4 tips for getting started at a gym

It’s been nearly four years since I dedicated myself to getting into the gym at least six times a week in an effort to transform my body and get fit.

You’ll learn all about gym etiquette as you go along, but as I have learned, there is some prep work you need to do before you even walk through your gym’s doors.

Here are the top four pieces of advice I’d give you anyone getting ready to walk into a gym for the first time.

1. Wear proper gear

You wouldn’t wear swim trunks to work at a construction site, and you wouldn’t wear flip flops to run a 5K race.

So don’t stroll into the gym in a pair of jeans and loafers and expect to get a good workout in. And yes, I’ve seen this outfit worn at the gym more than once.

When you’re at the gym, you are training your body. And to do that properly, you need to dress in the appropriate attire:

  • A T-Shirt or tank top made of a light material to keep you cool. Stay away from cotton.
  • Athletic shorts that hit just above the knee. No basketball shorts that fall midway between your knee and ankle.
  • Compression shorts, especially if you’re doing a leg or ab workout where your shorts are bound to ride up…no one wants to see that.
  • Training or running shoes.

2. Come in with a plan

It’s often easy for regular gym-goers to spot first-timers.

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Every time you enter the gym, go in with a plan

Too often, they bounce from machine to machine, doing a couples sets on each machine, never focusing their efforts on particular part of their body, and then leaving after 20 minutes or so.

Train your body in segments, and have a plan for how you’re going to attack those segments each time to walk through the gym doors. For example, a typical five-day workout plan might break down like:

  • Monday – Back
  • Tuesday – Shoulders
  • Wednesday – Legs
  • Thursday – Chest
  • Friday – Arms
  • Saturday & Sunday – Rest

Bodybuilding.com is an incredible resource for fitness plans to get you started.

3. Don’t be afraid of free weights

Look, I get that the machines are less intimidating – I mean, they have how-to instructions printed on them – and that cardio equipment is simple: you get on, you move for a certain length of time, and then you’re done. You even get to watch TV.

But you will not see the progress you’re hoping for if you don’t get to the other side of the gym and use free weights. And yes, even if you’re trying to lose weight, nothing will be as effective as slinging some iron.

If nothing else, focus on compound movements that activate as many muscle groups as possible. Bench presses, deadlifts, squats. Don’t just do some bicep curls and call it good.

4. When in doubt, ask

Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions.

If you don’t know how to use a machine, ask someone how to use it. If you see someone doing an exercise that you’d like to try but aren’t sure how, ask them for pointers. If you’re trying to lift a weight that you think you might struggle with near the end of your set, ask for a spot.

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