What to Do on Your First Day at the Gym
So you’ve finally bit the bullet and bought the talked about gym membership. Now what? You will probably have many questions: what to wear? What kind of workout should you be doing? How do machines generally work? Here’s a guide on how to make your first gym awesome – or at least bearable.
Most sports beginners tell me they are afraid of the gym because they don’t know what to do and don’t want to look or act like fools. It’s okay to feel insecure or embarrassed about being ignorant, but remember two hard truths: everyone starts somewhere, and nobody really pays that close attention to you .
In front of the gym
To ease the jitters the first time around, you need to look like you fit in with the world around you and make the unknown known. This means several things.
Dress for success
You usually need to bring a couple of things with you: a towel (to wipe off the sweat and lie on the seats and benches), a bottle of water, a combination lock (if you’re using lockers), and workout clothes to change into. …
A loose shirt or tank top, tights or shorts, and comfortable shoes will do. You don’t have to worry about what to wear to the gym if you’re comfortable with it, but one study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that what you wear can affect your confidence level and the way you you act. I definitely found myself more focused and motivated to crush my workout if I feel like a bully in my head.
Have a plan
Amanda Tiebe, personal trainer and owner of Fit n ‘Chips , said that one of the biggest mistakes she has witnessed is people wandering around aimlessly, testing one piece of equipment after another, with no plan. “Every time you go to the gym, you have to have a plan,” Phoebe tells Lifehacker. (We’ll give you an idea of what to do later.)
Think about the reason that drives you to the gym. Perhaps it’s a desire to build muscle. If so, then you probably want to focus on weights and machines. (It doesn’t matter how you do it for now .) That way, you won’t be distracted or overwhelmed with all the options when you finally get to the gym.
When you’re at the gym
Your main goal is not to become a world training champion, but to have a positive experience and maintain this healthy habit.
Explore the location of the land
Each gym is designed differently, but there are certain principles. I’ve been to dozens of gyms around the world , and they all have room for cardiovascular equipment – treadmills, elliptical machines, and more. Then there is usually a room with a mirror along the wall for group study; area for weightlifting, where it is additionally divided in accordance with free weights and simulators ; and a warm-up or cool-down area with yoga mats, medicine balls and foam rollers.
Don’t be afraid to talk to the gym staff and let them know that you are a newbie. “The gym staff is always ready to help and give advice. They want you to be safe, so take advantage of that, Thebes explains. Ideally, the gym staff would give you a tour before you sign up for a membership or trial, but they didn’t, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Know your gym etiquette
In sports culture, there are unspoken rules of good form and proper etiquette. We’ve written about gym etiquette , but I would like to highlight a couple of points:
- You are responsible for the equipment you use; if you do use something, put it back. This means swapping the dumbbells (yes, all of them), returning the dumbbells, and returning the medicine balls and other loose equipment to their original locations so others can easily find and use them.
- Wipe down your equipment: Most gyms have sanitary napkins that are used to wipe down your equipment after you’re done. No one should ever touch your rough ass or the sweat on your back.
- Wash your hands: do yourself and others a favor. You never know when someone might have something contagious.
These simple rules of etiquette keep things polite and sleek when the gym is overcrowded.
Don’t expect cool
You probably want to sweat and burn, but Lee Boyes , a strength coach based in Toronto, recommends taking your time. Don’t try to be a hero and exhaust yourself so much that after that you won’t be able to train for several days or a whole week. Being overly painful can hurt your motivation and even distract you from training, Boyes told Lifehacker.
Everyone will have different suggestions about what kind of workout you should do. But today? Be more simple. Boyes recommended this workout to get started:
- Goblet squat (or bodyweight squat): 12 reps
- Push-ups : 12 reps
- Inverted Rows (Smith Machine) or Seated Rows: For as many reps as you can.
Do each exercise for the prescribed number of repetitions or a full exercise cycle until you have completed all three exercises. This is one round. Repeat five rounds and rest 90 seconds between rounds.
These exercises are some of the most basic movements that will help you develop basic strength and prepare you for other exercises in the gym. Your body is not yet used to exercising or moving effectively. You will be like a clumsy giant and feel uncomfortable, and that’s okay.
If you want to learn the right form, personal trainers can sometimes offer free initial counseling to help you chart your goals. But be wary of the tactics that many gyms can use to tie you into a personalized workout package. Whether you should hire a personal trainer depends on your budget. A personal trainer is a great way to teach you the basics and keep you updated, but not all of them are good.
After the gym
Congratulations, you did it! After a day or two, you may feel soreness , which is normal. Even if it hurts , you can play sports , even if it’s uncomfortable. But the most important thing is that you keep going. No one feels more comfortable exercising overnight or only occasionally hitting the gym. Stick to.
This story was originally published on 8/24/17 and updated on 9/13/19 to provide more complete and up-to-date information.