I can not tell you all the horror I experience every day, watching people walk into the gym lost and uninformed. Not because I’m a know-it-all, but because I just want to help them all figure out what their doing so that they can effectively meet their goals. But also realize that their not knowing how to work a machine, or wandering around to different areas aimlessly isn’t entirely their fault. The idea of joining the gym and taking charge of their fitness life is always such an exciting thought. It’s taking a step in the right direction and most people feel like their finally getting it together. But, raise your hand if you’ve ever walked into a gym, looked at all the machines, and just stood there for a moment wondering “where do I start?” “what kind of machine is that?” “wow, that lady’s body looks amazing.” (raising my hand) …the gym it can be extremely intimidating and for some folks a deterrent to actually working out. Have no fear (no, really, get rid of that F word), I’m here to help guide you to making the gym your friend. You conquer the gym, don’t let it conquer you.
#1 – plan. Plan. PLAN!
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” – (attributed to) Alan Lakein. The truth of this phrase applies to almost everything, including going to the gym. Plan your workout. Walking around the gym aimlessly, not knowing what you’re going to do next is not the best way to spend your precious time. Once you know how much time you’re going to dedicate to your workout, you can plan it out. 1 hour? 30 minutes? 45 minutes? Be sure to include some changing/showering time before or after if necessary. Below is an example of a 30 minute workout which includes the time in each activity and what piece of equipment (if applicable) will be used:
Warm-Up (5 mins) Brisk walk on the treadmill/elliptical
Cardio (15 mins) Intervals on the treadmill/elliptical – 1 minute fast, 2 minutes slow
Weight/Strength Training (10 mins) Upper body – bicep curls, tricep kick backs, lateral shoulder raises, 5lb weights
Cool-Down/Stretch (5 mins)
In no way is this plan the guru of all plans, but you get the idea. Write down what you’re going to do so that when you get to the gym, you know exactly how you’ll execute your workout.
**(Be on the look out for a post with 5 30 minute gym workouts you can print out and take with you…coming soon! I might even do some videos!)**
#2 Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
I cannot stress this tip enough. You’re never too old or knowledgeable to ask for a little help with something. Especially in a big and potentially dangerous place like the gym. Those machines can be scary and intimidating. Attempting to operate a machine that you know nothing about is extremely risky and you don’t want to injure yourself. In most gyms, there are floor people walking around or personal trainers or even someone working behind the desk. If you choose to try a machine that looks intriguing, and you have no clue how to operate it, ASK! Believe me, you’ll look sillier trying to do something and hurting yourself than simply saying, “Hey, how do I work this machine?” We all have to learn and start somewhere. Don’t let your ego or self-esteem get in the way of mastering the gym.
There may even be a free program or a couple of personal training session where a trainer can show you the ropes. Notice I said FREE. It shouldn’t cost you any money to be shown how to get started with operating the machines with proper form. Beware if they try to charge you for that.
#3 Dress to sweat, but try not to look a complete mess.
Now please don’t take this point as permission to walk into the gym looking any kind of way. I’ve seen it all. Sweat pants with holes in them, ripped shirts, shorts that are too small, dirty and stained t-shirts, leggings that try to pass as tights, pajama pants. You name it, folks at the gym have had to suffer through seeing it. It’s always good to invest in a few really good pieces of clothing that you can workout, sweat in, and feel confident in too. Just because you’re going to sweat in it, doesn’t mean it has to be falling apart. Two of my favorite places to get great workout clothes that will last are Target and Marshalls/TJMaxx. You want moisture-wicking, slightly fitted clothes that will take the sweat and water away from your skin so that you stay comfortable as you get hot. Check out some of the examples below.
#4 Be prepared for almost anything.
Most preparation for success in the gym starts before you get there. So, before you venture into this new land, pack your bag. Take a few extra minutes in the evening (or in the morning if you’re a morning person) to get your bag ready, then you can just grab it and go. In my experience I either pack heavy or light depending on what I’m doing after my workout. Some essentials you may include: Fresh, clean clothes to put on, deodorant, soap, shampoo, lotion, comb or brush, hair ties or bobby-pins, a towel and washcloth, female emergency kit (ladies, you know what I’m talking about). Of course, you can eliminate some of these items if you won’t need them.
Also, unless you’re renting a locker through the gym, bring a lock with you. There’s nothing more terrifying than putting your stuff in a locker, thinking it’s safe, and returning to find your belongings are gone. You can never be too safe, so lock your stuff up.
Lastly, pack a snack. I don’t know about you, but I am ravenously hungry after a workout and I tend to grab the first thing I see because I’m starving! Your body has burned every ounce of energy you fed it and it’s craving more, so feed it GOOD stuff. An apple, a bag of almonds, a cup of greek yogurt, a bagel with peanut butter, a granola bar. This post has some more “after workout” ideas for you.
#5 Go in confident and determined.
Last, but certainly not least, go into your workout knowing you’re on your way to meeting your goals. No one’s looking at you or judging you or thinking you suck. All of your insecurity is made up in your head. So, change your thoughts. Everyone in the gym is trying to meet a goal. They’re trying to get through their workout just like you. You’ve only got a certain amount of time and you’ve planned what you’re going to do, now execute it. Push hard to get through each of your sets, keeping in mind how awesome you’ll feel afterward. Don’t half-ass it. You came there to do a job, now do it. It’s that simple.
I hope this post has helped those of you who may be embarking on a new fitness journey when the new year hits. There will be thousands of folks who will start the year fresh with a new gym membership just like you. Go in there knowing what to do and how to do it.