Weight-training offers significant health benefits, but not everyone knows their biceps from their triceps. Reporter ROB OWEN found out about being a personal trainer before putting his skills to the test on colleague and volunteer Nathan Briant at the Wales National Velodrome gym

THE gym is a familiar stomping ground for me.

But feeling comfortable in the gym isn’t the case for everyone. For some it can be an alien world, unfamiliar and daunting.

Just the thought of walking into a stereotypical world of over-aggressive macho-men can often be enough to make people pass up those advantages.

It doesn’t need to be that way though, and a few simple pointers are often all it takes to make people feel a little less out of place.

So, when my fellow reporter Nathan Briant said to me he had never picked up a weight in his life, I saw my opportunity to share some of my self-taught expertise, and to see if I could change his opinion on the testosterone-fuelled nightmare he suggested it would be.

A daily runner and regular cyclist Nathan needs little direction when it comes to his cardiovascular fitness, but he agreed he would be prepared to give a weight training session a go – with me as the personal trainer – for a little variety in his exercise regime.

So off we headed to the first class facilities at the Wales National Velodrome at the Newport International Sports Village.

Fitness manager Kris Dowding met us, and after a quick tour of the dedicated free weights room downstairs, and the main gym – which boats a unique multi-functional rig and a freedom climber wall you are unlikely to find in too many other places – we sat down for a quick chat about how I should best guide Nathan through his workout.

Kris, who also serves in the Army Reserve, said it was all about setting “smart goals”.

“The important thing is to find out what the client wants to achieve,” he said. “Establish some personal details with them and build a rapport. You need to gauge their ability and what they have done before. And then you need to set out, realistically, how you are going to help and support them towards their target.”

Kris also advised I use humour when appropriate, to make Nathan feel at ease.

“Be motivational, and explain things throughout so they know and understand what they are doing and why,” he added

“At the end of the session set out what you will do next time so there is sufficient progression to encourage them to continue working towards their objective.”

We decided on a full body workout for Nathan, hitting as many muscle groups as possible through a range of compound exercises from ‘bench press’ to ‘squats’.

With Kris’ wise words ringing in my ears, I started ‘my client’ with a gentle warm-up on the cross-trainer to get his blood flowing, a vital part of any exercise Kris had said.

And then we moved on to the heavy lifting – or not as it turned out.

As a novice it became obvious that overloading Nathan with heavy weights would be adverse to the results we wanted to achieve. They would put too much stress on his muscles, be too difficult – not to add painful – and end up demoralising him. Not what we wanted.

Instead we started with a lighter more manageable weight, and decided we would work up to something which would provide enough resistance to adequately work the parts of the body we aimed to target.

We began with the lat pull-down, a machine which works the back. After a short demonstration by myself, Nathan performed three sets of eight repetitions on the machine – which requires you to pull down on a long bar, from above your head to your chest while keeping your back as straight as possible. He would rest for roughly 45 seconds between each set.

This is a tried and tested formula of achieving muscle gains, by gym-goers the world over.

It is commonly accepted that higher repetitions over a lighter weight will increase tone and shape of the muscle, while lower reps of a heavier weight will increase size and strength. Eight reps of a medium weight is a good compromise between the two which will roughly achieve all at once, albeit less slowly than the other methods performed individually.

Nathan also tried some dips which require the lowering of the body with stress maintained on the arms, particularly the triceps, found at the back of the upper arm. And some bicep curls, which works the largest part of muscle on the arms (at the front of the upper arm) by lowering and raising a weight, known as a ‘dumbbell’, from his side to his shoulder, squeezing the muscle group.

He had a go navigating his way across the climbing wall, before taking on the firm-training-favourite, the chest-press.

Lying straight back on a slightly-inclined bench I asked Nathan to push two dumbbells from his chest straight into the air, meeting them at the top. This exercise can, alone, dramatically change the physique.

When he began to struggle with the final few reps – fatigue is common for beginners – I stepped in to gently assist him by pushing his arms upwards.

Slightly out of breath and showing sufficient signs of perspiration I could see Nathan was near the end of his session. He had been training for around 45 minutes – an ample amount of time for one person working alone – when I patted him on the back and said we could call it a day.

He had worked hard and he seemed relieved it was over. I had enjoyed the training session, offering encouragement whenever I felt he needed it, demonstrations, instruction, and education on what we were doing.

I knew he would be aching tomorrow and would probably discover he had muscles where he had never previously realised. From my experience is no better sign that you have worked hard and well than a good ache. There shouldn’t be pain, but you should be aware that you are a little more delicate than usual.

Nathan didn’t share my enthusiasm.

Handing him a customary protein shake afterwards he said to me: “I am never doing that again in my life.”

Memberships start from £18.40 at the Velodrome. For more information seenewport.gov.uk/activeNewport/index.cfm/velodrome