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What you need to know before returning to the gym

By Sigurd Neubauer


Has it been years since your gym membership elapsed? And have you put on some weight while attempting to balance between a demanding career and family commitments?

Fear not!

With spring just around the corner and mask mandates lifted in most jurisdictions around the US, the stars are aligning for achieving your personal fitness goals.

After all, what could be better than shedding some weight – and build muscles in the process – ahead of your planned family vacation, especially if you’re heading to the beach?

I sat down with John Kecman, a seasoned personal fitness instructor at the Aspen Hill Club in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“For men planning a workout, especially if you are a beginner or have not exercised in years, paying a visit to your doctor for a health screening is essential before returning to the gym,” Kecman says.

“You need to make sure that you don’t have any underlying health issues or injuries that can impact an exercise program,” he adds.

Once a commitment has been made to return to the gym and armored with a health assessment from a doctor, Kecman explains the next step is to determine your own training background.

“A lot of people who show up at a gym gravitate towards the equipment that they already know, which is often a treadmill. Only using treadmills for maintenance, whether it is for weight or exercise, can have an undesired impact on achieving immediate to long-term fitness goals,” he says. Kecman pauses and adds: “If you are not going forward, you’re going backwards.”

For those who have spent some time in the gym, but have not gone in recent years, Kecman explains that the greatest rate of linear progression in your fitness journey will take place during the first three months. During this period, “your body and nervous system change, and the body adopts faster.  After that, your progress rate slows as you must do more work as progress slows.”

Kecman further recommends requesting professional assistance to achieve fitness goals “instead of fumbling around in the dark,” which he often sees once the aspiring man returns to the gym.

“It is about consistency. It is not about individual workouts but rather about adopting a systematic approach,” he says.

The path to better health and wellness is unfortunately littered with roadblocks but it gets easier as one’s journey progresses, he explains. For instance, realizing that past exercises may emotionally appeal “better” then your current one is a psychological trap to avoid, Kecman argues.

“Most people want a better body composition or lose weight. For some men, their fitness goals are losing weights, bigger arms or becoming overall more fit.”

John Kecman is a seasoned personal fitness instructor at the Aspen Hill Club in Silver Spring, Maryland

How do I get there?

Kecman recommends working out two or three times a week at a gym. For a beginner, he asserts, one cannot do as much as someone who has been working out for years.

“You’re better off through high frequency training and effective resistance training. Cardio and aerobic workouts help you recover,” he says while adding that it is important to increase the expenditure and cardiopulmonary system.

“This applies to everyone, but it is also important to take into account other regular activities you’re already doing whether it is walking, biking or running.”

For those who are overweight to obese, Kecman recommends increasing energy expenditure preferably through interval-based conditioning at the workout.

But first, “you have to establish what your baseline is. This is where professionals come in because you will get lost in the woods,” he cautions.

What is my baseline?

A first step is what Kecman calls a mobility assessment test. This includes going over health history. For the overweight, knee problems are often an initial physiological hurdle to overcome at the gym.

Overweight comes with limited thoracic spine mobility, lower back problems or shoulder pain, Kecman says which is why it is critical that the aspiring man seeking to reinvent himself avoid injury on day one at the gym so that he returns to what needs to be a positive experience on the road to self-improvement.

Injury history

A common trap to avoid, Kecman says, is “doing too much too fast and avoid doing exercises that do more harm than good. Mobility impacts your strength. Examples are not to run if your knee ends up screaming or doing squats if you’re on the plus side,” he explains.

What is important, he adds, is to get into the best posture position and maintain it under load (weight).

Another challenge is getting people to schedule regular visits to the gym that they can commit to. “It is incredibly important that the experience is positive – and not negative – to find yourself on the winding path to self-improvement and wellness,” he says.

Kecman further recommends professional assistance to achieve fitness goals

Weight loss is all about eating. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Diet and shred plan.
  • Resistance training through squats, body weights or exercise bands.
  • Conditioning through working out smarter and not harder, which is where a professional trainer comes in.

As one establishes his fitness goals, it is important to keep in mind that “you cannot progress at everything all the time and forever,” Kecman explains. “But you can progress in different ways, forever.”

First steps

Once you have received your health assessment, and if you don’t have any physical limitations, Kecman puts you up for a squat test. “Whether you sit on a chair in your living or in a restroom, being able to ‘squat’ is essential for everyday life.”

Next, he’ll be looking for range of motion and mobility. This means getting in posture under load. The starting position should be where legs are aligned with toes pointing forward. The body also needs to be aligned.

“The more joins can be lined up the more stable you are.”

Then, rotate knees outwards and keep feet screwed into the floor. “Should you experience knee pain at this moment, it can be attributed to ancle and hip mobility and the forensic spine. This is also where lower back pain comes from. When your ankles and hips are not mobile it puts the stress on the knees,” Kecman says.

The next step is an overhead squat.

These two tests reveal significant information about a person’s health, Kecman says. He adds that an older person, and someone who is overweight, will struggle with a squat. For that reason, a squat can be modified by sitting on a bench while doing it for a person who is either overweight or older.

 Box squat and pushups

When performing box squats, Kecman recommends extending the lower body back further than one would during a regular squat. This movement pattern helps to activate muscle groups across the lower body, including hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, hip flexors, and lower back muscles.

He recommends sets of 10-20 reps for posture integrity and stability. Kecman also recommends a push up test.

An incline pushup is needed for anyone who cannot do pushups on the floor, which can be done on a bench at the gym.

“You want to ensure that your body is in a straight line, with shoulders down, and then up and back. This is about shoulder stability, core and thoracic strength.” Because overweight people struggle to engage their core, Kecman recommends a power rack with a bar or a smith machine. 


[ Kecman’s fitness journey ]

His fitness journey started with playing sports at the age of five. At age 10, Kecman started weightlifting with his father who hired a personal trainer for his son at 12. “I needed to increase both size and strength for sports, and after years of hard work, I eventually earned the ability to play football at the college level where,” Kecman says while adding that he studied exercise science at Salisbury University, Maryland.  He has also participated in Olympic weightlifting and competed in powerlifting on the national level. As a trainer, Kecman specializes in helping clients improve their functional strength, including post-surgery; his clients have ranged from nine to 90-year-olds.

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