Get the most out of your gym

Gym memberships can be expensive, so once you've signed up it's important to take full advantage of the equipment, trainers and classes on offer.

get the most from your gym

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Build up slowly
You might be paying a substantial monthly sum for your gym membership but if it's been a while since you worked out and your fitness is at an all-time low, that first rush of enthusiasm can do more harm than good.

Not only do you risk injury by doing too much too soon, you're likely to suffer from workout burn out quicker than you can say 'exercise bike'.

Don't be ashamed of starting with a weekend workout or a once-a-week trip. The key to truly getting fit is to build up slowly and it is better to start small and continue than go the whole hog and give up a month later.

As your fitness improves you'll be able to hit the gym more often, raise the intensity of your workouts or supplement gym fitness with swimming or a bike ride to work. And don't forget to warm up and cool down properly by choosing a gentle setting on your chosen machine and avoiding injury.

Gym equipment
What equipment you use while at the gym depends entirely on what you hope to gain (or lose, as the case may be) from your exercise programme.

Improving your cardiovascular fitness will benefit your health and help you to lose weight and you will no doubt be familiar with the equipment that gives you a good cardio workout.

The trusty treadmill, for instance, allows you to walk, jog or run at various speeds and intensities, the exercise bike will get the heart pumping without damaging your joints but largely works on the lower body in terms of toning, while the rowing machine is an excellent, low impact all-rounder that works on every major muscle group.

As you begin to lose weight, you'll want to tone up too. Free weights will help you to achieve a good body shape and create muscle and if you're worried about bulking up, use lighter weights but do more repetitions for a toned and fabulous body.

Get personal
If you're somewhat lacking in self-motivation, a personal trainer may be the way to go. Most gyms have resident trainers with whom you can discuss your exercise needs and goals and provide you with a customised training programme, optimised for the best results based on your current fitness level.

They may come at a price but whether you are just starting out on the road to fitness or are ready for the next step, they might just give you that little extra push.

Change it up
Tired of watching MTV or Emmerdale while you run or cycle to nowhere? Why not try an exercise class? The fitness classes offered at gyms these days are a far cry from the aerobics sessions of old (though those are still widely available if you're a fan).

From building core strength with Pilates or getting fighting fit with a kickboxing session, to dancing the hours away with zumba or going hardcore with a spinning class, the options are many and varied so there's no need to stick to the equipment.

A change in your exercise regime can help to keep you motivated and take your fitness to a whole new level - so be sure to mix things up and ask for a regular review with your trainer.