15 things every gym newbie needs to know
It's a new year, which means it's about time for the annual influx of people heading to the gym for the first time.
I recently became one of those people. In all my 26 years of existence, I had never once set foot in a gym, but when a flyer came through the door offering £24.99-a-month membership to a gym round the corner, I thought I'd give it a whirl. After all, what's the worst that could happen?
"Hiya, it's the part of your brain that handles anxiety here," the part of my brain that handles anxiety said. "Here's a few suggestions: you could be rubbish at it, you could embarrass yourself, you could do yourself a mischief and you could waste loads of money on something you hate. OK, see you next time you have to speak in public."
Great. Well fuck you, the part of my brain that handles anxiety. I went anyway, and not only was there nothing to worry about, it was an excellent experience. There are a few things it's worth knowing before you go for the first time, so for any newbies heading to the gym for the first time, heed these words.
1. Always warm up and cool down
The key to doing anything well is preparation and working out is no different. You need to raise your heart rate to get the blood pumping around your body and get your muscles limbered up and ready to work.
A bit of cardio is a good way to get started, a slow jog for ten minutes to get your body moving and your heart beating faster. There's some debate over whether static stretches (where you pull your arms and legs in various directions) are any use for warming up, so check out the video above for some dynamic stretching exercises you can do instead.
Just as you wouldn't suddenly jump into hard exercise, you shouldn't suddenly stop either. Say you're on a pretty strong run on the treadmill, instead of jumping off and heading to the showers, take it down a few notches and let your body cool down steadily. Static stretching seems to be better for cooling down, so here are a few stretching patterns you can do.
2. Absolutely no one is watching you
It sounds harsh but honestly, no one cares what you're doing (unless you're acting like a prick, in which case it's advisable that you stop acting like a prick). Everyone in the gym is there to work; they're focused on their own workout and are too tired and sweaty to care about whatever you're doing, so crack on and don't worry about people looking at you, because they're not.
3. The exercise machines are simple and have instructions on them
My biggest fear, as someone who had never been to a gym before, was that I wouldn't know how to use all the machines. In fact, they couldn't be simpler if they tried. People who make gym equipment want as many people to use it as possible, so they dumb everything down and make all the options as obvious as possible.
In general there are two kinds of machine: things that make you move and things that you make move. Each of them should have a simple set of instructions that tell you how to set up the machine (which is never more complicated than pulling a lever) and how to use it safely. Honestly, it's so easy.
4. If you're not sure about anything, don't be afraid to ask
Photo: Brisbane City Council
That said, if something doesn't seem right to you or you're not totally clear on how something works, ask someone in the gym. The staff are there to help and make sure you don't hurt yourself, so they'll be only too happy to show you what to do.
If you can't spot a member of staff, try asking someone who looks like they know what they're doing at the gym and aren't in the middle of an exercise. Chances are they've been there themselves and would be happy to give you a few pointers.
5. If you're prone to sweating a lot, bring a small towel into the gym with you
Photo: Free Stock Photos
In fact, it's probably wise to bring a towel anyway, just in case. The whole point of the gym is to make you sweat, but that doesn't make it any more pleasant, so its good to have something to mop your brow with and dry your hands on.
If the machines are looking a bit moist after you've been working out on them, be a gent and give it a wipe down before moving on. Equally, if someone hasn't been so considerate when vacating the equipment before you, at least you have the option of cleaning it up before starting your workout.
6. Tidy up after yourself
Your mum doesn't work at the gym, and even if she does, she's got better things to do than clean up after you. Put things back where you found them. That goes for weights, equipment, benches, mats, everything. If it has a home, make sure it goes back to it.
7. Don't push yourself too hard to begin with
This is just day one. Day one is about finding your feet, getting familiar and comfortable with the gym, trying things out and seeing how you go. There's no need to push yourself to the absolute limit just yet; in fact, you'll probably just do yourself in, wake up the next day unable to move and resolve never to go to the gym again.
You need to find your limits before you can push them, so start off with smaller weights, slower speeds and easier settings, then work your way up. The pain will come soon enough, don't you worry.
8. Give your body a chance to rest
Availability of machines will dictate which parts of your body you can work on, but try to avoid hammering the same part over and over again. As a newbie, you don't want to do arm exercise after arm exercise after arm exercise, as your arms will not relish the attention.
Work on your arms, then do your legs, then maybe your chest, then your shoulders - break it up. And don't rush back the next day, thinking that working out every day is necessary to get fit. Your body needs time to repair the damage you've done in the gym - that's when the muscle builds.
9. If you're serious about getting a good routine, consider a PT session
A lot of gyms offer new members a free introductory session with a personal trainer. This would be a great way to get to know the gym and understand fitness without feeling intimidated or confused.
Your trainer can help you work out a routine that will get you on the way to achieving your goals, or if you've got the money, you can carry on training with them and hopefully get a really efficient fitness routine going.
10. Put the phone away
— matthew felker (@fattmelkerIII) October 15, 2015
You don't want to be the guy who sits on the exercise bike, doing a bit of light pedalling while scrolling through Facebook and hogging the machine. No one likes that guy.
11. Feel free to explore the gym
Photo: Shantece Gonzalez
It's your gym as much as anyone else's and you have the right to go and use any part of it. It's tempting to just stick by the treadmills as they look simple and familiar, but there are so many other things to explore. Check out the free weights; go to the sauna; see if there are any classes running that you can join.
Put it this way: you're spending at least £20-a-month on this place, so you'd better make the most of it.
12. There may well be naked old people
It's just one of those things. Maybe it's a generational quirk, but for some reason, older people seem to be cool with walking about bollock naked. Perhaps they've just reached that precious age where they sincerely stop giving a fuck.
We've all got bodies and we've all got to get comfortable with them, but just be advised that wrinkly old man dick is something you can reasonably expect to encounter in the locker room.
13. Everyone was a newbie once
Very few people are born in gymnasiums, so few that the Office for National Statistics doesn't bother recording them. Everyone else had to come to the gym as a newbie, just like you. They had to ask questions, work hard and struggle along, just like you.
You may not look like the hench dudes on the benchpress yet, but remember that they probably looked a lot like you on their first day. As we mentioned before, no one else in the gym is worried about what you're doing, but if they're thinking anything, it's "good on you".
14. Be cool
Photo: Brock A. Taylor
The main thing to do at the gym (besides work out, obviously) is be cool. That is to say, don't be a dick. Hitting the gym and lifting heavy weights is a pretty macho pursuit, but that's not a licence to be a meathead.
Be polite, be respectful. Don't get in the way, don't do anything stupid. Help make the gym the kind of place you hoped it would be when you walked in for the first time.
15. Prepare for hell the next day
Yep, you're gonna be sore, but you'll be glad you did it.
And above all: make plans to go back!
Photo: Fashionably Geek