Staying fit: A high schooler’s guide to learning the ins and outs of a local gym

September 30, 2023 — by William Cao and Neal Malhotra
Photo by Neal Malhotra
 Weightlifting at Bay Club Courtside during our unscheduled first period.
We’ve started our fitness journeys in the summer; here are some of our tips for working out at a gym and staying healthy.

After the last day of school last year, we looked forward to the sweet bliss of summer vacation, knowing that our grueling junior year filled with academics and AP testing was finally over. But after a few days of summer break, we fell down a rabbit hole of watching self-improvement TikToks made by Looksmax creators, individuals who optimize their bodies to their full potential. They inspired us to go to the gym and get fit to do the same. 

24-hour Fitness and Planet Fitness were our first spots to check out — they offered a free summer gym membership for teens ages 14 to 19. What was not to like? Less than a 15-minute drive, equipped with every workout machine, and, of course, free. 

But simply stepping into the gym on the first day was difficult. Watching hours of fitness content creators benching 225-pound weights as a warmup skews the mind as to what an average high school student’s starting bench press should be. 

The self-doubt is compounded by the unfounded sense that everyone around you is sneaking glances and subconsciously judging you for how little weight you use.

However, we found that the gym community is actually one of the most welcoming we’ve experienced. On our first attempt at using a new attachment on the lateral pulldown machine, we swung our arms and used momentum to pull the weight down, putting ourselves at risk for back-related injuries. Seeing our poor form, a male passerby with an athletic physique and confident demeanor stopped and took a few minutes out of his workout to help educate us on the proper way to use the machine. 

As we continued to return to the gym on a daily basis, it took us a while to realize it was mostly a judgment-free zone. When people go to the gym, they are mostly focused on improving themselves and gaining consistency in their sets, all while trying to minimize the time spent there. 

Photo by Neal Malhotra

The essential after-workout photoshoot

Once you take your first trip to the gym, you might face some initial discouragement after a (ahem) sub-par lifting session. But the feeling after finishing a workout is intoxicating; it’s like you just finished climbing Mt. Everest. 

While your muscles might be sore, going to the gym acts as a stress reliever and gives you a sense of productivity. Of course, you can’t forget about the best part: the insane pump and photo session in the gym locker room or your mirror at home.

After spending some time researching and planning a routine with friends, we found a solid, simple routine that doesn’t take up much time but helps achieve noticeable muscle gains nonetheless. We followed a push-pull-legs routine, where each day of the week was dedicated to a different set of muscle groups. This split is focused on pushing exercises, pulling exercises, and a general leg day, which is repeated twice in a week and the seventh day serves as a rest day to allow the body to fully heal the overworked muscles before starting the cycle again.

Push days are designed to target a few specific muscle groups: triceps, shoulders and chest muscles. Pull days are mostly focused on the back muscles and biceps and leg days consist of exercises for the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and calves.

All of these muscle groups are vital to everyday life. In addition to getting a more defined muscular look, your overall strength will gradually increase as the workout becomes a consistent part of your routine. 

We have included a sample push-pull-legs set to get you started, but it should be tailored to your needs and preferences. Most of these exercises are done in sets of three with 8-12 reps for the first two sets and going until failure for the third. Once you can consistently complete 12 reps for the first two sets and at least 12 in the third, you should increase the amount of weight you use.

Push day: incline bench press, incline dumbbell press, shoulder press, tricep pushdowns, cable tricep pulldowns, lat raises and pec dec machine. 

Pull: deadlift, bar lat rows, lat pulldowns, one arm rows, lat straight arm pushdown, incline dumbbell bicep curl, bicep curl machine and hammer curls.

Legs: squats, leg press, leg extension, calf raises, calf extensions, hip adductors, hip thrust and hamstring curl.

Photo by William Cao

Neal maxing out on the Leg Press machine

We realize that simply making the sacrifice to take one to two hours out of your already busy schedule to work at the gym is hard enough. But after a few sessions from our experience, we have become hooked on the gym lifestyle. 

We have developed more efficient time management skills, better confidence in ourselves and deeper relationships with our friends — which is why we recommend that you take advantage of the free local gym memberships available in the summer or even consider purchasing a membership during the school year.

Tags: fitness, gym
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