Last Updated on May 21, 2023 by Michael Brockbank
When some people think of the gym, they imagine bulking up and walking around like the Incredible Hulk. In reality, though, this doesn’t happen unless you put in the effort to make it happen. There are all kinds of ways the gym can help you reach higher levels of fitness without looking stacked.
After all, there are all kinds of benefits to weight training outside of appearances.
Not everyone wants to have bulging veins popping out of their biceps. However, a lot of people would love an increase in stamina or be able to lift certain things around the house.
Going to the Gym is About Fitness
It’s true that a lot of people will go to the gym with the explicit goal of Hulking out. But even more so, people will use the gym as a means to simply lose weight or improve their cardiovascular system.
I know I constantly work to ensure my heart doesn’t stop on me.
But unless you’re purposely pushing yourself to lift heavier weights while consuming a diet specifically for developing muscle mass, you’re not going to walk out looking like a bodybuilder.
Not to mention how doing so is going to take a great deal of time, anyway. Well, unless you’re using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), which I never suggest doing. There are simply too many risks involved just because you want social clout for appearances.
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t be afraid of the gym because you don’t want to get ripped and bulky. There are all kinds of ways you can make a gym work for you even if it’s just because you want to shed 50 pounds.
The best part is that you can do so outside of treadmills, stationary bikes, or step machines. Although, these are great devices to improve cardio and burn fat.
Weight Training and Bodyweight Workouts
Most gyms I’ve used in the past have a wide selection of weight training methods. Free weights, cables, machines…they all work exceptionally well for helping you improve the muscles in your body.
Nonetheless, they won’t instantly make you swole. Actually, you’ll have that muscle pump after working out. But it’ll go away in about 30 minutes.
Weight training is more than just looking like “The Rock.” Take my soon-to-be-18-year-old daughter, for example. She wants to do the shot put in track this year but has absolutely no strength behind her throw.
Going to the gym and strengthening those muscles will make a huge difference in how she performs. My daughter isn’t bulking up; she just wants to throw something heavier than a crumpled piece of paper further than five feet.
These gyms also usually include a place for bodyweight exercises. Often, this includes stability balls (which I love), various exercise mats, medicine balls, cables, yoga blocks, and a slew of other things you can readily use.
The Planet Fitness I go to even has a stretch cage where you can work on stretching out virtually every muscle in your body.
Skinny vs Fit: There is a Difference
You can lose weight and become skinny simply by changing your eating habits. That is as long as you’re burning more than you consume. However, that doesn’t mean you’re “fit.”
There is a stark difference between the two.
Again, let’s take my daughter, for example. She probably weighs around 110 pounds soaking wet. Although she is skinny at five-nine, she has next to zero stamina, can’t open jars without her little sister’s help, and is incapable of carrying heavier grocery bags.
Sure, she’s thin. But she’s a damn sight away from being fit.
Gym fitness can make a huge difference in her quality of life. Especially since she’ll be moving out soon and won’t have someone to open her jars or carry her groceries.
If she wants to continue competing in track, she’ll need to improve her level of fitness by exercising more.
That’s probably one of the most profound things a lot of people don’t put into consideration. Fitness, in general, is not about looking like a swimsuit model. It’s about improving your quality of life.
Sure, you can be happy being obese. But your life expectancy is much shorter, you’ll need regular assistance for mundane life chores, and you are less likely to enjoy some of the more physical elements life has to offer.
Not to mention some of the more embarrassing things, such as having to wait for the next elevator because your mass puts it over the threshold of what it can carry when there are others loading it up.
Elevators have weight limits for a reason.
Low Weight, High Reps
If you’re new to going to the gym for fitness and don’t want to bulk up, keep in mind that you want low weights and high repetitions. This is because, for most people, lower reps with heavier weights tend to increase muscle mass and density.
Your body has to compensate for lifting heavier weights. Over time, you will start to bulk up.
However, if you keep the weight low but are able to sustain a higher number of repetitions, you’ll burn more calories through movement as well as improve Type 1 muscle fibers.
In other words, your muscles will be slower to exhaust, thus improving stamina.
This is one of the biggest reasons why I focus on three sets at 20 reps each. I’m more focused on the fat burn as well as creating density in the muscles I already have.
Now, I will add five pounds to each weight machine once I get to a certain point in my workouts. But that’s because I want just a bit more muscle mass than what I have now without going overboard.
Besides, my current workout has already improved my golf game. I’m driving roughly 30 yards further than I could before. The gym workouts have also helped me with the accuracy of those drives by improving my balance.
5 Benefits of Using the Gym for Fitness
So, why would you consider using the gym for your fitness needs?
- Most gyms have everything you’ll need
Gyms like Planet Fitness, Vasa, or LA Fitness usually have everything you’ll need regardless of your fitness goals.
- Some have classes and trainers available to help you
A lot of gyms offer workout classes, trainers, and other things to help you in your fitness journey.
- Working out at your convenience
Not all gyms are open 24 hours. But many will have hours you can work around in your busy schedule.
- Plenty of options are available
Because of their popularity, gyms are everywhere. I know in the Denver-metro area, I’m never further than two or three miles from a gym.
- Lifting weights has practical benefits
As I’ve said before, weight training doesn’t merely have to be about bulking up. Can you load a 5-gallon water jug into a water dispenser without getting water everywhere?
Now, I’m not saying that a gym is the end-all, be-all for health and fitness. You can get a lot of benefits from just building a cheap home gym as long as you’re active.
In fact, although I like to go to Planet Fitness, I still use a lot of the things I have here at the house.
Having a Clear Plan of Action for the Gym
As we talked about in the Fitness in Theory podcast from last night, it’s helpful to have a plan when going to the gym. Otherwise, you can stand around like Sam not knowing what to do next.
It all comes down to your goals. What do you want to get out of the gym and where do you want to start?
Now, this will completely be up to the individual. Some people want to look like a much younger version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, while others simply want to work on burning fat while walking on a treadmill.
It’s all up to you.
In my case, I gamify the experience while knowing what I want to accomplish in a specific amount of time. And I have no doubt that I’ll change the routine once I get closer to my goal weight.
Currently, I am working on upper body strength in a specific window of time. So, the machines I focus on using are the means to that end.
For instance, I have a 50-minute window in the mornings before I am late to work or late to give the car back to my friend. In this time frame, I know that I can get at least 20 minutes of walking on the treadmill at 3.6 to 3.8 miles per hour. Then, I can do three sets of 20 reps on four different weight machines.
I usually pick the weight machines I want to use beforehand for specific reasons.
An Example of My Workout
Let’s take today’s routine, for example. Before I even leave the house I know exactly what I want to work on. That way, I’m not standing around looking lost.
Unfortunately, I don’t always get to jump on the machines I want to use. So, I’ll often supplement by getting on a machine I haven’t done in a while.
For instance, my workout routine today looked like this:
- 10 minutes walking on the treadmill at 3.6 miles per hour
- Lat Pulldown Machine – 3 sets of 20 reps at 90 pounds
- Lower Back Extension Machine – 3 sets of 20 reps at 195 pounds
- Tricep Pushdown – 1 set of 20 reps at 90 pounds, felt too easy so I increased the weight, 2 sets at 20 reps at 95 pounds
- Couldn’t get on any chest machine because the gym was so busy, did the Seated Machine Row instead – 1 set of 20 reps at 60 pounds, felt too easy so I increased the weight, 2 sets of 20 reps at 65 pounds
- 10 minutes of walking on the treadmill at 3.6 miles per hour
Next time I go to the gym, I’ll increase the weights by 5 pounds of the exercises I didn’t have to stop before the end of the third set. The ones I had to split and increase, I’ll start with the increased weight.
Something like the above takes me between 48 and 50 minutes…perfect for my work schedule.
During the summer, I’ll walk to the gym and then do five different machines. This takes roughly the same amount of time.
How Often Do You Go to the Gym for Fitness?
The point of all this is that you don’t need to worry about putting on muscle mass at the gym. Unless you’re purposely trying to bulk up, you’ll only improve strength and stamina through various exercises.
Yet, there’s nothing cooler than being able to lift or toss something you thought of as too heavy in the past.
Regardless, there is more to fitness than just “looking good,” and there are all kinds of ways you can do this at the gym.