muscles as you go. When you pay attention to how your muscles respond to work in real time, you’ll know when to end a set of any exercise. Using this method guarantees progress. Week after week, as your muscles adapt, it will take more work to reach the fatigue threshold.
Not all exercises are equally important. Single joint upper body exercises, already contained within larger exercises involving multiple joints, need not be included. For example, two-joint pulling exercises “contain” a bicep curl. Any two-joint pressing exercise “contains”a tricep press. How does knowing this help you? You don’t have to include these smaller upper body movements in a workout consisting of pushing and pulling exercises. This saves you time and offers a priority system for identifying the most effective exercises to include. Any single joint exercise, seen to be not already contained within a bigger exercise, is worthy of inclusion, particularly when sequenced within a workout of bigger exercises, to provide some recovery time.
Learn to see beyond exercise names. An exercise name doesn’t reveal much about the movement you are performing. For instance, the exercises –bench press, pushups, decline press, and incline press– are all variations in the upper body movement theme of “pushing from the chest”. Knowing this, your workout can be based on movement themes, each with several exercise choices. Building your workout from movement themes adds variety, encourages you to learn new exercises, and it frees you from the monotony of the same workout day after day. Think about accounting for movement themes like “pushing out from your chest”, “pulling in towards your chest”, “pushing up from your shoulders”, “pulling down towards your shoulders”.
By design, the Windermere Community Fitness Park encourages users to move from exercise to exercise, station to station. When moving from exercise to exercise, you get more work done sooner, and you get fitter, faster. It’s important to pay attention to your body when you work continuously. If an exercise leaves you breathing hard, follow with an exercise that is simpler, less challenging overall, and uses fewer joints and muscles. Sequence a pair of 2-joint movements like “pushing from your chest” and “pulling twards your chest”, with a single-joint movement like “up on your toes”. The pair might leave you breathing harder, while the single joint movement lets you recover to normal breathing. Sequencing leads to better workouts.
You’ve taken the time to pay attention to active posture, now let’s consider “range of motion” as another way to exercise safely and effectively. Focusing on range of motion (ROM) means to allow a joint to open and close fully during an exercise. Working out through a natural ROM preserves flexibility, and helps your muscles do their best work. For instance, when a muscles contracts fully during the work phase of an exercise, it’s natural to allow that muscle to fully lengthen, to stretch momentarily on the return phase. Fresh blood flows into the muscle between reps under these conditions. This enables you to achieve more work before fatigue sets in. Healthy muscles and joints depend on a full ROM.
Congratulations! You’ve visited the Windermere Community Fitness Park and you’ve left after an excellent workout. As you walk home, your muscles feel a little weak and maybe a bit shaky. This is a natural indicator of a quality workout and tells you loud and clear that you now need to stay away from the fitness park for a couple of days to allow your muscles, joints and connective tissue to heal and recover from the last workout. Progess without injury in any weight training program goes like this. Each workout breaks the body down (in a good way) and to follow this up with resting, eating and sleeping well ensures your body recovers and you return for your next workout stronger with more capacity for work. Work + recovery = progress!

1. Warm Up

Always begin your workout with a thorough warm up

2. Active Posture

Maintain an active posture whenever you are exercising

3. Feel the Work

Your muscles will tell you how much work is enough

4. Big vs. Small

Choose exercises that use several muscles and joints

5. Go Beyond Names

Learn to see the core movements in every exercise

6. Sequencing

Pair pushing with pulling exercises; easier with harder

7. Range of Motion

Practice a full range of joint motion for best results

8. Recovery

Exercise breaks you down, recovery builds you up

Taking a deep dive into the Top 8 Training Hints

In this space over the next few weeks we’ll be taking a deep dive into the Top 8 Training Hints. These are important topics to consider now that you’ve embarked on a workout program. The Top 8 Hints will help guide you, give you a sense of control, and make you feel a little bit more like your own personal trainer. Each hint is worth exploring as a topic on its own beyond the limited introduction above. We’ll be devoting an entire page to each of these topics:

  • Warm Up
  • Active Posture
  • Feel The Work
  • Big vs Small
  • Go Beyond Names
  • Sequencing
  • Range of Motion
  • Recovery

This page was prepared by WCFP Volunteer William Vrabel, NSCA-certified Personal Trainer with more than 30 years of experience working the front lines of Vancouver’s public fitness centres. By the time William retired in 2010, he’d taught 1000’s of citizens how to be their own personal trainer through the empowerment model expressed above.