So you’ve finally decided to do it. You’ve got your athletic tank top, sweat-wicking pants, and a burning desire to get in shape. But something is holding you back from getting into your car for your first day at the gym. You’re anxious, and you’re in good company.
A lot of people find the gym intimidating, especially if they’ve never been to one before. For some, it’s the anxiety of going to a new place full of muscleheads who seem to already know everything about working out. For others, it’s not knowing where to start in that big room full of clanking iron. Maybe, for you, it’s both.
The good news is, many people before you have survived their first day at the gym, and you can too. Here are some tips for getting through those gym doors and having a great first day.
How to Conquer Your First Day At The Gym
Every single person working out at your gym had their own first day at the gym. And on that first day, most of them didn’t look the way they do now.
A lot of first time gym-goers are afraid that other people at the gym will judge them, but this just isn’t true. The vast majority of people at the gym are too busy sweating through that last mile on the treadmill or achieving a personal weightlifting record to even notice you. You aren’t the first new person to walk through those doors, and you won’t be the last.
No one arrived into this world knowing how to work out or where the free weights are. Don’t worry about what other people think. Go through those doors and get ready to change your life.
Have a Plan
Once those doors close behind you, you’ll probably be facing down a huge variety of equipment. Treadmills! Barbells! Free weights, weight machines, workout balls, yoga mats, pull up stations…it’s enough to make anyone dizzy. That’s why it’s important to have a workout plan before you get there. You’ll feel less awkward if you know what you’re looking for.
This introduces a chicken-and-egg problem: how can you know what to do at the gym if you’ve never been to the gym? One possibility is hiring a personal trainer. Most gyms have personal trainers available, and a lot of them will offer a free class in hopes that you’ll buy more sessions. A personal trainer can help you navigate the gym and find the right exercises for you.
Don’t worry about the personal trainer judging you. A big part of their job is helping newbies just like you. Whatever your fitness level, it’s probably not their first time helping someone who started where you are in their journey to where you want to be.
If personal training isn’t an option, weight machines are a great way to start. These machines are specially designed to move in safe ways that won’t strain or pull anything (unless you overdo it–more on that later). They also come with picture labels that show how to do the exercises. You don’t have to stick with the weight machines forever, of course, but they’re an easy way to get started and to obtain the baseline strength that will help with other types of exercise later.
For weight machines, most people do two to three sets of eight to twelve repetitions (“reps”) on each machine they decide to use. One common way to figure out which machines to pick is to focus on different sets of muscles on different gym days. Do chest, shoulders, and triceps your first day, then return for back and biceps the next. And don’t forget leg day!
Embrace the Awkwardness
Part of doing anything for the first time is figuring out how that thing works. The gym is no different. You’ll probably spend a lot of your first day at the gym squinting at those pictures on the side of the weightlifting machines, wandering around trying to find another chest machine, or trying to figure out where the bathroom is. Today isn’t going to be an efficient workout.
Cut yourself some slack. You’re learning a whole new skill set today. Your job isn’t to pump iron or set records. It’s to start learning your way around the equipment so you’ll have a better idea of what you’re doing when you come back next time.
Don’t Overdo it!
If it’s your first time working out in a long time, your body may not remember its own limits. A lot of newbies make the mistake of pushing themselves to the limit, then find themselves unable to move the next day. Remember, your goal is to come back. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
To avoid a full-on muscular revolt tomorrow, take it easy today. When you finish each exercise, you should feel like you could keep going for a few more reps. Don’t overwork any muscle group, unless you want those muscles to be angry at you tomorrow morning.
Don’t Let it Be the Last Time
You did it! You braved the awkwardness, figured out how to do some exercises, and worked out until you were tired but not exhausted. But to get big results, you have to keep coming back.
Think about where the gym fits into your life. When are you most likely to actually go? Some people find that first thing in the morning works well. Others prefer to go immediately after work. Some night owls might find themselves running on the treadmill at 2 AM!
Schedule gym time and stick to it. Dig deep for workout motivation. Before you know it, you’ll be one of those regulars working on a new personal weightlifting record, or sweating out that last mile, when the next newbie wanders in.