5 Workout Questions You've Been Too Afraid to Ask at the Gym

Woman squatting barbellAs a personal trainer, I’m used to clients and gym members asking me lots of questions. These days we live in an information overload, where with a couple of keystrokes, you can research just about anything on the Internet. It’s not surprising people get overwhelmed. With so much conflicting information out there, it’s hard to work out what’s true and what’s not, especially when it comes to the health and fitness industry.

This week I'm answering a few of the questions I'm most asked as a personal trainer. What have you always wanted to ask a personal trainer? See if it made my list:


1.) What weights should I use?

You’re staring at a row of dumbbells in all different weights. You have a vague idea you want to do 10 repetitions of an exercise, but no idea which weight to use. And if you’ve ripped a workout out of a magazine like so many newcomers to the gym, you could check the picture to see the model is using ... the green dumbbells? Um, where are they? 

This is actually an easy question to answer, but it does require a little trial and error on your part. First, think about your goals. Do you want to build strength or stamina and endurance? If you want to get stronger, you should be doing somewhere between 8 to 10 repetitions of an exercise. If you already have the strength, but want to work on endurance, then aim for 15 to 18 repetitions. The number of repetitions refers to the most you can do with your weight. Start on the light side if you’re really not sure what you can do. If you’re aiming for 10 repetitions, and it’s too easy, go up in weight until you find the one you can’t lift more than 10 times.

Questions for personal trainer answered

2.) Should I be doing all my cardio in the fat burning zone?

Those cardio zones listed on the ellipticals, treadmills, and bikes in your gym are a little misleading. Technically, if you are working out at a lower heart rate -- the ‘fat burning zone’ on those little stickers -- then your body is tapping into fat metabolism. However, your body is therefore also in a fat burning zone when you’re sitting on the couch or sleeping. Also remember, if you’re working out at a lower heart rate, you’d have to spend a lot more time doing the exercise to match the calorie burn from working out at a higher heart rate.

3.) What’s your favorite book about strength training?

I get this question a lot, usually from women. The people asking are usually those who want to customize their workout beyond what they find in a magazine or online, and they either can’t afford or don’t want to use a trainer. For women, I usually recommend The New Rules of Lifting for Women as a great place to start. Once you get more comfortable with strength training and what your body can do, you may find you don’t need a book to come up with your own workouts any longer.

4.) How can I avoid bulking up?

This is such a common question from female gym-goers. They want to use weights to build strength, but they’d rather their muscles be defined instead of bulky. First of all, if you think about women in figure competitions or bodybuilders, they have had to work very, very hard in order to get that level of muscle definition. It requires a huge amount of calories and a LOT of heavy lifting to be able to gain that much muscle as a woman. Our hormonal systems just don’t have enough testosterone to allow us to ‘bulk up’ as much as you might be afraid is going to happen.

That said, every body is different, everyone is born with different types of muscle fibers, and you may know from experience that you do tend to build muscle quickly. In that case, so long as you’re satisfied with your current strength level, you can try focusing on endurance strength training of 15 or more repetitions at a lighter weight, or even on body-weight resistance training, like yoga.

5.) How do I use this machine?

Okay, this is actually a question I rarely get, but I wish more people would ask! A lot of strength-training machines are bizarre-looking, and the same machine made by different manufacturers can look totally different. Don’t be afraid to ask a trainer or anyone working at a gym how to use something. It’s smart, not stupid, to ask for advice. You may also find that a trainer will show you a couple of other exercises you can try for the same muscle group that machine is targeting. Good personal trainers are in their profession because they genuinely want people to exercise and see results. We enjoy helping others, even with a small question. Free advice from a professional is always welcome, right? And if they then try to sell you training sessions, just smile and say, "No, thanks!"

What have you always wanted to ask a personal trainer?


Images via Carly Pizzani

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