How to get started at the gym

The gym can seem like a scary place - that’s why we’re here to help you get started!

Gyms have reopened in England and could be due to open in Scotland and Wales in the next few weeks. Perhaps you're thinking that now is the time to give the gym a go, or maybe you've had so long without it that it feels like you're starting all over again.

The gym can seem an intimidating place. The moment you first step through the door, it can feel like all eyes are on you. What does that pully thing do? Am I lifting these weights right? How do I work this leg thingy?

Of course, in reality, the gym isn’t as scary as you think. Here’s a couple of tips to get your started.

Try a taster sesh first

It seems everyone has a fitness obsession and an instagram account dedicated to deadlifts nowadays, but that doesn’t mean the gym has to work for you too.

The last thing you want to do is sign-up for a 12 month membership before you know if you’ll even enjoy it. If you’re worried you might not get the most out of a membership, why not follow jsmith6131’s advice:

“Try out a free gym pass to see if it works for you.”

Most gyms offer a free day or even three-day pass, so you could try a couple of different places to see which you feel most comfortable at before making a commitment.

If you give it a go and it’s not for you, there are plenty of others way to up your activity without hitting the squat rack. Have a look at how you can get fit on a budget here.

Put your gym gear on

We all know the hardest part of working out is actually getting through the gym door to begin with. So if you’re feeling a bit anxious to get started, why not try this cheeky tactic from Noodlzzz:

“If you feel unmotivated, make the effort to just put on your gym gear and get to the gym. You don't even have to do anything, but the theory is the biggest hurdle is leaving the house. Once you're there, it's not much more of a step to actually work out.”

If you’re a complete newbie to any sort of athletic activity, try treating yourself to some fancy new gym gear. That way, you’ll actually want to try out your new threads, and will feel confident and comfortable when you walk through the door.

Try an induction session

So, you’ve got your membership and you’re kitted out in your finest gear… now what?

If you’ve never done a workout on your own before, it can feel pretty scary knowing where to start and how to even use half the machines.

If you’re unsure of what to do in the gym, try out an induction session where someone can show you the ropes, as surnia explains here:

"Don't worry, any reputable gym will do an induction on your first visit, so you'll be shown how to use the machines. And don't be afraid to ask for advice from the staff at any time. You could see if they do a fitness assessment and could make a programme for you."

Start light and build up

No-one can squat 150kg the first time they pick up a barbell, or run 20 miles on the treadmill without a load of training beforehand. If you’re heading to the gym thinking you’ll have a six-pack and a record-breaking bench press within a week, chances are you’re just going to feel disappointed and want to give up.

The best way to ease into your new active lifestyle is to start light and build up - especially if you don’t want any injuries...

“Don't jump straight in the deep end, and don't strain yourself to do something that you know you're not able to do.” - Matilda_B15

If you’re focussing on strength, start with lighter, more manageable weights that allow you to focus on your form. If you’ve never trained before, it might be worth asking a personal trainer to show you the correct technique and then to practice without weights until you feel confident.

After that, you’re free to work your way up to heavier weights as your strength and fitness increases.

Go off-peak

Squeezing between powerlifters for your first workout isn’t ideal if you’re feeling anxious. To avoid the rush, Danny Dorito suggests this:

“Start by going at off-peak times, as you’ll have a more flexible timetable as a student.”

Usually, peak time is in the morning before people head to their 9-5, or in the early evening between 5 and 8pm.

If it fits into your schedule, head to the gym about 11am or 3pm for your first few workouts. This will allow you to work at your own pace and not feel intimidated by the amount of people everywhere. It also means you won’t have to wait for the machines - a definite bonus!

Take a friend

One of the best ways to get started at the gym is to tag along with a buddy. EstelOfTheEyrie offers a pearl of wisdom:

“For people who are conscious that they're being watched, my tip is to go with someone else. That way you can receive encouragement if you need it, and it's a great time to catch up with a friend! Plus, if that friend is already a gym bunny, they can give you tips about how to use the machines properly, and increase the variety of workouts you can do i.e. those designed for two people, rather than one.”

Working out with a friend is a great way to make exercise fun, and to help you stick to your new routine. If they’re already a regular gym-goer, get them to send you a text every time they’re heading down - that way, you won’t lose your motivation.

Focus on yourself

Although taking inspiration from fitness accounts online and people you meet in the gym can be really great for your motivation, it’s important to remember that this is your fitness journey.

Everybody is different, and something you struggle with might be really easy for someone else - and vice versa! Don’t get too distracted by what other people are doing in the gym, or by anyone else’s progress. As member Wikia says:

“It doesn't matter how much the guy next to you can bench - all that matters is your own progress. Sure, he might deadlift 100kg, but you could only deadlift 15 yesterday and now you can do 20.”

Keep track of your progress with notes on your own personal bests, or photos to help you notice any changes in your body - you’ll be surprised how much you can achieve when you stick to a routine!

Have you just got started at the gym?

Maybe you’re already a gym bunny? Share your tips for getting started in the comments below.


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5 ways exercise can help your mental health

How to get fit on a budget