How to get started at the gym (even if you have no idea what you’re doing)

It’s daunting. An image of hulky men pumping heavy weights floats into your mind’s eye. There are some hot babes doing crunches and running sprints on the treadmill. There’s a trainer talking to someone about BMIs, WODs, and you-don’t-know-what-the-hell-else.

And here you are, an unmuscled, untrained, unfit human who likes pizza and beer and lying on the couch wasting hours of a Saturday afternoon, about to walk into that foreign, scary land.

Even as someone who knows what they’re doing, gym anxiety is still a problem that sometimes prevents me from working out when I should. But being prepared helps.

I’ll guide you through a few things you’ll want to consider before walking through those doors, and help you have the confidence to get through a killer workout.

  1. Know your goals

To accomplish anything, you need some sort of goals. Think about what pushed you to want to work out in the first place. Maybe you’ve put on a few pounds. Maybe you want to build your endurance to join a sport. Maybe you are concerned about your health. Or maybe you just want to be stronger.

All goals are valid. If you’re there for a reason, remind yourself of that reason when you feel like checking out before your final set, or if you don’t want to get up off the couch.

Knowing your goals can also help if you seek advice from a trainer. Many gyms do consultations even if you don’t plan on doing personal training, and can give you a push in the right direction, specific to your wants and needs.

2. Wear the right attire

I’m not talking about looking the part. I’m talking about being comfortable. If you’re looking for gym clothes (especially for women’s workout clothes), do a few squats and jumps to make sure you’ve got a good range of motion and everything stays where you want it to.

When looking for gym clothes, I ask myself a few questions: 1. Does this fit me well? 2. Do I feel confident in it? 3. Is there anything that could be a problem while doing activities?

You don’t want to be adjusting and readjusting during your workout, nor do you want to feel like you look awkward, because when you’re worrying about those things, you’re not working out at your best.

3. Take a class

A good way to start is to take an exercise class that interests you. Not only will you have a workout already laid out for you, but you’ll be able to meet regulars and potentially make friends. Being a part of a gym community can be a great motivator. Most (good) gyms have people who encourage and support one another. They’re not there to show you up — they’ll cheer you on.

The regular schedule of a class can help hold you accountable as well. Setting a specific time to work out — and if you miss it you’re SOL — is an extra layer of motivation.

4. Eat and drink enough

The biggest problem I’ve seen among friends who have just started their fitness journey is the tendency to avoid eating much before working out. Sure, you don’t want to stuff yourself right before a grueling workout, but especially if you’re taking a high-intensity class, you want to be sustained.

Knowing what “enough” means for you may take some trial and error. Until then, take some simple carbohydrate snacks with you (like fruit) in case you start feeling lightheaded part way though.

Sidenote: Eat something at least semi-healthy before working out. Working out hard after eating a burger and fries is likely to make you sick.

The same goes for water. The amount of water you need varies, but making sure you’re not going into a workout dehydrated is important, as well as having access to hydration during.

And remember…

Everyone has different ups and downs on their fitness journey, but no one person has the exact same fitness needs as another. Push yourself to new limits, but listen to your body as well. There are a number of health factors that have effects on your body, such as sleep, diet, health conditions, age, anxiety, etc.

So if there’s a size 2 woman killing a tough workout, or a hulking bro pumping some iron, remember that health goals are for everyone. You’ve made a victory by showing up.

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