Over the course of the last two months, I completed the YMCA’s free Fitstart program. It is a weight training program that is designed to help new members learn a variety of exercise machines, and a few assorted free-weight exercises. The program is designed to be used in a three-day-a-week fitness program, and should include cardio as well, but the cardio didn’t seem to be the focus.
Overall, the program was a little better than what you expect to get for free. Normally, a free program is a teaser for something more expensive. To my surprise, there was no push for the personal trainer program at the Y. Over the course of eight weeks, I spent (or would have spent, had schedules not gotten mixed up on week 6) about three hours with a personal trainer. The first week we spent about an hour going over exercising basics, a handful of machines, and two pieces of cardio equipment. Each following week we spent a few minutes (15 or so) going over the new exercises.
As my initial trainer put it, the Fitstart program is a bit cookie cutter in its approach. They have 26 exercises that they’ll teach over the course of 8 weeks. They assume you’ll come three days a week, and that 3 sets of 8-12 reps is the right mix. As a couple of the trainers put it, most people quit the program after 4 or 5 weeks. My week 7 and week 8 trainer were both very surprised to see someone complete the program. Over the course of 8 weeks, I had 4 different trainers. Had my first trainer not taken 4 weeks off due to a kidney transplant (seriously!), he probably would have been my trainer the whole time. It is left to the participant to schedule their Fitstart appointments, and if you have a preference for a particular trainer, you’ll have to take that into account in your scheduling.
So, how did I do? My goals at the beginning were a bit nebulous. I think they could be summed up as: introduce myself to strength training, improve cardiac health (I have high cholesterol), and improve self-esteem. So…
- I feel like I am much more comfortable with the basic concepts of strength training. I’ve checked out several books from the library, and there isn’t too much that intimidates me right now. Squats are the only exception at this time–I’m afraid of blowing out a knee. As for actual strength improvements, I did pretty well. A before-and-after is below.
- I don’t know how well I’ve done with my cardio health yet, but I have a cholesterol test coming up. Hopefully I’ll be able to reduce my medication dosage as a result of the work I’ve been doing.
- My shoulders feel broader, my arms a little bigger, and my stomach’s a little flatter. I didn’t take body measurements before I started, because size isn’t what counts to me right now. My weight, which wasn’t a problem, stayed steady through the program. I’m looking forward to the summer pool season.
So, here are the strength gains. For each exercise, I’ve listed the beginning weight, number of sets completed, and the ending weight. The beginning weight is the highest weight I was able to do on the second day I did that exercise. I don’t count the first day because several were either way under or a little over what I was capable of. The ending weight is the highest weight I could complete a full 8 rep set on.
|Exercise||Starting Weight||Sets||Ending Weight||Improvement per set|
(I haven’t listed every exercise from the Fitstart program here).
Some additional thoughts on my improvements (or lack thereof):
- I might have done more on the low back extension, but I made very careful increases in weight there as I really didn’t want to strain my back.
- Shoulder press was only done in week 3 and week 6. There was simply too much time in between to make real improvement. Also, in week 6, should press came right after biangular chest press, which works many of the same muscles. My shoulders were tired.
- Some of the numbers of sets are not evenly divisible by three (sets per day), or nine (sets per week). Some weeks I felt weren’t tough enough, so I did extra sets of exercises not proscribed by the program.
So far, I’m pleased with the improvements. I’ve already designed my own upper/lower split workout because an hour in the morning before work doesn’t quite allow me to work as many muscle groups as I want. This week is my first attempt at 4 days a week: 2 upper body, 2 lower body + cardio. During the three-day-a-week program, I was frequently itching to get back to the Y so I could do some more. I had to remind myself that my body needed to rest, and that going right back to the gym was not going to help.