As if joining a gym isn’t scary enough; countless exercises, complicated machines and loud grunting MEAT HEADS can all make the experience more than intimidating. Nobody wants to walk into a gym for the first time and stick out like a sore thumb. And more importantly, you want to be safe and avoid getting injured before you actually get started!
Being a personal trainer and spending years in the gym myself, I’ve pretty much seen it all; whether it’s dangerous mistakes with equipment, horrible form or bad choices in gym attire. There’s a lot to learn if you’ve never been to a gym before! Although it can be a little bit scary at first, hopefully I can save you some embarrassment by providing you with some useful tips and advice to make your first gym experience comfortable and safe.
FREE Personal Training Sessions
If you’ve already committed to a new gym membership, then you’ve taken the first step! If not, keep in mind that most gyms offer a free “introductory training session” to provide new members with some guidance. I’ve worked for a variety of gyms and health clubs over the years, and all of them offered a free personal training session to new gym members. If it’s not offered when you first walk in, don’t be afraid to ask.
Although it won’t provide the personalized, in-depth training you would receive by hiring a full-time personal trainer, it will be extremely helpful if you’ve never used a gym before. You’ll learn about the different types of equipment, how it works and how to use it properly.
Please take advantage of your free personal training session, and bring something to take notes for future reference.
Using Proper Equipment & Form
An introductory training session is a great way to familiarize yourself with equipment, but practice makes perfect. Don’t expect to be an expert right away, and don’t be afraid to ask questions as you move along your journey. There’s always something new to learn, and so many ways to gather information!
Personal trainers are happy to help (even if you’re not a paying them), but don’t interrupt their training sessions with paid clients. You’ll find knowledgeable members at almost every gym, so if there’s not a trainer available, then ask someone who seems familiar with the equipment and the different types of exercises. Ask how to target specific body parts, what exercises work best and how to perform them properly.
I can’t stress proper form enough… not only will you reduce your chance of injury, but you could miss the targeted muscle group(s) completely if you use improper form. Most machines provide helpful graphic displays, although the info may be limited. If you’re not 100% confident with your form… ask! Be sure to check out my online exercise guide, or try BodyBuilding.com for even more information and resources.
Warming Up & Stretching
As you spend more time in the gym you’ll probably notice that a lot of people skip warming up, but warming up is an important step for everyone – especially beginners. Warming up prepares your body for a workout by gradually increasing your heart rate and improving circulation. This will loosen up the joints and increase blood flow to your muscles. Warming up prepares you for physical activity and helps to prevent injuries.
There are are a variety of ways to warm up, which will be dependent on the types of exercises you do, and your fitness goals. When weight training for general health and fitness, I recommend that people start out with 10-15 minutes of light cardiovascular activity (ie: stair stepper, stationary bike, etc.) to get the blood flowing throughout your body. Then before each movement, do one or two reduced weight sets before you start your main (heavier) sets to loosen up the muscles.
Warming up before lifting weights is much like a runner stretching and lightly jogging before a race. It helps to slowly ramp up blood flow and prevent injury, such as pulling a muscle. Keep this in mind when weight training: each exercise will require at least one warm up set.
Stretching is often recommended before and after exercising as well. If you’re using weights, light warm up sets should suffice, but if you’re primarily interested in aerobic or cardiovascular training, stretching out is especially important and should not be skipped.
Choosing Proper Gym Attire
When choosing clothes for the gym, it’s important to take everyone into consideration… men, women, and children. Maybe save those “sassy” outfits for class or at home, children could be roaming. Either way, learning what you feel comfortable and confident in will take some time, just like training itself. Here are some recommendations:
1.) Wear what makes you comfortable. This may be shorts or pants. I didn’t think I would feel comfortable wearing fitted leggings or shorts, but I quickly changed my mind. Wearing loose pants actually makes you sweat more and they’re typically made of fabrics that do not breathe. The same goes for shirts. Nobody wants to be the stinky kid! Spending a few extra dollars on quality gym attire is well worth the investment. Not only that, but it moves with your body, not against it.
2.) Shorts for women. As for shorts, you’d be surprised how easily things can shift leaving you exposed and setting you up for embarrassment. There are so many choices; from fitted shorts, to looser fits with built-in fitted shorts underneath. Brilliant! Just don’t go too tight…
3.) Sports bras are a must. I thought because I was smaller chested gal I could save a few dollars. Nope! Regular bras malfunction, chafe, shift, and even find a way to unsnap while exercising… EEK!
4.) Quality gym shoes. Shoes are going to have a huge impact on your training, especially once you graduate from novice. Whether you’re weightlifting or doing cardiovascular, shoes can have a huge impact on your body. From back pain, shin splints, foot issues, calve soreness, or even an increased chance of injury. What girl doesn’t like a reason to buy new shoes? Choose a quality pair tailored to your training style.
5.) Pick up a gym bag. Of course having a bag to keep all of your stuff in makes it much easier and keeps you on track. If you have everything in your bag in your car ready-to-go, you’ll have no excuses. Throw in a water bottle, maybe a healthy snack, and you are ready to roll!
Learning the Gym Lingo
It’s easy to find quality gym routines, knowing how to read them can be like joining a band and not knowing how to read the musical notes. Here’s a handful of gym terms that all beginners should know:
- Set – A group of consecutive repetitions. Most exercises include 3-4 sets, with one warm up set.
- Rep – The number of times you do a single exercise in a row. Also referred to as a “repetition.”
- Rest/recovery – The time recommended in between each set to take a break (AKA: rest). This allows enough time for your muscles to recuperate for another set, but short enough to keep your muscles warmed up and activated.
- Failure – Until you cannot do one more rep.
- Circuit – This is a series of different exercises that are performed back to back, with little or no rest.
- Pyramid – Doing sets of downward or upward scaling reps (ie: sets of 12, 10, 8 and 6 reps, or 6, 8, 10 and 12 reps)
- Super set – A combination of complimentary exercises done back to back in one “super set” with little to no rest. For example: “I did a super set of shoulder presses with rear delt fly’s”
- Intervals – When you train at a low intensity for a period of time, followed by a high intensity.
- HIIT – Known as “high-intensity interval training,” it’s another form of interval training that alternates periods of short intense exercise with less-intense recovery periods.
- Resistance training – Exercise using resistance, like free weights, machines or elastic bands.
- Cardio – Cardiovascular exercise done on equipment such as treadmills, stationary bikes or stair climbers.
- Negatives – Negative training targets the negative movement of an exercise. For instance, on a bicep curl, the negative movement is when you are bringing the weight back down.
- Spot – When someone assists another person with an exercise.
There is much more to learn, but one step at a time! Until you’re fully comfortable and confident… we’ll pump the breaks right here. For now, check with your gym to see if you can set up an introductory workout with a trainer. Set some goals that will help you stay motivated and committed, and keep them written down in your phone, on your fridge, or in your car as a daily motivator. People who write down their goals are 50% more likely to achieve them than those who don’t!
Last but not least… check out one of my beginner workouts for women to help you get started. And remember, “you don’t have to be great to start, YOU HAVE TO START TO BE GREAT” 😉
Beginner Gym Routines for Women: