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Tips For Every Gym Newbie to Not Look Like an Idiot

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Lose. The. Phone.

I can’t tell you this enough, because it’s setting you back, and it’s in my damn way. Leave it in your locker, or in your car, or in your dog’s mouth, or, really, anywhere but the gym floor. Have a web workout you want to bring to the gym? Print it out and bring it with you on real paper. No, a few sheets won't destroy an entire rainforest. When you bring your phone to the gym floor, it’s an instant distraction, keeping you from focusing. When you’re not focused in the gym, you’re in somebody else’s way. Gyms are tight with equipment, and the last thing we need is a human obstacle texting or surfing the web.You’re undercutting your own workout and making a public ass of yourself all at once. And then you dare put your phone where I could be training? Newsflash: An empty bench is not a freaking wireless charging dock.(Newsflash No. 2: Walking on a treadmill and talking to your BFF back home on the cell isn’t a workout that’s going to get your body the way you want it to be. Really, all you’re doing is walking and talking without actually going anywhere. If that’s your workout, walk out the door and don't come back.)

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Have a damn plan.

This one’s not completely your fault, because that chain gym you joined encourages you to wander the aisles of weights and workout machines with no clue. The objective: Leave you so frazzled you walk back to one of their desks and pay them $50 bucks a session to work with one of their second-rate trainers, who walks you through some one-sized-fits-all workout that won’t actually get you fit.But the weight room isn’t the Bermuda Triangle if you come with a game plan. Study up on the web, or ask a friend who’s been training for years. Or surf Men’s Health; we’re super-user-friendly, teeming with easy starter workouts like this one for abs and this one for back.

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Don’t come with a crew.

Because there’s nothing worse than the stench of a full collection of newbs in the gym. You can smell them in their cutoff T-shirts and headbands. And you can always point out their leader, a particularly clueless-looking alpha who was captain of his football team two decades ago and thinks he’s a bench press master because he once did a bounce rep with 225 pounds.

Now he’s down to direct a group fitness class of idiots who make jokes between sets of three reps as they try to max out machines that aren’t meant at all for being maxed out. Go ahead, try moving the whole weight stack on the preacher curl machine. Just wait 'til you shred a labrum.

Ditch the group, and at most, come with one friend. It’s not bad to have a newb partner for moral support (and for a spot, because that’s a smart way to hit first-time bench press reps). But you’re slowing your gains when you’re in a big group, and halting them when you listen to the dude who claims he knows fitness. Again, grab exercises from places that know them. Do this arm workout instead of the one from Captain Bro-Science Bonehead.

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Skip the life story.

Contrary to the focused looks on our faces, most of us gym folks are super-nice, and we’ll happily offer you tips to get you to your fitness goals, or spot you during your bench press sets. And after you’re done, we’ll have no problems assessing your form or giving you an exercise fix.

But I don’t give an actual crap about why you’re in the gym, or how you used to be able to bench press so well before you had kids, or how you just got a promotion at work last week because I'm in the middle of my own damn workout. If I’m midway through slamming my triceps, I’ll happily help a dude who needs a form check, but no, I won’t listen to you prattle on about life, liberty, and the pursuit of your personal life. I’m trying to respect the work I think you want to put in in the gym. You sure as hell better respect the work I’m always putting in there.

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Don’t be a child.

Translation: Stop playing with the toys. These days, kindergarten newbs hit the gym and walk away from the reliable tools that will get them in shape. They ditch the dumbbell curls they should do for biceps and the squats and deadlifts they should do for legs.

And what do they do? They go run over to the new and shiny stuff they have no business doing, the battle ropes and TRXs and the sleds. All of these are awesome fitness tools in the right hands, but those hands aren’t yours.If you’re a newbie who’s going to be in and out in less than a month, there’s no bigger giveaway than this sad inability to use the tools that can actually get you to your goals. The truth of the new toys in the gym is that they’re for the vets, who can use them as ways of duplicating classic movement patterns with different stimulus. Or they’re for the very best trainers at the gym, who can walk you through workouts that integrate these tools in savvy ways that raise your heart rate and drive you into shape. Want to use a battle rope? Arrive with a plan like this one.

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Learn form.

Know this: We’re watching you. We’re focused, but it’s hard not to watch you if you’re the schmuck under the pullup bar, rocking and swinging and wriggling your way to a full chinup. It’s a cringe-worthy attempt at working out, that does absolutely zilch to make you stronger (although you may tear a shoulder labrum that way).

Again, if you show up to the gym for New Year’s, study up. Learn how to do exercises the right way by watching pulling workouts like this one and studying the form on workouts with classic moves like this one. These are the fundamentals of the gym, and when I see you trying to do those right and get them right, instead of trying to cut an Instagram influencer demo tape, I know you’re actually being serious about the gym.

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