There’s no better place to get fit than at the gym – and no scarier place to go if you’re new to fitness. But here’s the thing: the fear that most of us feel on our first trip to the gym isn’t actually justified. A gym is a normal place full of normal people. You don’t need to know much to feel comfortable there – and all of it is covered in this article. Read on, then hit the gym.
Why lift weights?
It goes without saying that weight training is good for your overall health. It’s also obvious that anyone looking to get muscular needs to lift weights. But what about those of us just looking to lose weight? Gyms are for bodybuilders, right? If you just want to be less fat, why go there?
Because weight training is a great way to lose weight. While cardio is usually a better option for burning calories (you can do it for longer), lifting weights builds muscle, and your body uses calories to keep muscle around. So if you have a bit more muscle, you burn a few more calories when you’re standing still. Over time, a lot of muscle can make a big difference in your body fat percentage. And, of course, gyms have treadmills and other cardio machines available. If you’re trying to lose weight, why not do both?
Nobody is looking at you
Okay, so you see the benefits of working out. But going to the gym is scary. You’re not in shape yet, and you’re sure you will look ridiculous on a treadmill or a weight machine.
Relax. You’re supposed to be there. The gym is full of two types of people: people trying to get in shape, and people trying to stay in shape. One type is not better than the other. Both types are very common.
That buff dude lifting huge weights in the corner? He is not looking at you. He is not judging you. He comes here five days a week. He has seen countless skinny people and fat people and muscle-bound people in this gym. He does not care what you’re up to.
Gym culture has etiquette rules all its own. In my journey from gym newbie to expert, I have learned these secret gym etiquette rules. Here is the full list:
- Re-rack your weights. Put them back in the right spot (barbells are labeled).
- Wipe down the machines after you use them. Do this to clean off your sweat. You can get a wet wipe from the dispenser, which is probably on or near the trash can.
- Give lifters some space. Don’t walk too close to someone using free weights – they need space for their movements, and you don’t want to be clunked in the head.
You are now an expert in gym etiquette. Congratulations.
You can find long, long lists of gym etiquette online. They’ll tell you things like “don’t wear smelly clothes,” “wait patiently for your turn,” “follow the rules,” and “respect personal space.”
These are not, in fact, gym etiquette rules. These are regular etiquette rules. If it took you getting a gym membership to realize that you should not wander around cutting in lines while smelling terrible, I have some bad news: you are rude.
How to exercise
It’s your first time in the gym. You walk up to a machine. You think: How the heck do you use this thing? Then you walk away.
How can you avoid this? If you’re friends with a gym expert, you can ask him or her to adopt you for a session or two so that you can learn the ropes. If you’re on your own, though, don’t worry – just do a little research before you get to the gym. First, ask yourself: what do you want to work out? One great place to start: the upper torso, because a bigger one will make your belly and waist. In this example, then, you’ll note the pectorals (chest – gym bros call them “pecs”), deltoids (shoulders – “delts” to the bros), and perhaps most importantly, the latissimus doris (back – “lats”). If you’re just trying to lose weight, work out anything you’d like and include plenty of cardio, too.
Now you know what your targets are, so find the right exercises. You want to work out biceps? Google “biceps exercises” and read the online fitness resources Google suggests. Write down some exercises to do (or take a picture with your phone). Try to choose some with free weights so you’re not just using machines. That’s it! Now go to the gym and do those exercises.
Oh, and about that machine you couldn’t figure out: most exercise machines have instructions on them. Look for a big sticker – it will tell you how to use the machine.
Your new lifestyle
If you go to the gym relaxed and ready to have fun, you’ll quickly realize that you’re more than capable of learning the ropes – and that your small mistakes are not a big deal to anyone in the gym. Over time, you’ll get more comfortable with your workout routine. You’ll target new muscles and learn new exercises. Hopefully, you’ll take your new health-oriented outlook outside the gym. You’ll eat right – less junk, more vegetables, and protein-filled meals made for muscle-builders if you’ve decided you want to bulk up a bit.
If you stick with it, you’ll soon see real results. You’ll lose weight and gain muscle, and your body will start looking more and more like you’ve always wanted it to. You won’t be a first-timer anymore, and you’ll see that a gym is a great place for normal people to better themselves.