After I had my baby, I knew it wouldn't be long before I'd have to think about getting back to the gym. After 10 months of being pregnant and then a few more at home with the baby, I was really ready for some "me" time. But stepping back into the gym after such a long break was a little scary.
I was out of shape and had grown accustomed to it. So when I walked into the gym, I felt some insecurities welling up. These feelings made me think about the very first time I set foot in a gym and how intimidated I felt.
I imagine there are people reading this article who have yet to take their first journey to the gym. If this is you, I want to offer you some encouragement and tips to help make this the year to overcome your feelings of intimidation and find fitness success.
If you haven't yet purchased a gym membership, or have but don't know where to begin, start here! In this article, I'll answer some of your basic questions. I'll even provide some workouts and nutrition advice so you can walk into the gym feeling confident.
I'm way too intimidated to walk into the gym. What should I do?
If you're headed into a gym for the first time, my first suggestion would be to go with a buddy. Find a friend, significant other, or family member to go with. Safety in numbers!
Better yet, if you have a friend who loves the gym, ask him or her to show you around. A friend's recommendation is usually a better source than any advertisement you might come across.
If you can't find anyone, don't let that stop you. You're making this change for you. Find a little courage, take a deep breath, and walk through the door.
I made it through the front door. What now?
If you ask, many gyms will offer a free workout or even a seven-day pass so you can check out the gym before buying a membership. If the staff insists on taking you through their sales pitch, take advantage of it by asking lots of questions. Find out their busiest and slowest hours. Ask about time limits on cardio machines, childcare costs, personal trainers and prices, fees, class schedules, and other services that might help you meet your goals.
You may score a better deal if you ask a lot of questions. Although they may not give you all that you ask for—fee-waiving, personal training sessions, or progress-tracking assistance—learning what a gym can offer may put you in a better position to bargain for a detailed tour of the gym and a free personal training session.
OK, I have my pass. Where do I start?
Once you cover all of the formalities, make your way to the locker room. As you walk there, survey the gym floor to locate specific equipment and see which areas of the gym are congested. It may take a few visits before you grow comfortable enough to venture into the busier areas of the gym or figure out a time when a specific area or piece of equipment is less popular.
When you've been in the gym for a few weeks, you may notice that equipment is busier on one day more than another. For instance, many people avoid training legs on Mondays—going back to work after the weekend is hard enough—so you might opt to train legs then. Open squat racks and leg-press machines can be difficult to come by on busier days.—
After you put your things in your locker, grab your water bottle, towel, and music, and make you way to the cardio section for a short warm-up.
Warm-up? Why do I need to do that?
Before you begin working out, it's good to prepare your muscles for the work they're about to do. Get some blood flowing and focus mentally. You don't need to spend 20 minutes on the treadmill; about 5 minutes will do.
During your warm-up, look around the gym and form a plan of attack. If it's your first time there, it's a good idea to do a workout that gets the blood pumping to your muscles and will help you start building the endurance and stamina to lift longer and harder as your workouts become more consistent.
Uh, my "plan of attack" consists of this treadmill.
I know you feel comfortable on that treadmill. But it's time to do something different, right? Let's try a circuit. Circuit-style training is always a safe bet because your heart rate will stay elevated as you move through the exercises. You'll feel like you got a good workout but didn't kill yourself trying to lift too much too soon. Trust me, lifting too much weight too soon is one of the quickest ways to derail your workout routine. You might feel strong while doing it, but a few days later you'll regret it big time!
For a circuit, you'll typically perform five or six different consecutive exercises for a specific amount of repetitions. The word "repetitions" refers to the number of times you repeat the exercise. When you complete the reps for all six exercises, you'll rest. After a short rest, then do those five or six exercises, one after the other, again. You may also feel good enough to try the circuit for a third time.
I often recommend circuits for both beginners and advanced lifters who have taken considerable time off. Circuits help prime the muscles so they can learn how to work harder in the weeks to come.
What else do I need to know before I start?
If you haven't ever trained, or haven't trained in a long time, any amount of exercise, especially if you're using weights, strains the muscles. You don't need to go hard your first couple of weeks in the gym to feel it. Lift enough weight so you're challenged but still able to push or pull 15 reps.
If you haven't lifted weights before, I like to suggest weight machines over free weights. When you feel more comfortable with the movements, then you can move on to free weights. It's important to maintain safety in the gym and bad form is a quick way to get hurt.
As you get stronger, free weights will provide a greater range of motion that will challenge you in new ways. If you aren't familiar at all with free weights, it's not a bad idea to hire a trainer. You can also learn more about how to do specific movements by checking out the exercise database.
OK, circuits. Do you happen to have an example?
Here are some sample circuit workouts to take with you into the gym. Don't do all three circuits in one day. I suggest you start by doing one circuit per day. I also suggest you take at least three rest days per week.
I want to lose fat, so I probably shouldn't eat before or after my workout, right?
Wrong. What you eat before and after you work out is important. Your body needs energy to train hard, so give it a nutritious meal. Follow that hard work with a high-protein meal so you can refuel your muscles and help them repair.
Before you train, have one of these meals:
- Oatmeal with almond milk and a splash of honey
- Spinach omelet with Ezekiel toast
- Greek yogurt with half a banana
- Cottage cheese with blueberries and almonds
- Scrambled egg whites, pita, small apple
After you train, have one of these meals:
- Chicken veggie stir-fry with brown rice
- Protein shake with 1/2 banana
- London broil, sweet potato, and veggies
- Bean and quinoa salad
Well, I guess I can't wait any longer. Wish me luck!
The first step into unknown territory is always the hardest. Be adventurous this year, throw caution to the wind, and go for it! Not every gym environment is going to feel the same, so if you take advantage of the free trial and don't like the vibe, be open to new experiences and try another.
A huge part of maintaining an exercise routine is enjoying what you do. If a gym setting doesn't pan out, look into other options like a fitness class or an outdoor boot camp. Don't give up just because you don't like the gym! Find something that excites you, and the health benefits can be life-changing. Best wishes in reaching all your fitness goals this year!