So you are thinking about joining a gym or recently have and now you’re wondering what to do when you walk through the doors. Rest assured you aren’t the only one. The majority of people at the gym walk in feeling intimidated that everyone is watching them and clueless about exactly what to do. Yes, even that guy near the weights grunting as he strains to curl 50lb dumbbells. 

So how exactly do you go about navigating the gym without looking like a newbie and know what exercises you should be doing? I’m here to help you break it down step by step so you can get to workin’ on your fitness.

Be clear on what your goals are.

Before you even walk into that gym and get a lay of the land you need to know what is you want to achieve and set some goals. Are you working out for overall better health? To lose weight? To gain muscle and get stronger? To increase your endurance or run a 5k? Or the age-old #1 thing most women have as a goal, lose weight & tone up? What you should be doing in the gym is dependent on your ultimate goal.

Plan your workouts into your schedule and commit to them.

Look at your schedule for the week and be realistic with your self when you block out time for the gym. If you know that Wednesdays are your busiest day of the week, maybe don’t plan to work out on Wednesdays when you’re more likely to choose to skip the gym. While waking up early to go the gym may seem daunting you are more likely to follow through with a workout if you do it in the beginning of your day than at the end when your mind is day dreaming about collapsing on the couch. Consistency is key when it comes to being successful on your fitness journey.

Hit the gym and learn the lay of the land.

The first day at the gym take it easy just spend time getting familiar with the space and letting it become part of your comfort zone. The best way to learn where everything is at the gym is to ask someone at the front desk if you can be given a tour. Don’t feel weird asking, there is someone working whose job is to do exactly that. 

Normally I would tell you to walk away from the cardio machines and pick up some weights but if this is your first visit to the gym, by all means go get acquainted with the treadmill. Today is about getting familiar and comfortable. The first day in the gym, just conquering the newbie nerves deserves a pat on the back, there’s no need to feel like you need to walk over to the squat rack and make it your bitch. 

Fit Showgirl Guide to Navigating the Gym

Find your routine.

Now that you’ve hit the gym, had a cardio session and gotten a bit more acquainted with the layout it’s time to create your workout routine. This is where we go back to those goals you set in the beginning to help figure out what we should be doing. A well-rounded program consists of both strength training and cardio but how much of each varies.

Overall Health/Lose Weight:  If your goals are more along the lines of lose weight (body fat) and tone up (gain muscle) start with 2-3 cardio sessions a week and 1-2 total body strength training sessions. As you become more comfortable at the gym and consistently make all your scheduled workouts this should shift to 2-3 strength training sessions and 1-2 cardio sessions. While cardio is great, the minute you step off that machine you stop burning calories. For long-term weight loss we need to build muscle in order to burn calories over a longer period of time and strength training will do exactly that. 

Gain Strength: If your goals are more along the lines of getting stronger and gaining muscle, you will want to start with 2 workouts a week and work towards 3. Start with total body workout consisting of 8-10 exercises with a weight that you can perform 8-12 reps to completion. The longer you workout and more gym savvy you become you can play around with sets, reps and  splitting your workouts into upper and lower body. If your aren’t familiar at all with strength training equipment or muscle groups, consider hiring a personal trainer. Most gyms even offer a complimentary session with a trainer when you sign up.

And for the record no you will not get bulky unless you tailor your nutrition accordingly, use supplements and maybe live at the gym. So don’t worry about using a weight over 10lbs, unless of course you just aren’t strong enough yet. It’s better to start light and realize you could have used a heavier weight than start too heavy and hurt yourself.

Build Endurance/Run a 5k: To build your cardio endurance try to hit 30 minute sessions 3x a week, slowly adding 5-10 minutes every week as you feel comfortable. Apps like Couch to 5k are a great program for improving endurance as well as prepping for that race. 

Write down everything you do!

If you don’t keep track of what exercises you do, how many repetitions you did and how much weight you lifted you will never know if you are progressing. Once you can easily complete 12 reps with the weight you have been using it’s time to increase your load. If we don’t continue to challenge our body we will never see those strength gains or lost pounds we are after. 

Download this handy-dandy Weekly Workout Tracker to help you out. 

Learn Proper Form

Knowing how to do a movement using proper form will help keep you from injury. This becomes increasingly more important every time you add weight to a movement. If you don’t have the funds or feel comfortable hiring a trainer the circuit machines at a gym are a good place to start. Since you are in a fixed position, it’s less likely you will use improper form. 

Fitness organizations like ACE also have great libraries where you can access galleries of exercises being performed to help you understand how to do a movement you may be unsure of. 

Hit The Gym!

Don’t let fear of not being perfect in the gym hold you back. Just committing to the gym and walking thru those doors takes courage. Picking up that first dumbbell takes courage. Everyone had a first day at the gym and as much as you may worry people are watching and judging, 99% of the time everyone else isthinking the exact same thing. Truth is we are all so inside our own heads we rarely notice the people working out next to us unless they are using the piece of equipment we want to use next. 

If you’re new, let me know if these tips helped. Have a question I didn’t answer, ask it! Want to share your story about your first day at the gym or have a tip for beginners I left out, Share Away!

Fit Showgirl Guide to Navigating the Gym