Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How to Pick a Gym

School has started back up, routines are getting set.  The countdown to getting your 'best summer body' has reset again.  Many people pick up where they left off in their training regimen around August or September - or maybe you're deciding it's a good time to just get started at all.  Either way, you've decided to join a gym.

I wrote an article last year about how to pick a personal trainer, but if your first priority is a great facility, starting with this article might be a good idea.  With so many facilities to choose from, and so many different styles, it's hard to know where to start.  Here's how to narrow down your list:

1) Decide what your goals are

If you want to run a marathon, you'd do well to pick a gym that has treadmills available.  If you go to the gym at the popular hours (before 10 AM and after 4-5PM), you'll want to make sure you pick one with a lot of available treadmills, as they are one of the most popular pieces of equipment.

The same applies if you want to get stronger - pick a gym with more than one squat rack, multiple barbells, plenty of plates and dumbbells that go over 45 pounds.  Just looking to improve your health?  A gym with a solid combination of free weights and different forms of available cardio or conditioning equipment (sleds, prowlers, jump ropes, treadmills, bikes, floor space to make your own circuit, etc) would be a good fit.

So. Many. Treadmills.

2) Know what kind of activities you like to do

There are several fitness facilities with specialties, such as LA Boxing, Crossfit affiliates, dojos, yoga studios, etc.  Some will have open hours, others are by class or by appointment only.  Some have a mix of traditional equipment (treadmills, weights) with their speciality equipment while others will only do their specific activity.

If you feel you'd be best motivated by mixing in group classes with your traditional workouts, pick a commercial gym with an expansive group fitness program.  If you want to learn some fighting techniques and feel that would best motivate you to get moving, pick a dojo or boxing gym.

Regardless of what I, or anyone else tell you is "best" to get in good health, the best program is the one you'll do.  If that means sticking with group exercise classes, more power to you for finding something you enjoy!

Did you know: It is near impossible to find a picture of a girl in a sports bra doing any kind of physical activity who doesn't have a 6-pack?

3) What features do you require?

I put this point last for a reason - some features that people think they 'need' can be pretty frivolous.  Depending on how serious you are about changing your body composition or getting stronger, faster, whatever, certain facilities are just plain going to be better at getting the job done that may not mesh well with your job/kids/schedule/etc.  Here are some factors that many take into consideration when picking a facility:

  • Shower Availability - if you work during your lunchbreak or before work, for some this can be necessary.  Most commercial gyms have these and some studios.
  • Childcare - Many big, commercial gyms will have this, but I've never seen it in smaller or private facilities.  
  • Hours - While gyms usually have an array of hours (typically 5:30AM till 8 or 9PM), if you work odd shifts, there are some 24 hour fitness facilities such as Snap Fitness around.  
  • Price - Crossfit is expensive.

Local Area Gyms - The Triangle

If you're a local reader, here are a few of my favorite facilities.  It's a good mixture of commercial, private, and semi-private.  Take a look at these examples to get a feel for the different types of facilities out there, and if you're in the area, consider them for your back-to-school fitness plans!


Empower Personal Training - Private Studio
You know I gotta talk about my own place of work!  Empower is a private personal training studio - one of a few in the area.  If you see a facility with 'studio,' chances are they work by appointment only.  

Empower offers a clean facility with a wide variety of equipment to train populations ranging from 8 to 90+ years of age; ultra-marathon runners, powerlifters, young athletes and everyday people will find the experience and equipment they need.  On top of that, with a small, family-like atmosphere, Empower can help even the most unmotivated of exercisers find the push they need to get to the gym - and find others in the same boat!  Frequent events, promotions and a dedicated staff of personal trainers always available to answer questions or help make Empower a facility to keep coming back to.

RTP Fitness - Commercial
Although recently under new ownership, RTP is a fantastic facility for the amateur or serious weightlifter.  Not only does it provide a wide variety of free weights and strength training equipment, but several serious lifters have been working out here for years.  Never underestimate the power of a good atmosphere on your motivation and progress!  

Reasonable rates with the typical commercial gym accommodations AND one of the best free-weight areas in the city?  Definitely high on my recommendation list for anyone wanting to get in serious shape.

Raleigh Area

Capital Strength & Conditioning - Private and Semi-Private Training focused, select memberships

2422 Atlantic Ave, Raleigh, NC, 27604

Though a relatively new facility in the Raleigh area, Capital Strength & Conditioning already houses quite a bit of square footage filled with all the equipment any serious trainee could want - bands, chains, bumper plates, turf, dynamax balls, kettlebells - the list goes on!  Take 5 minutes to talk to the owner, Matt, and you'll know your body and fitness goals are in good hands.  A great atmosphere with other committed trainees, excellent high-quality equipment, and an owner who is always willing to spot or offer advice, and you've got all you need for success.

Typically the staff works in private one-on-one sessions or small group/semi-private sessions, but they do offer some boot-camp style classes and select memberships.  With extremely reasonable rates for such a high-quality facility, if you live around the capital, it's a good value and definitely worth your time.

Cary / Morrisville

Iron Pit Gym - Group and Semi-Private Training focused, select memberships
Owned and operated by one of the nicest powerlifters I know, Iron Pit Gym is definitely a go-to facility to improve athletic performance, get stronger, and get your head straight.  If I had to make a wish-list of equipment to have in a gym, Iron Pit has every single piece on it, plus a few extras.  The facility boasts an extremely impressive staff - those who have trained under Louie Simmons of powerlifting fame, former strength and conditioning coaches for a variety of professional and college football teams, not to mention they've all walked the walk and can probably out-lift you.  

Iron Pit typically works in group sessions of athletes, though there are some private and semi-private sessions as well.  If you're an experienced lifter, they offer membership rates, though typically they'll test you out first to make sure you know what you're doing!  With great staff, atmosphere and ridiculously reasonable rates, it's definitely worth checking out.

If all else fails, many facilities will offer either free tours or even a couple of free passes for you to get the full effect for yourself!

Have any questions?  Let me know below, and happy gym shopping!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fat Loss, Minus the Cardio: Month 6 - Far from the end

The not-really ending of a long journey.  Well half a year seems like pretty sufficient time to make my point - which I hope I've accomplished.  Doesn't seem like it's even been that long!  But now is a good time to review this process and what the results were:

Cardiovascular exercise (such as running, swimming, biking, walking, any kind of continuous motion for and extended period of time) is not necessary to lose body fat or weight.  Diet and following a resistance training program are much more important.  

Diet - I used a combination of the following techniques:

  • Intermittent Fasting - Typically I have a minimum 'fast' of 16 hours every day, but sometimes I didn't follow this.  I think I only ate breakfast three or four times during this entire 6-month span. Sometimes my 'fasts' were only 12 hours, sometimes they were over 24 hours.  Just depended on how I felt.
  • Carb Manipulation - Basically I try to keep my carbohydrates to majority post-workout.  Of course, I didn't always follow this. (See: The weekend)
  • Not eating so damn much - pretty self-explanatory.
Exercise - I performed a resistance-training routine 2 to 4 times per week, 3 times per week on average. Sometimes I would throw in a <10 minute high-intensity complex or circuit, but that wasn't very often.  I went on a couple of hikes and threw around the frisbee quite a bit, but other than that I didn't do anything else.  I didn't step on a piece of cardio equipment. (Except when I was cleaning them at work)

Weight (9/2/12): 154lbs

One week ago, I was 152lbs.  Between that day and now, I did a good amount of celebrating my boyfriend's birthday weekend as well as just general over-eating during the week.  I'm a little disappointed, mostly because it doesn't make for a very exciting ending!

Pictures (Taken 9/2/12):

Back (Relaxed)

Back (Flexed)

Well, you can help me with this one.  The number on the scale most certainly went down.  I lost 21 pounds over 6 months, or a little less than 1lb per week, which is pretty on-track for most weight-loss efforts. (if slightly below what most people would want to see)

Not only that, but I did this without a super restrictive diet.  I frequently enjoyed things like fried egg bacon cheeseburgers, quesadillas, desserts, occasional alcohol, and more bacon. Some might say that going ~16 hours without eating everyday is restrictive, though I personally found it more convenient.

It just comes down to personal preference.  I would prefer to have 1 or 2 big meals a day than 5 or 6 low-calorie ones.  Do you prefer the latter?  That's fine too.  You don't have to eat the way that I did.

But I think there are some things to take away from it:
  • I lost a good amount of weight on a good timeline without eating breakfast.  You don't have to eat breakfast.  It does not 'jumpstart' your metabolism.  You do not have to eat breakfast.  You do not have to eat breakfast.
  • Quite a bit of my diet was fat.  Peanut butter, cheese, red meat, dairy, you name it, I ate a lot of it.  I still lost fat.  (Next time I go to the doctor I'll do some blood tests and post my results here when I get them.)
  • Sometimes I went 24 hours or more without eating, if I didn't really feel hungry.  I didn't die.  I still lost fat.
  • I still kept my calories within the 1200-1800 range, depending on the activity I did that day.  I may have eaten fried-egg bacon cheeseburgers, but if one of them was 1400 calories, that was all I ate that day.  
I attribute the majority of my weight loss to these dietary changes.  However, resistance training was a required component as well, and not just because I'm a powerlifter.  If you don't weight train, chances are your body will take the energy it needs from not just your fat stores, but your muscle as well.  Muscle takes calories to maintain and if your body doesn't perceive a reason to keep it around (such as regular lifting of heavy objects), then it will get rid of it.  You don't have to squat for heavy singles or doubles like me, but resistance training in one of its many forms must be present to see good changes in body composition - not just a lower number on the scale.

Overall I found the process pretty exciting and not hard to follow most of the time.  There were a few days where all I wanted to do was eat, but anytime I had a craving for something, all I had to do was have a little patience.  If I was craving a Reese's Cup and I had already eaten all I was going to eat that day, well, Reese's Cups will still exist tomorrow.  I'm fitting into clothes I haven't been able to wear since about my sophomore year of college, but kept around, ya know, just in case.  Incidences of me looking in the mirror and thinking "damn you look good," have increased exponentially.  Hard not to see the process as worth it for those 2 reasons alone.

Because 'everyday' pictures sometimes give a different perspective than my above before and afters:

Not a huge difference but I think my face lost a pound.

So you tell me - did I do a good job presenting this information?  Did I prove my points?  What would you have wanted to see done differently?  Are there any questions you feel were left unanswered, or do you think I made a mistake somewhere?  Let me know.  

And thanks for coming on this journey with me!

Weight Loss

3/18/12 - 175
3/29/12 - 171 (-4)
4/13/12 - 167 (-4)
4/29/12 - 164 (-3, )
5/14/12 - 161.3 (-2.7)
5/27/12 - 160lbs (-1.3)
6/24/12: 158 (-2)
8/1/12: 155 (-3)
9/1/12: 154 (-1, -21 total)