I try to go to the gym consistently. Especially during the summer months, I want to maintain a regular weight and stay toned. Bikinis are the ENEMY and I must win the battle of the bulge. However, going to the gym isn't only about shedding winter weight. First and foremost, it is to keep in shape and stay healthy.
Kickboxing, stepping, and yoga are some of my favorite classes offered at my gym. Of the three, the most important is probably yoga.
Why yoga? Many people question yoga's ability to whip you into shape. Whenever it comes up I find myself in the middle of an debate, one side arguing that yoga tones your muscles and increases your strength, the other countering that it is silly and useless. Personally, I think they're both wrong.
If you follow a strict and regular yoga routine and have the ability, flexibility, and discipline to do it daily it can and will help you strengthen your core and tone your muscles. Most people don't know enough about the Asian influenced exercise to take it to this level.
For me, yoga is about the stretch. While it is an added bonus that my muscles are getting a different type of workout, it is even more important that I am stretching my tired, sore muscles after an long bout on the ellyptical or a high intensity kick-boxing class. It cannot be stressed enough how important stretching really is.
I love that sore feeling you get the day after you did a hard work-out at the gym. But your soreness is going to be replaced with pain if you are not careful and diligent enough to stretch your muscles after you've put them under a lot of stress. Once they start to fill with lactic acid (this is what makes you feel sore, and also repairs the muscle to make it strong) soreness and pain will set in and it will be difficult to rid yourself of it. You want a stretch to feel good when you're sore, especially to avoid pulling a muscle.
I'm also particularly wary about pulling muscles and injuring myself because I've experienced many sports injuries. The worst type of injury is a chronic one, and tendonitis and bursitis are ailments that plague me daily. In order to avoid prescription anti-inflammatories, I need to keep my body loose and strong. To an insult to injury, I go to college in upstate New York where the snow and the cold reign for a good 6 months of the year. If I emerge into freezing temperatures with warm muscles after a long workout they'll be sure to freeze up and plague me with pain the following day.
Don't underestimate stretching. It's what's going to keep you from quitting your gym schedule, and it's also what's going to help you gain from your workouts, instead of just gain pain.