Anyone who has ever picked up a dumbbell, hit play on a workout video, or laced up a pair of running shoes has faced-off with one sweat-inducing question: “Now what?”
From figuring out the best training technique to nailing down a weeks-long program, people tend to question the new workout they’re about to jump, dive or sprint right into. In fact, a lot of exercisers ask the exact same things.
So we polled eight top fitness experts on the most common questions they hear from their clients. Their answers are your key to better workouts — and lasting progress.
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8 Common Workout Questions, Answered by Top Trainers
1. “How much weight should I use when strength training?”
Think about your rate of perceived exertion — 1 being “chilling on the weight bench” and 10 being “I seriously can’t do one more rep” — to help determine the right weight. Overall, you should be between a 7 and 9 when strength training, with your last set feeling substantially harder than your first. If a given exercise starts to feel easier than that, it’s time to increase weights until you’re back in that range. Tracking each workout and writing down the amount of weight you use is critical to getting stronger. —Tony Gentilcore, CSCS, owner of CORE training studio in Boston
2. “Why are you having me lift weights for fat loss?”
Fat loss requires more than trying to burn as many calories as possible during a workout. In actuality, the body, being the incredible machine that it is, adapts to steady-state activities and begins burning fewer calories during these (typically cardio-heavy) sessions. What’s more, it also becomes more efficient at storing fat. So, if your goal is to effectively change your body composition, you need to incorporate resistance training into your fitness program. Research consistently shows that resistance training is more effective for fat loss compared to steady-state cardiovascular activities. —Tim Hennigan, CPT, online coach with the Trainerize personal training app
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3. “Are squats and lunges bad for my knees?”
No, squats and lunges are definitely not bad for your knees. In fact, they are highly beneficial to your entire body, and every joint, provided you are demonstrating excellent technique at all times. In my experience, I have found that the reason people have knee aches and pains is not because they are squatting, but because they are not squatting. A healthy body that is appropriately strengthened from top to bottom will be able to perform and demonstrate a proper squat, deadlift or lunge in any variation. —Holly Perkins, CSCS, founder of Women’s Strength Nation
4. “How many calories will this burn?”
The amount of calories burned during a given workout or single exercise varies greatly. There’s no one simple answer or number to give out. It depends on weight used, intensity, speed, fitness level, muscle mass versus fat mass, caffeine consumption, age, current fitness level…and the list goes on. Focus less on calories burned and more on how hard you’re working. If you cut calories and work out hard, you’re going to see changes. – Mike Donavanik, CSCS, CPT, a California-based trainer
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5. “How do I improve my posture?”
Incorporating squats and resistance-band rows into your workout routine will help correct postural imbalances caused by sitting, typing and playing on your phone. Strengthening the glutes with squats is so important because weak glutes allow the pelvis to tilt, which leads to bad posture. Meanwhile, resistance-band rows will help strengthen the muscles that retract your shoulders and counteract slouching. —Taylor Gainor, CSCS, co-founder of LIT Method in Los Angeles
6. “How can I stick with exercise for good?”
The key to long-term success is not to be a lion always fueled by willpower. It’s to be more like Mickey Mouse. Translation: Be fueled by enthusiasm with an occasional turbo boost of willpower. Your mindset on fitness and nutrition can make or break your long-term success. Having an internal dialogue of “I get to” versus “I have to” is one of the key differentiators between people who succeed and fail long-term. It becomes an opportunity when you are fueled by enthusiasm, versus an obligation when you are fueled solely by willpower. You start to live as a fit happy leader with passion and purpose as you raise the bar and defy the odds. —Kyle Brown, CSCS, celebrity trainer
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7. “What should I do to strengthen my abs?”
When I answer with “every exercise,” my clients look at me like I have 10 heads. Here’s what you need to know: The core is the musculature that provides support to the rest of our body. You can think of it the same way you think of a trunk supporting the branches on the tree. In order to be sturdy, strong and resilient, you need the trunk to be solid.
So whether you’re performing lunges, squats, deadlifts, pull-ups or push-ups, you’re still engaging your core in order to efficiently move your body and stay balanced. Better yet, the core supports compound movements, which require more than one muscle group (i.e. squats or deadlifts), which means you can go pretty freaking heavy. And the more you progress the intensity of these bigger exercises, the better off your core will be. You may be surprised you’ll get defined abs without any formal “ab work” or crunches. So challenge yourself with total-body movements. —Erica Suter, CSCS, Baltimore-based strength and conditioning coach
8. “How much time should I rest between sets when strength training?”
Most clients want to increase lean body mass and burn fat. Therefore, I tell them that 30 to 90 seconds allows the body to replenish energy stores so they don’t compromise their workout intensity or form, and can therefore trigger the most lean muscle growth. For absolute strength purposes when performing large, barbell exercises, it’s best to rest for two to five minutes. Absolute strength is not a goal for many of my clients, but I do train some clients to increase their one or three-rep maximum barbell deadlift and bench press. When training for muscular endurance — which is more common in endurance athletes — rest periods during weightlifting typically sits around 15 to 30 seconds. —Mark Barroso, CPT, New Jersey-based trainer
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