Hitting the Gym

Going to the gym is one of the most popular sports in modern history. It is universal and can be found in any country. It has many varieties, ranging from a home gym to a state of the art wellness centre. If you are reading this post you are most likely interested in going to the gym yourself. But maybe you have found yourself lacking the motivation or drive, information or knowledge about making the most of fitness. This article will inform you of these two themes. After reading you will know how to motivate yourself and know what to do in the gym!


People generally think that motivation is the key to hitting the gym regularly. This, however, is a misconception. Motivation is only the start and will never keep you going again and again (and again). Let’s consider motivation as the start of your career in the gym. Your motivation should be intrinsic, meaning that the goal you set should be set by wanting something yourself. An example of intrinsic motivation is the need for losing some weight, gaining some muscle, preventing heart diseases (and other bodily discomforts). All of these goals are legit ways of starting and motivating yourself. Bad examples are those that define the goals based on external motivation; because my boss told me, because everyone is doing it, because Floris told me so.

Now that we know what good and bad examples are we can explore how we can make the good examples even better. A goal should be formulated in a specific way, the SMART way. This mnemonic stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound. A goal related to losing weight could be formulated in the following fashion; I want to lose 4 kilograms in the coming month by exercising in the gym every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for 1,5 hours with my schedule. It is specific by stating precisely what you are going to do. It is measurable in setting the (specific) goal of losing 4 kilograms. It is attainable in the time frame, but also quite challenging (and that is ok). It is relevant because the person who wants to lose weight is able to relate to this goal. And the limit of the month is making it time-bound. Your goal can now be set!

[insert your goal here…]


Having a goal is, as stated before, the first step. Now it is off to completing of the goal (in this example within a month). When you start working on achieving a goal the motivation of wanting to reach the goal will be enough to keep you going. It will drive you to get up early, hit the gym, feel exhausted, but at the same time feel a sense of accomplishment. But after a week, or two weeks pass you start to lose interest. Going to the gym is fun and all, but it is serious business and you are not seeing the cost-benefit equation being in balance. You feel like giving up. You have forgotten to make going to the gym a habit.

Making something a habit is a trick that is built on cravings (reaching your goal) and uses this in combination with a cue, habit and reward. You start with a cue that starts you thinking about going to the gym, this may be every (second) morning after eating breakfast or whenever you are finished with work. Every time you encounter the cue, go to the gym. This will make going to the gym a habit within two weeks. And now to the fun part, the reward. Make sure that you reward yourself for going to the gym. Every time you finish your session reward yourself with a protein bar, a new episode of Friends, or writing down what new achievements you have accomplished. Before long your brain will start to associate the cue with the reward and you will not despise, but crave going to the gym.


Going to the gym of course also has some intrinsic motivators. You will get an endorphin kick from working out, you will be able to do more every next time, better your body, and have more energy. Working out is not only for the ‘muscle’ guys and the following exercise routine is definitively not meant for this group. The exercises below can be done by anyone that is interested in using fitness to reach your goals. They are preferable done once or twice a week (for instance doing One, Two, One in the first week, and Two, One, Two the next week). Always ask the personnel of your local gym for help and more (personal) advice:


  • Cardio: 15 minutes of cardio is a great way to get your muscles warmed up. Using the cross-trainer is a great way of doing this without putting too much pressure on your body, and by using the resistance level you can adjust the level to your liking. Other forms of cardio like running and cycling are also perfectly fine.
  • Stretching: a few minutes of stretching is recommended at the start of the work-out routine. Muscles are now warm and can use some stretch to prevent injury during the exercise program. Some basis stretches are; calf stretch, quadriceps stretch, toe touches, hip flexor stretch, shoulder stretch, and upper back stretch.

Day One

  • Legs: one exercise that is associated with advanced training is the squat. The squat is actually a very basic exercise and is to be recommended for everyone. Please find an instructor to help you the first time, since this involves a free weight (on a bar). And/or watch instructions online. If you are not comfortable with this exercise you can use a machine that lets you push away the weight with your legs for a similar (but inferior) exercise.
  • Back: to target your back you can do a variety of exercises. One of the main exercises is the pull-up. In many gyms, you can find machines that assist you with weight when pulling yourself up. Or an alternative is to use a machine in which you pull down a weight (pull-down). The first exercise targets your lats, this next one is for your middle back. To train your middle back you can do seated rows, in this exercise you pull a cable towards your chest whilst seated. Remember to keep your back straight!
  • Biceps: free weights are key to building great muscles. For the biceps, you can do either hammer curls or biceps curls (the former giving more attention to the middle of the muscle). Using a barbell (bar) is of course also possible.

Day Two

  • Legs: please work out your legs every single time. Your legs are the biggest group of muscles in the body and will give you the most return on effort (in muscle growth and calories burnt). See Day One for the exercises.
  • Chest: the chest can be trained by doing the bench press. This barbell exercise is very easy to do but may require a spotter when you use a lot of weight. For people who are uncomfortable with this exercise can use machines, but this will certainly halter your muscle development.
  • Triceps: using free weights again is the best way of training your arms. Use a weight and raise it from behind your neck to above your head (tricep overhead extension). Using an EZ-bar (a bar that is curved) can also be used for training both arms at the same time.
  • Shoulders: whilst sitting down raise two dumbbells next to your shoulders, now raise them up in the air. This very basic exercise will transform your shoulders and will most probably give you some muscle pain the next day.
  • Abs: abs can be best trained on both days, but for convenience are only included on day two. Doing crushes is still the best way of training them and machines are a bad replacement. So sit-ups it is!


  • Cardio & Stretching: when ending your day at the gym remember to do your stretches once more. And if you have some energy left, do some more cardio!


If your goal is strength training than this paragraph is very important to you. The basis exercises described above are very accessible to anyone and are a good starting point. But if you want to gain muscles whilst training three times a week, you should follow the 5×5 program. This is an alternation between two days of exercise that both only include three exercises. The first is; squat, bench press, and barbell rows. The second is; squat, overhead press, deadlift. Each of these exercises you start with warming up (empty barbell) and end up doing 5 times 5 for the weight that is appropriate. Using free weights has significant advantages over using machines. Free weights force your body to balance the weight yourself and allow you to do natural movements.


Hitting the gym is a new habit that you can easily learn. It is both fun and rewarding. It is up to you to make going to the gym a new habit and to see yourself progress in reaching your goal. Making a new habit can be a challenge in the first few weeks but will stick with you for the long haul. More energy in your life and success in building the body you want are the results of those few hours in the gym. But never forget to give yourself rewards that are immediately linked to going to the gym. Now get going with your new habit and see you in the gym!


References & Further Reading:

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria

2. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ScTvqTbKB7IC&pg=PA234#v=onepage&q&f=false

3. http://topachievement.com/smart.html

4. http://topachievement.com/goalsetting.html

5. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/07/17/the-golden-rule-of-habit-change/

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorphins

7. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stretching/SM00043&slide=11

8. http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/finder/lookup/filter/exercisetype/id/3/exercisetype/stretching

9. http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/

10. http://stronglifts.com/free-stronglifts-5×5-report/