With clanking machines, grunting musclemen and fit bodies everywhere you turn, the gym can be an intimidating place when you’re new to the scene. Combine the bustling environment with feelings of insecurity, and the experience may be so overwhelming you just throw in the towel and head for the door. Been there? Many of us have.
But when a few weeks or months pass and you again decide that jumping jacks in the living room and power walks around the block aren’t cutting it, there are some things you can do to make the transition to gym fitness a little less stressful. Here’s what I recommend:
Don’t overdo it. So many machines, so little time! It’s true, but you don’t have to use all of them the first week. A common mistake gym newbies make is to overdo it in the beginning, exercising so enthusiastically they end up too sore to return for days. A good approach for week one is to sample a few upper- and lower-body machines, performing just a couple of sets with medium weights. Add in some stretching and cardio at the end of your workout—then call it a day. You should aim for 30 minutes of strength training and 20 to 30 minutes of cardio. If soreness starts to kick in at home, try rubbing on some natural arnica gel for relief.
Use gym etiquette. Safety rules may be posted on the walls, but guidelines for how you should act at the gym may not be as clear. Start by practicing common courtesy (i.e. don’t linger on a machine talking on your phone if someone is waiting), and remember these basics: always wipe down equipment after using it; replace dumbbells on the rack when you’re done with them; remove weights from machines when you finish your sets. Even if others aren’t doing these things, you’ll set a good example for those who have forgotten what gym etiquette is all about!
Don’t be a copycat. I recently saw a woman performing an exercise incorrectly and was concerned she might hurt herself. I stepped in and asked if I could give her some advice, and she was happy to receive it. It turns out she had “learned” the move by watching someone else—and that person had been doing it wrong. Be careful about taking advice or copying others in the gym. If you’re unsure about how to use a piece of equipment, find a trainer and ask for help (they’re usually willing to lend a hand), or do some research online about the proper way to perform the exercise. Write notes in a fitness journal and bring it along for reference.
Don’t sign extended contracts. Meeting with a personal trainer is a great idea when you’re new to the gym. He or she will teach you how to use the equipment properly and recommend exercises that will help you meet your goals. Perhaps you’ll feel more comfortable if a trainer is with you the first several times you work out. However, before signing a year-long contract for training services, give it some thought. My advice is to start out slowly—you can always request additional sessions with a trainer if you feel you need them.
Expand your workout horizons. If your gym offers classes—kickboxing, spinning, yoga or Zumba—don’t be afraid to try them out! Classes are a great way to add variety to your routine, keeping you from getting bored and increasing your chances of sticking with a fitness plan. I was nervous about trying spin class and waited nearly a year before signing up—then I was mad at myself for not doing it sooner! Once you get through the first class, the next one will be a breeze.
Stick with supplement basics. If you’re starting or returning to a fitness program, chances are you’re making healthy changes to your diet, too. If you’re considering supplements, do some research before filling your cart with sports nutrition formulas. I recommend three types of supplements for beginners: whey protein (which helps support lean-muscle building), BCAAs (to support muscle growth and maintenance) and glutamine (for recovery support).* Using a product such as Vitacost Whey Protein Complex with BCAAs, Glutamine and Glutamine Precursors is a convenient way to get everything you need at once.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.