A gym is a room or suite of rooms containing machines and other equipment to help you get fit and improve your body shape. You will often find them in health club spas, desintation spas, hotel spas and in some day spas. Gyms are often used for a whole-body workout will probably involve elements of aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise, achieved by using anything from a running machine to a yoga mat. Workouts are often done alone, but most gyms will offer personal training sessions.
What is a gym good for?
Any regular aerobic exercise that raises your heart rate will improve your fitness, muscle tone and body shape. Gym equipment is designed to help you exercise in targeted ways, and put together a workout that works for you. Aerobic exercise on exercise bikes, running machines, ski machines and rowing machines raises your heart rate and boosts your circulation. This means that while you are burning fat, you're also improving your skin tone, and raising your endorphin levels. You may well be tired out after aerobic exercise, but you'll also feel happier and more relaxed. It's science!
Gyms vary enormously in terms of quality and style. The gym at a spa is unlikely to have very many people in it at any one time, and will probably be quite a relaxed environment.
For anyone who finds exercise a bit boring, modern equipment gives you the option of wiring up to your own music system. Catch up with current affairs while you work out.
Wait at least an hour after eating before you start exercising. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your exercise to make sure you don't get dehydrated.
What to expect at a gym
When you join a gym locally, you are likely to have an induction, where a trained member of staff will talk you through the equipment and help you devise a routine which will specifically benefit you. If you don't go to a gym at all, or very often, or you haven't been for a long time, you may find the equipment quite confusing. It can be difficult to know where to start. You could even hurt yourself by using equipment in the wrong way, for too long, or before you have warmed up properly.
When you use a spa gym, you may use it like a "drop-in". You may only visit once, and while you're using it you may well be unsupervised. So bear in mind some basic gym rules:
Always ask a member of staff if there is equipment you are not sure how to use, or indeed how to turn something on and off, or how to use it. Don't be embarrassed about asking.
Always read any information or precautions listed by the equipment.
If you use equipment wrongly, or try something that is too much for you, you could easily do yourself more harm than good. If you're uncomfortable, STOP.
Always warm up by doing some cardiovascular, aerobic exercise before you start working with weights.
At the end of your workout, cool down with some stretches or a gentle swim, walk or cycle.
Different types of gym equipment
Different gyms have different makes, styles and numbers of equipment. The following are basic pieces that you should find in most.
Exercise bikes: A good piece of equipment to start on. They have various settings so you can build your intensity, increasing your resistance and speed. You can also go to stationary cycling classes, led by a teacher, where everyone cycles together.
Ski machines: As the name suggests, these mimic the kind of aerobic exercise you get from skiing. Ski machines give you a great cardiovascular workout and are also effective when it comes to toning your thighs, and your tummy. Some motions of the machines can be tough on your knees; ask a member of staff for advice.
Rowing machines: Renowned for offering the most complete aerobic and toning workout for your whole body, rowing burns calories and helps tone pretty much all your muscle groups. Build up your speed gradually. This form of exercise is relatively safe and shouldn't take too heavy a toll on your joints.
Running machines: Brisk walking and running are both efficient ways of improving your fitness and burning calories. You can burn between 500 and 750 calories an hour by running, but even 5 or 10 minutes will bring benefits, and you can gradually increase your time and speed.
The Swiss ball: Also called "exercise balls" or "stability balls", Swiss balls are big, brightly coloured, rubber bubbles in different sizes, chosen for your height and build, and the kind of exercise you're doing. You can use a Swiss ball in a range of ways: from bouncing it for an aerobic workout to strength training for specific muscle groups. You can learn techniques from an instructor individually or go to classes. Swiss balls can help you improve your posture, body strength and co-ordination.
Resistance machines: These build your strength by making a simple physical action more difficult: they resist you. It can be confusing working out how to use them but there should be clear instructions. If there aren't, ask for some. There are resistance machines you sit on, in or under, as well as some you lie down on or stand next to. You will need to pull or push something, with weights attached, and will be able to change the weight to suit you. If you want to increase muscle bulk, increase the weight and do fewer repetitions; if you want to improve muscle tone and shape, use lighter weights and repeat the same motion more often. You do the repetitions in sets of perhaps 10, then rest, then do another 10 and rest again.
Free weights: These are dumb-bells that come in different sizes and weights and are used for a variety of exercises. You can also use weights as resistance to simple movements, as you would with a resistance machine: use different movements to build biceps, triceps, calves, and abs. You can also use free weights in conjunction with a Swiss ball.
If you're self-conscious or lack confidence in a gym, or have been shy about going locally, why not have a consultation in a spa gym? You never have to see either the instructors or the other people again, but you can gain access to some thorough information and ideas on how to get started.