10 Ways to Survive Your First Day at the Gym!

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Have a Plan

The biggest way to waste your time at the gym is to arrive without a plan. Milling around and randomly trying machines in no particular order or simply jumping onto a treadmill and walking aimlessly, thinking, “well this ought to do something” are surefire ways to sabotage your efforts. Being at the gym without a plan is like walking into a Target with free time and no list. All sense of time and space will suspend as you quickly become dazed and confused and in the end you’ll waste time, waste money, and accomplish none of what you set out to in the first place.

Would you like to do cardio? Weight-training? Both? What exercises specifically will you do to accomplish this? You can bet that the bad ass chick in the matching spandex gym wear (you know the one who you call “too muscular,” but whose body you secretly want to borrow to be a super hero for the day?) isn’t coming to the gym to, “I don’t know, maybe do some crunches?” OK she IS doing crunches, but not simply to buy time while she thinks of what to do next. She’s got a plan and you need one too.

What muscle groups are you working, are you going to concentrate on exercises that build muscle or burn fat, or both? Read up on the basics to develop your plan of attack. Know what exercises, how many sets, and even the number of reps you will do. Get SPECIFIC! You can download apps on your phone that provide workouts to follow. These apps will also save each workout, track your weight and other stats, and even time rest periods for you. (Yes, that’s what everyone is doing on their phones at the gym – OK, most of them, that one chick really is just texting and Instagramming pictures of her abs). If you can, consider working with a trainer from time to time to ensure that you have proper technique. But whatever you do, never, EVER go to the gym without a plan.

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Know the Basics First

Many gym first-timers find that the hardest part about starting a gym workout habit is not knowing what to do when they get there (and often the fear or feelings of intimidation that go along with that lack of knowledge). Perhaps you don’t know how to use all the equipment, what weights you can handle, or what proper form is for a particular exercise. This is a huge confidence deflator.

How can you start learning the ropes? If it’s an option that you can afford, consider at least one or two short sessions with a trainer. Let your trainer know that your goal is to be introduced to all the equipment and learn how to use it properly. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you pick things up and become very comfortable.

Knowing the basics before you begin will go a long way towards building your confidence, putting you at ease, and keeping you safe and healthy too.

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Don’t Over Do It

The second most common mistake that many first-time gym goers make, besides not having a plan, is spending way too much time there. Wait, what?! Yes, there is such a thing as working out too much, or at least longer rather than smarter. When it comes to working out, more is not necessarily better. A well planned out 30 to 45-min workout is much better than an hour plus wandering around. Likewise a 20 to 30-minute High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout on the treadmill is much more effective than 45 to 60 minutes at a steady pace on the same treadmill. Learn more about HIIT training to maximize your time in the gym.

There are zillions of philosophies and scientific research about how you should hit the gym, but your basic goal should be to do what you need to do and go home. A trainer once told me, “work a few muscles, hit them HARD, and get the hell out!” After all, you are fitting the gym into your already busy day. You don’t get extra points (or pounds lost) for spending more time in the building or tediously over-exerting your body. Get your heart rate up, hit your muscle groups for the day, or work through your cardio routine, and then head home. Why would you want to spend ages at the gym?.

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Pack a Bag

Pack a gym bag. Besides your essential gym gear, include a towel, a water bottle, your cell phone to display your workout routine exercises, and ties for long hair. Utilize a locker to make your time at the gym more comfortable while still having everything you need essentially on hand. It’s a hassle to drag around your gear from one area to the next anyway, and it’s annoying for people to work around your pile of “essentials.”

If you won’t be using apps or your cell phone to track details about your workout, leave it in your locker to avoid distractions and instead consider adding a notebook and pen to your bag for logging important details. You don’t want to start from scratch every time you’re at the gym – keep track of your weights, reps, and favorite exercises to save time day to day and week to week.

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Think Beyond Cardio

Working out is not just about cardio – treadmills, stair climbers and elliptical machines are not the end all and be all of your gym experience. Cardio is a great place for beginners to start, but after you’ve developed a good, consistent gym habit, start warming up to the idea of incorporating weight-bearing exercises into your routine. Not only does weight lifting spice things up and keep you interested in your routine, but lifting can seriously boost your efforts. Cardio is only one part of the picture.

Don’t Emulate the "Acrobat"

Every gym has an “acrobat,” an unconventional exerciser with a new twist on every exercise and every machine. You’ll learn who this individual is within minutes. Look for the person standing on something meant to sit on, with a foot in a strap meant for a hand, with a mat and a block and a step balanced on top of one another beneath the squat rack.

Do not emulate this person! They are a gym phenomenon. No one really knows how this individual manages to get a good workout and not hurt himself, but these techniques are an accident (and injury) waiting to happen. Use the gym equipment as directed (they come with handy pictures on the side) and, when in doubt, ask a gym employee on the floor. The best way to build success at the gym is to remain healthy and avoid pulls, strains, or sprains that could have you out of commission for days or weeks.

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Dress for Success!

If you’ve never heard of compression wear, you’re about to meet the next best thing after the WonderBra. Yes, compression pants are to legs what the WonderBra is to boobs, but I’m not just talking about “looking cute,” if you need a little self-esteem boost when entering the gym for the first time –the right clothing could be your answer to entering a possibly intimidating and challenging environment with more confidence.

I know what you’re thinking, “Seriously? I don’t need to buy a new outfit to be successful at the gym!” No, no you don’t. But wearing the baggy sweatpants you wore in the picture that drove you to lose weight in the first place probably won’t make you feel too motivated. They say to dress for success, and I believe that this goes for the gym too. When you look the part, there is a confidence and energy that tends to follow suit. So if feeling tighter, leaner, and looking strong when you catch a glimpse of your reflection in the mirror gives you the confidence to push yourself and reinforces that you are doing a good thing for your body, I say, roll with it.

changes we undergo when we wear certain clothing. Wearing your favorite color or appropriate clothes for the task at hand CAN and DOES affect our behavior and our success at performing tasks! So there you have it! Buying a new outfit especially for your gym days is not so far-fetched. If feeling good in what you wear to the gym helps you get there, or motivates you during your workout, so be it. Find little things like this to keep moving you towards your goals.

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Don’t Get a Smoothie

It’s your first day at the gym and it’s “Thirsty Thursday” smoothie discount day. What luck, right? Wrong! Don’t immediately send your brain the message that every time you work out, you get a treat. It just doesn’t work that way (I know, calories suck).But what about protein and muscle growth, you ask? Is your name Arnold? I didn’t think so. You’re just starting out. Unfortunately, your first workout probably accounted for half the calories that you are about to consume in a smoothie. Plus, will that smoothie fill you up enough to replace your next meal/snack? Uggh, no. So you could end up with a huge calorie surplus when all is said and done.

Don’t worry, there will come a day when you can have that smoothie. You’ll learn when a post-workout meal makes sense for you and what it should include; but you’re not there yet, and that’s ok! The sooner you start seeing your time at the gym as a time of stress-relief, building muscle, and sculpting your new healthier body, rather than a way to earn more calories to consume – the better. Losing weight is 90% what you eat. Besides, which is easier: not eating a bag of chips, or running 3 miles?? Learn to enjoy the gym without aligning it with caloric rewards and you’ll earn a huge boost to your overall satisfaction with your new healthy lifestyle. You’ll build confidence, get stronger, and firm your body. And who doesn’t consider THAT a worthy reward?

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Don’t Worry About What People Will Think of You

This is the big one. If you are new to the gym, a big fear for many is that others will be looking at you and judging your actions or appearance. First of all, relax. Chances are everyone else at the gym is way too consumed with themselves and what they are doing to even notice you. (You mean this cute workout gear really is just for me?) Yep! Plus, 90% of those you fear are probably thinking the same thing about you judging them. The funny thing is that as you learn to train properly; you’ll realize that a majority of those people you were intimidated by on day-one haven’t even got a clue! You don’t know it yet, but a bunch of those people basically suck at working out and their opinions of you don’t count anyway—so who cares what other people think!

If you do items 1 through 9 on this list, there is no reason to fear the gym or the judgement of others. You will be armed with the knowledge you need to confidentially take your first steps into the world of physical fitness and have a great first experience at the gym! This is not an “invitation only” affair and you deserve a place in that room as much as anyone else who values their health.

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