22 Fitness Tips (and 5 Videos) from a Personal Trainer


Kate Ingebretsen is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS-NSCA), group fitness instructor (AFAA), current graduate student, and has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Florida.

1: What is functional training?

Although it sounds funny, we have to train our bodies to do daily activities while counteracting our sedentary lifestyles. Functional training trains movements, not muscles. Instead of targeting one muscle group like the biceps, functional training challenges the entire body.

2: What are Plyometrics?

If you’re too short to reach the top shelf or you just want to make gains on the basketball court, plyometrics AKA jump training could help you. Imagine your body as a spring and learn to use your explosive power to reach new levels.

3: What is this black tube thing?

A foam roller is a way to massage yourself and relieve your sore, tense muscles–although you do have to put a little effort to hold yourself up. A foam roller is a great way to improve your flexibility before or after a workout as well as relieve tension in your muscles and fascia when you’re sore.

4: What is a BOSU ball?

By far my favorite fitness tool, the BOSU ball has made gains in not only physical therapy clinics but also fitness centers everywhere. A round side challenges ankle stability and allows for a pumping cardio workout. The flat side is used to train the core and challenge the body by integrating balance and strength. You can even play leapfrog with multiple BOSU balls.

5: What should I do when the weight room is packed?

The beginning of semesters tend to be the busiest months for working out on campus, and after the holidays tend to be hectic at regular gyms. When there’s no room in the weight room, consider taking your workout outdoors. No, you don’t have to go for a long run. There are plenty of strength exercises you can do at your school’s football stadium.

6: Do I have to use the cardio machines to lose weight?

Cardio machines can get boring really fast. There is an alternate way to lose fat, but it can be hard work! High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, helps your body burn more calories after you work out during the recovery compared to a lower intensity workout. Do three exercises for 40 seconds each and work as hard as you can for those 40 seconds. Then rest and let your heart rate settle back down for 20 seconds, and repeat.

7: What do I do if something hurts?

I like to pretend that I’m invincible and that there is nothing wrong with me. But as we get older, our bodies don’t bounce back as well as they used to. If something is bothering you, always get it checked by a doctor so you won’t be like me months later–kicking yourself because you didn’t let it heal properly.

8: What are those yellow straps hanging from wall or ceiling?

Those are a TRX, or a suspension trainer, which is a functional exercise tool. The idea is that you use your body as the weight and the more parallel you are to the floor, the harder the exercise. In addition, there is a constant challenge to stabilize your core in all TRX exercises, an essential task in functional training.

9: When do I increase weight when lifting?

The last two reps of your final set should be a little bit of a struggle. If they are easy, try increasing the weight incrementally. Make sure you gradually progress with new exercises and new weights so you avoid injury. You can also follow the two-for-two rule. If you can perform two or more reps over your rep goal on the last set for two consecutive workouts, then increase the weight 2.5 to 5 lbs. for upper body exercises and 5 to 10 lbs. for lower body exercises.

10: Do I have to stretch?

Although you may have heard that stretching does not decrease your risk of injury, it should still be a vital component of your workout. Stretching increases your range of motion and if you have proper flexibly and mobility, you can train with heavier weights and make greater gains. In addition, stretching, yoga, and foam rolling are great ways to counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and reduce pain in the back, neck, and shoulders.

11: Should I be drinking a protein shake?

Protein not only helps rebuild muscles after a workout, it is essential to our body’s structure and daily functions. However, you can get protein from other sources such as chicken, fish, legumes, and some dairy products. But if you can’t fit in a meal after a workout, a protein shake is a great alternative. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association or NSCA, an average adult needs .8g per kg of bodyweight of protein and athletes need anywhere from 1.5-2.0g/kg of bodyweight.

12: Should I use machines or free weights?

It depends on your goals. Machines are great for beginners and geriatric populations, and for targeting specific areas where you want to build muscle. It allows you to focus on one muscle group at a time. But if you young and just want to be healthy, using free weights allows you to work on your core stability and posture, a key component to everyday life. You will gain more benefits from free weights.

13: What is my posterior chain?

Many of us are guilty of focusing on the “mirror muscles,” the chest and the quads. But we can’t forget about our backs and hamstrings, also known as the posterior chain. Training rows and deadlifts will lead to an increase in performance as well as reduced risk for injury.

14: Why do I have to cool down?

Cooling down allows lactic acid to optimally leave the body as well as gradually and safely reduce your heart rate back to normal. In addition, while your body is just fresh from a workout, a cool down is a great time to do some static stretches and work on your flexibility.

15: How many reps should I do?

This is tough to narrow down because everyone has different goals and variety is the best tool. But here is the standard:.

Overall healthy/toned: three sets of 15 reps  

If you want bigger muscles: four sets of 8-12 reps

Power or strength: three or four sets of 3-5 reps with heavier weights

Don’t be afraid to mix it up and lift heavier weights one day per week while keeping it lighter on other days. Also, different exercises require different rep sets. Whole body exercises like the bench press or back squat are great lifts to go heavy. But when it comes to the accessory muscles like the shoulders or triceps, be careful not to go too hard, as you can hurt yourself. If you seem to plateau in your goals, changing up the rep range can lead to gains. In addition, you can work most exercises in different angles such as the bench press–you can perform with a narrow, wide, or neutral grip.

16: Should I exercise when I am sick?

If you have a fever, do not work out.  Sleep and stay hydrated instead. If you are sick with no fever, you can do a light workout if you feel up to it. Then gradually increase the intensity next time you work out.

17: What is pre-workout?

Pre-workout is a powdery substance that you add to water and drink before you work out. Pre-workout is awesome because it contains ingredients that increase your motivation to work out. However, make sure you read the pre-workout ingredients and do some research. There are many different kinds and some have an excessive amount of caffeine and other unnecessary or proprietary substances. 

18: How many times a week should I exercise?

There are an infinite amount of ways to design a program and plan how many days a week to exercise. But to make it simple, the American College of Sports Medicine, or ACSM, recommends 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week or 20-60 minutes of vigorous exercise three days a week. In addition, 2-3 days a week of resistance training with 48 hours of rest of the muscles groups worked. If previously sedentary and new to exercise, start by walking 20 minutes a day and then gradually increasing the duration and then the speed.   

19: How can I lose weight in a certain area on my body?

Unfortunately, you cannot target bat wings or thigh fat. You cannot lose weight in a specific area by doing exercises geared towards those body parts. You can however do tricep extensions to build muscle in your triceps and improve aesthetics in that area. But if you want to lose fat in your arms, you need to think about focusing on your entire body as a whole and the fat will diminish in areas depending on your age, hormones, genetics, and diet.

20: Why do I have to lift weights if I am trying to lose weight?

We all know moderate, long cardio workouts burn fat. But muscles also burn fat. Muscles burn calories all day long. The more muscles you have, the more calories you are burning. The majority of total energy expenditure is your basal metabolic rate, or BMR. BMR is the amount of energy it takes to keep your body alive at rest. Muscles increase your basal metabolic rate. So adding strength exercises will help you reach your weight loss goals quicker.

21: What is DOMS?

DOMS is when you can’t walk the day after leg day. DOMS is an acronym for delayed onset muscle soreness. Your legs hurt because there are micro tears in your muscles and your body is trying to recover. When you have DOMS, stretching, foam rolling, and continuing to move around will help reduce pain. By moving around you are sending blood flow to the inflamed area that needs nutrients from the blood to recover. Don’t worry if you aren’t sore though, you are still making gains. “No pain, no gain” is just a motivational tag line.

22: Will I look bulky if I lift weights?

Women will only get bulky if they use supplementation. Men have ten to forty times more testosterone than women that helps them build huge muscles. If you don’t like the aesthetics of muscles but want to lift weights, you can build smaller muscles by doing reps of fifteen or more with light weight. In addition, strength training can help reduce your risk of osteoporosis by making your bones stronger. Bone mineral density, or BMD, peaks at age thirty. So it is imperative to improve your BMD while you are young.


  1. Excellent exercises and routines. We really appreciate you taking the time to put this together. Those jumping into working out and getting health again will benefit greatly from this valuable resource!

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