Gym Workouts to Give You a Lean, Toned Look

Walking into a gym might be daunting for the first time, but it’s not as scary as it seems. Knowing what kind of workout is best suited to your goals will help you make that step.

Why go to a Gym?

If you’ve been thinking about improving your health and fitness, the idea of joining a gym is sure to have crossed your mind. You may even have joined one before, only to find yourself never stepping foot in the place again after that first day.

Of course, you don’t have to go to a gym to reach your health and weight loss goals – there are plenty of fitness exercises you can do at home or outdoors. But a lot of people love going to the gym, and they can’t all be wrong. So what would you get out of it?

  • All the equipment you need is under one roof – you won’t need to set up a home gym or invest in workout DVDs and books
  • You can exercise no matter what the weather is like – too wet, too cold or too hot
  • Gyms can be good places to meet like-minded people
  • A gym will usually have personal trainers and fitness instructors to help you meet your goals and create a workout program tailored to your needs
  • Trainers and instructors will also show you how to use a machine or do an exercise
  • Going to the gym creates a clear distinction between exercise and your home and work life – it’s a great place to escape to
  • You can be exposed to new forms of exercising and fitness classes
  • Some gyms have on-site physios, massage therapists and nutritionists

What is your Goal for the Gym?

The first thing you need know when you go to a gym is what you want to achieve. Setting goals will help you determine the best kinds of workout for you.

Goals might include:

  • Losing weight
  • Improving your fitness
  • Improving your flexibility
  • Reducing health risks like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Training for an event like a fun run, half marathon or charity bike ride
  • Toning and sculpting your body
  • Strength training and bodybuilding

Of course, these goals might overlap. You might want to lose weight while training for a fun run. Or you might want to improve your fitness while toning and sculpting your body and reducing your health risks. In fact, reducing your health risks will nearly always result from any of the other goals!

Whatever the case, once you’ve discovered what you want to achieve, you can decide what kind of workouts to follow. If you’re having trouble setting your goals, joining 12WBT will set you on the right path, with a Pre-Season task designed especially to help you do that.

What kind of Workouts should you do at the Gym?

Not all workouts are the same. For a start, they vary depending on whether you’re a beginner exerciser or have heaps of experience. On top of that, they’d be different depending on your goals.

Having said that, most gym workouts will combine a combination of the following, to greater or lesser degrees:

  • Weight training with machines, free weights (like barbells and dumbbells) and bodyweight exercises (like push-ups and lunges)
  • Cardio using treadmills, cross-trainers, rowing machines or gym classes
  • Core and abdominal exercises
  • Stretching to improve your flexibility and avoid injury

So, let’s say you’re looking to lose weight and tone up. A typical gym program for you might include a couple of sessions a week of cardio, a couple of sessions of weight training and a session of abs and stretching. You could even throw in a circuit-training session that includes all of the above.

You might wonder if it’s worth doing weight training, but it’s important for different reasons. If your goal is weight loss, developing lean muscle boosts your metabolism, so you burn more calories even when you’re not exercising – and who wouldn’t want that?

If you’re training for a fun run or half marathon, adding two gym sessions of either weight training or bodyweight exercises plus one of stretching and abdominal work will greatly improve your running technique and lower your risk of injury.

Finally, if you’re looking to sculpt your body to give it a more defined shape, weight training is the best way to do that.

What should a Basic Gym Workout consist of?

If you’re new to gyms and your goal is weight loss, you’re best off doing a whole-body workout twice a week, using gym machines, free weights and bodyweight exercises. The term ‘whole-body’ simply means that during the workout you’ll be doing exercises that work muscles throughout the entire body – instead of concentrating on a particular area.

For the beginner, or for someone who wants to incorporate weight-training days as part of a running program, doing two whole-body workouts a week means they’re developing all the muscles they need to function well in their daily lives and chosen sports.

You’ll need to incorporate exercises that train the chest, arms (biceps and triceps), shoulders, back and various parts of the leg (quadriceps, hamstrings and calves). You’ll also need to work your abs to firm up your stomach as you lose weight.

Don’t worry if all this talk of different muscle groups is confusing or freaks you out! Many gyms will offer you an initial assessment plus a workout program that covers all the right body parts. Even if your gym charges a fee for this, it’s worth investing in it to make sure you’re on the right track from the start.

Your program would involve doing two or three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions for each exercise, which your gym instructor will show you how to do. You should use a weight that feels comfortable but which is difficult for the last two or three reps, and you’ll need to rest for 45 to 60 seconds between each set of 12 to 15 reps.

Of course, if you sign up to 12WBT, you’ll be given comprehensive programs with full video instructions for every exercise.

Combine your weights workouts with a couple of days of cardio. In a gym, this could consist of a five-minute warm-up on a cross-trainer, followed by a 15 to 20 minutes run on the treadmill, 10 minutes on a stationary bike and 10 minutes of interval sprints.

Mix things up by doing any combination of these or, if you prefer, choose from one of the many gym classes [add link] on offer, such as BodyAttack, Spin or Zumba, to give you a great cardio workout.

Take your Gym workout to the Next Level

Once you’ve mastered a basic workout, you can look at increasing your weights and introducing more variety into your routine.

For example, you can perform variations such as ‘super sets’. These are when you perform two exercises for different body parts straight after each other but without resting between each set. For example, you’d do 12 to 15 chest presses followed immediately by 12 to 15 leg presses. And then you’d have your 45 to 60 second rest.

Or you could do a ‘compound set’, which follows a similar principle but hits the same body part twice – so, you’d do 12 to 15 chest presses followed immediately by 12 to 15 pec decs, both of which work the chest, and then you’d rest.

Similarly, you might decide to concentrate on only two body parts in each of your sessions and increase your weight training to four days a week. This kind of training is more suited to body-sculpting and is designed to really develop your shape.

For more details about specific ways to train and how to work different body parts, go to our section on building muscle.

Will I Bulk up if I go to the Gym?

While a lot of guys are keen to develop a muscled look and look like a professional footie player, many women avoid gym workouts with weights because the last thing they want to do is bulk up. So, will working out with weights leave you looking like The Hulk?

The short answer is, only if you take steroids. (And we wouldn’t advise that for anyone!) Women don’t have enough testosterone to build significant muscle mass naturally, and the sort of training described here isn’t nearly enough to lead to maximum muscle growth. It will, however, change your muscle shape, so you’ll have a more toned look.

So for most women, using weights will lead them to lose weight and tone up, increasing their metabolism and fitness and leaving them with a leaner, more lithe body.

Keeping your reps within the 12 to 15 range is ideal for this purpose, and there’s no need to worry about sticking only to very light weights. You can still use weights that challenge you. Lifting heavy weights isn’t just for guys!