Updated: Jan 24, 2018
by Gaby Levey
It may be a quick New Year’s fix to join a gym and know that with the swipe of a key card, you can jump into a fitness class or hit the weights when you have an hour or are feeling particularly guilty after indulging over the weekend. But, it’s another thing entirely to crave the hype of an exercise environment and be able waltz around gym equipment as if it were the furniture in your home. As a regular gym-goer, I have picked out the six most important steps that you can take to make the gym, or any sort of fitness environment, your happy place.
1. Do your research
Gym equipment may look complicated, but just because you’ve never lifted a weight in your life doesn’t mean you never will. Researching certain exercises can be hugely beneficial in starting your fitness journey and ensuring that you allow yourself to utilise all that your gym has to offer. YouTube channels and vloggers are always incredibly informative, and despite my gender, I find watching The Buff Dudes and The Lean Machines helpful in keeping my form and discovering new movements that I may not have come across before.
If you don’t know the name of the machines in your gym, you can simply google a list of gym equipment and start from there. Most Google searches will be able to give you the name of the machine, what it is used for and a set of diagrams that show you how to use it. Making sure you know what the equipment in your gym can do will make you more confident entering that environment. Instead of fiddling with the usual cardio machines, research workouts, learn terminology and understand your form and movements; you’ll find that everything will fall into place when you have a plan and you’re motivated to learn how to keep your body looking and feeling strong.
2. Ask for help
If you become slightly machine-shy, or your gym has some weird and wonderful equipment, just ask someone for help. Most gyms and sports centres hire Sports Assistants, who do more than walk around telling you to put clips on your barbells and put away your weights; most have trained to a Level 2 standard of gym instruction. Sports Assistants, Personal Trainers, and even regular gym-goers will always be willing to help you out, no matter how new you are to exercise.
3. Have a plan
Having an idea of what you want to do at the gym will do wonders for your comfort levels. Don’t just walk into the gym and jump from machine to machine because often, you’ll get bored and feel dissatisfied at the end of your session. It’s a good idea to write down your plan, whether it’s split by day or muscle group. If you want to start with some cardio, write down how long you’ll be running, cycling or rowing. Keen on starting some weights? How many sets and reps will you do? Will you do free weights first and then machines? How about some stretching and foam rolling? Variation is key, but a plan more so.
4. Stop and stare
There is no shame in staring at someone at the gym.
If you find someone who’s more experienced, dresses well, has a great routine or just looks good, idolise them. Watch what types of exercises they do, or what order they do them in; you are guaranteed to learn something. Maybe you’ve been struggling with a certain exercise, or just can’t seem to get your squat right. Watch someone else who looks like they know what they’re doing and if you’re brave enough, go and talk to them. I have a had a great many new gym-goers approach me and ask about a certain exercise, like where I put my hands when I squat, or how long it takes to do a pull-up. Stop and stare; it will help you learn new things and may even correct your form.
5. Set realistic goals
It’s all well and good to start something new such as lifting weights, but you need to be careful when handling heavy equipment if you are new to certain high-risk exercises. Never underestimate your own strength and know that looks are deceiving. If you see a small girl, who you know to be a regular, lifting a certain weight, don’t jump right in because you think you’re stronger than her. When starting new things, you need to check your ego at the door. Strength is very often invisible, so you need to be able to set yourself some realistic goals when beginning your exercise journey.
If you want to lose weight, tone up or feel strong, don’t measure your progress on a scale. A loss in fat is often substituted by a gain in muscle mass, and while you may not be able to measure the results on a scale, you will be able to feel them and see them in yourself. Start small and work your way up. If you want to start squatting with a barbell, start with no weights on and then slowly, over the next few weeks, add them. If you jump straight into heavy weights before your form is correct, or before your body has had time to adapt, you run the risk of seriously injuring yourself. Give yourself a numerical goal, such as “By the end of June, I want to be able to squat 50kgs”, which will make you focus more on your performance, rather than “By the end of June, I want to have lost 5kg of weight”, which focusses on the very changeable nature of your body.
Once you’ve started from the bottom, cemented good form and decided what exactly your fitness goals are, your body will take care of itself.
6. Be patient
Muscle takes time to grow and fat takes ages to lose, so be patient with your body, and trust that you will cultivate a healthier lifestyle through exercise. Remember that if you feel good and comfortable in your gym or fitness environment, you are more likely to create a physical lifestyle that integrates itself into your routine, rather than just seeing exercise as an appointment on your schedule that you may or may not make.
Your exercise journey is not a sprint, and there are no quick fixes to achieving your ideal weight, tone or health. Even when you’ve reached your goal, you still need to maintain that. I reached my ideal weight about three months ago, but I didn’t feel strong or healthy. Now I’ve listened to my body, accepted my ‘ideal’ weight and set a new goal of lifting heavier than I did last week because that is what progress means to me. The stronger I am, the better I feel. Your exercise journey starts because you want to be healthy, feel stronger and live better, and once you have made the gym your happy place, all of this is within reach.
About The Author
Hi, I'm Gaby, I am a fourth-year undergraduate (senior honours) Comparative Literature and Film Studies student at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, due to graduate in June 2018. I aspire to become a professional media practitioner well versed in film, television, social media and health & fitness. My particular interests lie the in the social & cultural psychology of our global community and health communication. I am an avid amateur bodybuilder, with a love for food, books, and TED talks, as well as helping people improve their mental and physical well-being through positive motivation and practising mindfulness. Feel free to connect with me on Instagram or LinkedIn.