Ask First Lift Later

Some people are comfortable asking questions when they're lost or confused, while others (usually men!) remain silent, even if it means they must wander aimlessly for hours. Much to our surprise, we consistently see people working out who clearly are clueless when it comes to the nuances of a particular machine. "Nuances my ear," you say. "This is a gym, not an art gallery!" Well, okay, let's just say that just about every piece of equipment can be adjusted in a variety of ways. For example, many benches can be set to a different angle; certain machines can be adjusted to your specifications; and some bars are better suited for certain exercises than others. It can be confusing until you learn which end is up.

Just as you wouldn't wander aimlessly around your workplace during the first week on the job, you shouldn't work out at the gym trying to figure out each piece of equipment for yourself. It seems rather obvious, but when in doubt, ask someone who clearly knows what's what—preferably a staff member.

One way to avoid confusion when you first start out is to take advantage of new member orientations. During these orientations, a staff member will take you through each workout apparatus and show you how to adjust it to your level of skill and your specific physique. In addition, many gyms offer a workout log with each setting and adjustment recorded on a card to help guide you during future visits. You can consider this a road map to terrain that will soon become as familiar to you as your own backyard.

Similarly, you shouldn't be shy when it comes time to ask someone to be your spotter. (A spotter is someone who stands by to help you control the weight should you reach failure in the middle of a repetition.) This ensures that you don't get stuck under a weight that's too heavy for you to remove. While a good spotter can help you squeeze out an extra repetition or two and help you get the most out of each exercise, the most important role a spotter plays is to ensure safety. One of the advantages of machines over freeweights is that machines are generally safer and, unless you want someone to help you squeeze out a few extra repetitions, don't require a spotter for the sake of safety.

When do you use a spotter?

>- If you're doing an exercise that you can't walk away from if you "fail" in the middle of a rep.

>- If you want to get a little extra out of your workout, your spotter can help you do a few assisted reps instead of quitting as soon as you're out of gas.

>- If you want to see how many repetitions you can get at a certain weight. Say, for example, you want to bench press 135 pounds 12 times but aren't confident you can do more than 10.

Finally, if a spotter isn't available, wait until a staff member or trusted fellow exerciser near you is available. In the meantime, don't just sit around; consider whether another exercise can do the trick by working the same muscle in a safer fashion. (As you'll see later, just about every freeweight exercise has a machine equivalent.)

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