A guide to making the most of the gym (for newbies)

You joined the gym. Congratulations!  Genuinely.  No sneering here (although I do reserve the right to harrumph when I can’t get on my favourite treadmill in the January crush).  I know from my own experience that walking into a gym, when unfamiliar, unfit or overweight (or all of the above) can feel intimidating.  There’s all this equipment, all these ripped looking people, too much confusing terminology.

This discomfort can lead to people quitting – or just letting the membership card languish on the shelf.

So if you have joined the gym this new year, here are my top tips for making the most of it – and getting through those first few visits.

  1. Take up the free session. Every decent gym will offer a proper induction to the site and the equipment, and many will offer a free session with a Personal Trainer too. Take these up, and ask all the questions. Make sure you know how to use the key pieces of equipment before you begin.
  2. Figure out what you want to focus on – and have a plan for your sessions.  You don’t need to worry too much about the technicalities to begin with.  But knowing your key goal will help provide focus; are you there to lose weight, to tone, to work towards a specific goal like run a race?  Chat to the gym staff about which are the best pieces of equipment to use in accordance with your goal – it’s their job to guide you.  Some gyms will offer a tailored plan, or a little research of your own will give you all you need.  Pinterest and YouTube are good places to start.
  3. Consider a Personal Trainer – just for a few sessions. If you are entirely new to gym based exercise, consider getting a PT. You don’t need to sign up (or pay) for a dozen sessions. Just book two or three and make it clear you just need some help to get you going. Then once you have a programme branch out on your own.
  4. Step out of the cardio zone. Many people, especially in the early days of gym membership, stay on the running machines, exercise bikes and so on. They are somewhat less scary than all those strange weights machines that need setting up and understanding. But you will have better results if you include strength and resistance work in your sessions (weight and body weight exercises). Google and YouTube is your friend here. You will find plenty of videos and instructions on how to gently and safely introduce some weights into your visits – and again, ask for help from the staff.
  5. Go to some classes. I know this is hard too. Everyone else knows the routines, and you feel like the class dork. But everyone there was new once. Resist the urge to hide at the back. Get a space in the room where you can easily see the class instructor. If you hate it, you can just say thank you and leave and never go back. Classes will push you out of your comfort zone and teach you new things that you can build into your own workouts. And after a couple of visits you won’t be the new person any longer.

Remember. No matter how uncomfortable you feel, no matter how out of place you think you look, no one is taking any notice of you.  They are there to do their thing.  They are focused, listening to their music, counting their reps.  Don’t worry about anyone else – just go for it.


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