Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Tips for starting Body Pump classes

Following on from my post giving tips for starting a New Year fitness regime and then my post giving tips for starting a diet, I thought I would do another post giving tips for starting at Body Pump classes. I love Body Pump and I currently go three times a week. If I can't go to my usual class, I find a way to go to one at a different time. It makes such a difference to my fitness levels and I really work hard without having to jump up and down or have that much coordination. I blogged back in November how I thought strong is sexy (my most viewed post - wonder why?) and it's still true.

If you don't know what Body Pump is, it's a workout with weights to music. For most of the class, you are using a barbell with adjustable weights. Occasionally, you might use dumbbells. The routine is done in a specific order, working one or two muscle groups at a time. You are usually stood up or lying down with no dance steps to learn. Only certain gyms or leisure centres do classes - the instructors have to do special training which is quite rigorous and they have to attend regular workshops to learn new routines. Routines with new music are released quarterly.

Photo credit: tome213
Before you start, don't even think about starting if you have any major joint or muscle injury. This is particularly true of knee injuries so you might want to get medical advice before you start - although you might be able to modify some of the exercises. I'd also be wary of back injuries.

This set of tips comes with the usual proviso that this is written by me and I'm not a qualified fitness instructor. I did Body Pump for about 3 years before children, then on and off for a while, and I've been back regularly for about 8 months. I've been to classes by a whole range of instructors and have probably been there and done that. So, here we go.

1. Don't be intimidated by the class. Just because you think it's full of lots of fit people, you might think it's not for you until you're fit like them. The class is like that because it makes you fit. Everyone can work at their own level at Body Pump - it is one of its great strengths - and seriously, no-one cares if you're using the tiniest weights or the biggest weights. Take the plunge and give it a go.

2. Make sure you start by learning the techniques. Most places run a clinic or technique class about 15 mins before the actual class starts. Make time to get there for that and introduce yourself as new to the instructor. They will take you through the correct techniques, show you how to change weights, that sort of thing. If your centre doesn't offer these classes, be proactive - get to your first class early and tell the instructor that you're new. It's all about the technique - getting it right will reduce the risk of injuries and ensure you're working the parts you're meant to be working! Whatever you do, don't turn up late to your first class.

3. Position yourself where you can see the instructor easily at your first few classes. You don't have to be right at the front but don't take a gamble on the person in front of you having good technique or staying in time. There are always people who may do a particular move incorrectly or do everything too fast. You want to concentrate on the instructor(they may have another person at the front with the instructor sometimes, they'll be fine to follow too). Remember you will be lying down for some of the time and you'll still need to be able to see them.

4. If you've been doing weights in the gym, don't fool yourself into thinking you can use the same ones for Body Pump. Most people do weights for short sets with breaks in between. Body Pump tracks last between 3 and 5 minutes, and maybe one or two short breaks. You'll need a smaller weight for Body Pump. Trust me.

5. Don't worry about using light weights at first. It may take you a few classes to work out what is right for you. You want to be able to complete the track with good technique but the last few should feel hard (and probably hurt, but in a good way). If it feels too easy, try to make a mental note to use more weight the next time. Or you could be really nerdy and write them down so you know but you soon get a grasp of what weights are right for each track.

6. Use the mirrors if you have them. I know that a lot of people don't like looking at themselves in the mirror but it's really useful to check that you're doing the moves the right way. Personally, I don't think it's any coincidence that you see more people with bad technique at classes in halls where there are no mirrors.

7. Listen to the teaching points. They are given for a reason. Sometimes, the instructor is just giving out general points for you to check your technique. Sometimes, without actually saying, they'll be saying it because they have seen one or more doing it wrong. Always assume it's you until you've checked what they're saying. Some instructors will walk around a class to check technique and speak to you individually. Don't be embarrassed - they want you to get it right.

8. Leading on from points 1, 4 and 5, don't compete with the other participants in the class. This is one trap a lot of men fall into - they see a woman stack weight on for a track and think they have to do more, then can't complete the track. Remember it's about you and what you can do, not whether you're lifting the same weights as someone else. We are all different and have different strengths and weaknesses- literally. If you do go regularly, you will improve and most men progress more quickly than women.And don't do the routines faster because your weight is too heavy - just take some weight off, goddammit!

Photo credit - ayeyah
9. And if you do put too much weight on, don't be afraid to take some weight off in the middle of a track. It's better to finish a track with less weight on than have to give up.

10. Do what works for you. Just because everyone else is doing it, it doesn't mean you have to too. Most people lie on a step for the lying down tracks; I have to lie on a mat on the floor. There is more than one way to hold the bar for squats and lunges(I cannot for the life of me do lunges with the bar on my back - and I need to put my back leg up against a wall). If it doesn't feel right, speak to the instructor or watch to see what others do. If you're scared about changing weights between tracks, and there is ample equipment, you can always have two bars ready to avoid this.

11. Listen to your body. I won't lie - it will hurt as a track progresses if you're doing the exercises correctly, but in a "feel the burn" kind of way. Any sharp, sudden pain should not be ignored. And if it really hurts too much, do stop.

12. Afterwards. Yes, you will be sore the day after and probably a couple of days after that. If you start to go to Body Pump regularly, it will stop happening. If you're suffering from DOMS, baths often help. (As do a couple of painkillers!). More exercise may also help too - but again, listen to your body on that one. Some people say stretching helps with this but I think the jury is out on whether they actually make any difference. By all means, do any stretches the instructor suggests between tracks and during the cooldown at the end.

13. Expect to progress (by increasing your weights) about every 4-6 weeks at first. However, if the routine changes in that time, this might throw you off as some tracks are harder than others in different releases. There is no shame in moving back down or taking weight off mid-track if it's suddenly too hard - or even if you're just having a bad day which we all have occasionally. You will know when it's time to go up - it will suddenly feel a ton easier. Do it track by track - there is no point putting up your weights for all of the tracks if only one routine suddenly feels easier.

14. Finally, enjoy it. Don't give up if it feels like too much after one class. Give it a few weeks; you'll probably start to see some results after about 3 weeks.

I have probably mentioned technique a lot in this post, but please don't be fazed by it. Body Pump is all about the technique, but the moves are not hard to learn. It's just worth spending a bit of time learning the right way to do it when you're starting out.

A final point  - if you really want results, you'll still need to watch what you're eating. It won't make up for you eating too much!

Do give it a go, won't you? If you have any questions about Body Pump, feel free to ask me and I'll try to answer them as best I can.
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