Beginner's Guide to The Gym
It's no secret: the gym is a scary place for beginners. The biggest thing standing between many people and their goal to become stronger, healthier, or achieve their dream body, is the simple fear of the gym. While it does take some courage to get in there and get started, there are certainly some things that would make it easier to know when first starting a routine at the gym.
Just like everyone else, I was a beginner once, too and I have done countless things wrong, and embarrassed myself at the gym more times than I can count. It happens to everyone. But to help you avoid some of the unnecessary awkwardness, I have put together a list of some of the top tips I wish I had known when I first started.
Tip 1: Start Small
You finally decide to sign up for a gym membership, and start getting in shape. You’re feeling good about your decision to be proactive with your goals as you step into your new gym for the first time. You stroll past the cardio equipment and enter the weight room, only to have your confidence shot down by the room full of lean, toned Megan Fox and incredibly muscular Hulk look-a-likes, chomping, grunting, and grinding to the bit as they move from one alien spaceship looking machine to the next, pounding out set after set of exercises you’ve never even seen before.
Slow down. Take a deep breath.
You don’t have to utilize every piece of equipment on the gym floor when you’re first starting out. Start by just performing some simple dumbbell exercises that you know by heart. You don’t have to jump right into doing all the fancy power-ranger-in-training moves that you see Mr. Schwarzenegger pounding out across the gym. Those exercises aren’t necessarily any more effective than the basic, simpler exercises you already know by heart. Start with what you know. Eventually, as you start to become more familiar with the exercises you already know, you can begin experimenting with different exercises and trying out various machines, but for now, don’t worry about the exercises or workouts that the people around you are doing. Focus on your workout, and keep it basic. Remember, basic doesn’t mean ineffective.
Tip 2: Know Your Exercises
One of the biggest reasons a lot of people are intimidated by starting their gym routine is because they don’t know what to do at the gym. They can walk in and just stand there and stare at all of the machinery for fifteen minutes before deciding that they are in way over their head, and retreating back to the faithful row of treadmills and elliptical across the gym floor.
If you’re one of these people, it can really help to utilize the internet! Do a bit of research on gym exercises to target various muscle groups and look at pictures, or watch videos explaining how to perform the exercises with proper form. Make a list of a few exercises that you feel like you could do on your own, and practice the movement at home without weights or equipment. Next time you go to the gym, add the weights or equipment. Spend a few nights each week looking up new exercises to try at the gym, starting with only a few at a time. Over time, you will expand your exercise library, and be able to perform enough exercises that you don’t need to keep looking up new ones before each workout.
If you have a hard time putting the exercises you see into action, or you feel like you’re needing a little extra help, this might be a really good time to look into getting a personal trainer. Aside from showing you how to utilize the equipment, trainers can also show you new exercises, and help you to make sure you are keeping proper form to avoid injury and reap the rewards of your hard work.
Tip 3: Ignore Everyone
This might sound a little silly, or maybe even a little rude, but hear me out here.
One of the most intimidating things about stepping foot in a gym is often not the equipment, the weights, or even the idea of starting a completely new routine. What’s usually the most distracting part of the whole experience is the people around you. You worry about what others will think of your flabby stomach or your thunder thighs jiggling in your stretch pants, or that little pouch of extra skin hanging over the top of your sports bra. You are concerned that others will laugh at you if you mess up on an exercise, or look flustered or confused about how to properly perform an exercise. The best advice I can give you here, is to ignore everyone. I know it’s easier said than done, but once you learn to tune everyone else around you out of your workout, things suddenly become a lot more effortless. You are here to work out, so focus all of your energy on your workout. It can help to bring along some headphones and drown out everyone else by cranking up the volume on a good workout playlist.
Tip 4: The Hulk Isn’t As Good As He Thinks
Here’s another one that might sound a little bit rude or silly, but in most cases, it’s true. Your typical avid gym-goer isn’t as good as they think they are. People who go to the gym a lot or are in good shape often take it upon themselves to become the local fitness guru and show/tell everyone around them how it’s done. Most of the time, these people don’t really know as much as they think they do. They often think they are more advanced than they really are, and the majority of their fitness expertise is usually based on little to no actual facts or credible information. And I’m not saying this just to de-rail the hard workers, putting in hours a week and on their off days to reach their goals in the gym. If they are happy with their plan, and are seeing results, then good for them! However, this doesn’t give them the right to start trying to mend, judge, or even scoff at your efforts. It’s okay to remind yourself that these people usually aren’t, in fact, the hot shit that they may think they are, and they too still have much to learn just like yourself. Of course, if you just adhere to tip #3, you don’t have to worry about this too much, as you will be too focused on your own workout to notice.
Tip 5: Watch Your Weight
And no, I am not talking about your weight on the scale. I am referring to the weights that you may be lifting at the gym.
It’s important to know that starting small is perfectly fine. Starting with light weights until you perfect your form is always better (and more effective) than trying to lift ambitiously heavy weights and risking injury or sacrificing form. Starting with too much weight can be a fast track to injury and can take you out of the gym for weeks, or even months, setting you back even further on your fitness goals. That being said don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, but as you first start out, it’s more important to focus on not doing too much too soon.
Another point I’d like to add here, and this falls under more general gym etiquette, is to always put away your weights when you are finished. If you are a true beginner in the gym, it is important to know that putting away your weights when you are done is expected in most gyms. You will notice at virtually every gym, there is always that person (or handful of them) grunting through 10 half reps on the leg press with 10 plates loaded on each side, and then simply getting up and walking away when they’re done, without bothering with re-racking their weights. You might even see a lot of people doing it, and think that it’s probably okay at this particular gym. It’s not. Don’t do it. Just re-rack your weights and you will probably save yourself from being secretly loathed by your fellow gym members as well as every member of the gym staff. At the very least, you can live with the satisfaction of knowing that you’re not an asshole.
Tip 6: Have a Goal
Knowing that you want to get in shape or develop a more disciplined exercise routine is a great start, but it’s probably going to be really hard to make any real progress until you find a specific goal that you want to work toward. Maybe you want to lose 10 pounds, maybe you want to gain 10 pounds of muscle, maybe you want to be able to squat twice your bodyweight. Whatever it may be, find a goal and make it specific. Write down your goal, post it on your social media, tell your friends, or do whatever else you have to do to make it official, and start working towards it. I don’t mean start tomorrow, or next week, or when your schedule clears up. Set a goal, and start now! Once you have your goal established, start putting in the work to reach your goal as soon as possible! The longer you put it off, the less likely it will become that you actually achieve your goal. You can modify the goal once you start, or find a new goal once you reach this one, but it will become much easier to stay motivated at the gym if you can have a goal to keep in mind as you step in the gym before every workout.
Tip 7: Have a Plan
Once you have a goal and are ready to start working out, don’t just wander into the gym and move from machine to machine for a little bit and then call it good after you’ve been there for an hour. Just because you spent an hour at the gym, doesn’t mean you accomplished anything worthwhile or are now any closer to your goal.
Have a plan each time before stepping into the gym. Have some exercises in mind before you even leave the house. Remember your goal, and strive to do things that will get you closer to that goal. Go in, set out what you planned to do, and go home. Don’t wait until you get there to try to figure out what you want to get out of your workout. Fail to prepare, and you should prepare to fail.
Tip 8: Be Consistent
So many people set out on a journey to reach a certain fitness goal, or live a healthier lifestyle, all with good intentions. But the sad truth is, that many of those people fail to see results because they aren’t consistent with their time spent working towards their goals.
Don’t walk into the gym on Monday and completely wreck shop, and wear yourself to the bone on your first workout, and then not come back until the next Monday to do it all over again. It’s important to challenge yourself with each workout in order to reach your goals, but it’s even more important to keep your workouts consistent! You won’t see results by coming to the gym every once in a while, it needs to become a regular part of your routine. Make a plan to come to the gym at least 2-3 days a week (if you’re just starting) and don’t let yourself back out! Consider it a mandatory part of your day, just like a work meeting, or your morning cup of coffee. The more you do it, the more natural it will start to feel.
Tip 9: Just Do It
Chances are, it’s going to be scary to start out as a beginner at the gym, but every great athlete was once a beginner, too. If working out is not a part of your regular routine, it will feel awkward and uncomfortable at first. This is normal, and it doesn’t mean you are out of your element or give you a valid reason to turn around and reconsider your goals. Change is always hard, but great things don’t come from comfort zones! The best way to get past your fear of the gym is to face it head on. Take it day by day, and utilize the tips above and I promise you, you will be fine!
These tips should be more than enough to get you started at the gym. It may not be everything you could ever need to know at the gym, but it’s a good start. It’s too easy to psyche yourself out, and get all worked up over nothing when starting an exercise routine at the gym. Take it slow, have a goal, and get it done! It doesn’t have to be complicated. Put in the work, and conquer your goals! Six months from now, you will be glad you started now.