Ask the Trainer: Which Workout is For Me?

By Allen Gardner

Allen is in his second year as a professional triathlete and trains out of Boulder, Colo. Pharmaca sponsors Allen, 26, who competes in 12-14 triathlons around the country each year.

As a personal trainer and a professional triathlete, I often get asked questions about the types of training that are best to attain certain goals. One of the most common questions I get asked—especially by newbies to the fitness scene—is, How do I know what the best type of workout is for me?

As simple as this question may be, it’s very open-ended. The most basic answer would be, Do what you love! If you enjoy a type of fitness or class, do it.

But to give a more complete answer, I have to ask further questions:

What is your current physical fitness level? What are your goals? Do you want to lose weight? Gain muscle? Do you enjoy social classes or individual workouts more? And what is your motivation to do this type of training/workout?

I can’t give everyone a precise answer on which direction to go because, ultimately, that’s up to you. What I can do is help you narrow the choices down.

First you need to evaluate where your current fitness level is. Second is understanding that different types of fitness have different stress levels. If you’re just getting back at it, choose something relatively easy. Let your body adjust to its new stresses. Limit the workouts to 30 minutes, with a low level of intensity (shoot for an effort level of 3-4 on a 10-point scale). Once you find a workout that interests you, increase your workout intensity as you see fit and your body begins to adjust.

Next, define what you want out of your workouts. If you belong to a gym, look at the class schedule—often gyms will have a description of a class and what it can do for you. Get involved in classes that coincide with goals you have set for yourself (Weight loss? Muscle gain?). Have fun with it!

Typical weight loss exercises will be geared towards cardio, such as walking, running, stair stepping, cycling, hiking, rowing, etc. All of these exercises will need to be done for an extended period of time to get the benefits of a cardio workout.

If your goal is muscle gain, look for workouts involving free weights or machine weights. To develop lean muscle, a workout will consist of more reps and less weight; to build size you will need more weight with fewer reps.

There are many classes in a gym setting that can meet both weight loss and muscle gain goals. Examples include zumba, spin classes, dance classes, weighted aerobics, etc.

If you already have a gym membership, take advantage of the resources there—you should have access to personal training and knowledgeable people that can lead you in the right direction. Many trainers will offer free advice along with a free session so you can see what they have to offer. Personal training can be a great option if you want serious guidance with your workouts, but sessions can range from $25 to $100 per hour. What I recommend to all my clients is that they see me once every few weeks to ensure they are doing exercises correctly. This is a less expensive option and gives clients the ability to take control of their training. No matter which option you choose, make sure the personal trainer you get advice from is extremely knowledge about the body, is certified and understands your needs.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that your workout needs to be FUN! Whatever you choose should add a level of happiness to your current life. So do some research, experiment with different workouts and have fun getting fit!