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Stepping into the gym for the first time can be an intimidating feat without the added pressure of doing it all alone. Fear not, we heard your cries and we’re here to help.
In a recent Twitter poll, a whopping 76% of you said you were nervous the first time you went into the gym on your own, and we get it, we really do. So, keep reading to check out the 15 best ways to feel comfortable heading into the gym alone - from getting your pre-workout nutrition right, to the benefits of setting small goals for each session - you can think of this as your gym guide for beginners.
1. Get an induction and go when it's quiet
Get an induction
If you’re completely new to the gym an induction with a trained expert is a sure-fire way to acquaint yourself with all the equipment, and your surroundings.
Almost all gyms will offer some form of induction for beginners when you sign up. Your induction will most likely be taken by one of the gym’s personal trainers - think of it as a personal, or guided tour. You’ll learn the layout of the gym and how to use the equipment safely so, if you’ve seen something - a machine, or an exercise - that you want to try, ask the PT there and then!
In short, it’s an easy way to save yourself from furrowing your brow and awkwardly wondering about, trying to find the leg press in a sea of cables and leather cushions.
Go when it’s quiet(er)
It should go without saying that showing up to the gym when it’s busy can be a daunting task and can ruin even the most thought through of workouts; especially if the squat rack's taken up by one of ‘the regulars'.
However, if someone’s using the equipment you need at a similar sort of weight it’s not uncommon to ask to ‘jump in’ and alternate sets in between rest breaks. Remember – they’re only human and everyone has to start somewhere, they’ll understand.
If you’re not quite ready for that just yet, a quick Google search will tell you when your gym is at its busiest, so head online and plan your sessions so you can have first pick of the machines.
2. Set Long-Term and Short-Term (Micro) Goals
Setting long-term and short-term goals are great motivators on the days you’re lacking the drive to drag yourself to the gym, and can add a greater sense of purpose to your training sessions. They’re there for you to be able to see how you’re progressing and ultimately you help you achieve something you currently can’t.
We’ll start with the obvious one, the long-term goal; by setting yourself long-term objectives you give yourself a specific purpose to train and a clear target to work towards, meaning you can walk into the gym knowing exactly why you’re there. We’d recommend making these goals as specific as you can – this removes any room for ambiguity when you come to tick the ‘kicked that goal's ass’ box.
Once you’ve got your long-term goal, write it down and put it on display somewhere you can see it. We’re not saying you need to shout this to the world, it can be somewhere private, but hold yourself accountable to achieving it.
Achieving that long-term fitness goal is going to take some time, so break it down into more bite-size and manageable chunks. This might be into individual objectives for the month, or, if you want to be super granular – set micro-goals for every session.
As well as providing the much-needed stepping stones to achieving your over-arching target, setting short-term fitness goals can help boost your confidence in the gym by providing clear and consistent progress. The Harvard Business Review stated that on ‘progress days’, people were more naturally motivated and that 76% of people had their best moods on the days ‘steps forwards’ were made. Therefore, by setting – and smashing – a series of short-term goals, you’re more likely to remain focused on achieving the long-term goal and have a more enjoyable time doing so.
3. Take a look at workout classes for beginners
Whilst it may seem like throwing yourself into the deep-end, there are many classes at the gym for beginners - or if you're feeling adventurous, try an intermediate or advanced class. Similar to a gym induction, these introductory classes will usually take you through the motions of each movement first, ensuring you can complete them safely and comfortably (as comfortable as a burpee can be).
As well as teaching you how to do a range of exercises that you can then practice on your own, classes are also a great way to meet others new to the gym (surprise surprise), so your days of solo gym-ing may be short-lived.
Exercising as part of a class might do more than just provide you with a community to work out with too. The Journal of Social Sciences found that with exercise, participants gravitated towards the behavior of those around them, meaning you’re more likely to achieve the goals you’ve set in the company of others. It’s a win-win, right?
If you’re unsure of what classes to go for take a look at the list below for some inspiration:
• Yoga & Pilates: A great way to stretch your comfort zones (and every other body part), a Vinyasa class is a fantastic way to ease yourself into the yogi community.
• Spinning: If you’re up for something a little more active, a spin class is a guaranteed way to raise your heart rate and get you sweating.
• HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training, essentially – it’s working as hard as you can for a short period of time, before a quick rest and going again. Usually broken up into rotating stations, you can count on your classmates encouraging you throughout this session.
4. Have a plan for every workout
If a structured group class isn’t for you (it’s fine if it’s not), make sure you know what you’re training before you even step into the gym. Have your workout planned and take note of all the equipment you’re going to need to complete it. By controlling these factors you’ll be more sure of yourself as you move around the gym.
Google and YouTube are great ways to research the best exercises to train specific body parts if you’re working out something new, but we’ve done some of the hard work for you. Check out the best exercises for abs, chest, legs, arms and more at Gymshark Central.
Or, if you’d rather keep track of all these workouts in one place - with easy to follow gym tutorials and the ability to build and save your own sessions – check out the free Gymshark Conditioning App. Endorsed by Athletes from around the world, the App includes everything you need to stay on form in the gym; perfect if you’re new to the gym or to monitor daily progression once you’re a seasoned lifter.
5. Research the exercises
Once you have your workout prepped and planned out, make sure you know how to do the exercises you’ve added into your workout. I know we mentioned it earlier, but the more you know, the better. Heading to the gym to try and lead a healthier lifestyle is fantastic, but performing an exercise incorrectly can lead to injury; delaying your progress and obviously causing you harm in the process.
If you’re new to lifting weights, there are a number of places you can get information to educate yourself on the movements prior to attempting them. We would always recommend asking one of the qualified Personal Trainers at your gym as your first port of call. The dude dragging 400kg off the floor might be incredibly strong but that doesn’t mean his technique is correct – get advice from qualified experts.
Check out content from a trusted source. There are plenty of reputable workout apps available to download if you’re new to the gym, many of which have exercise tutorials to teach you the correct movements and tips to execute them safely. Whilst we’d always recommend you use the Gymshark Conditioning App (of course), as long as the app you use is trusted, any will do.
Head to YouTube and watch a few tutorials before you attempt to perform the lift – making sure that you’re getting the information from experts. I know we keep harping on about it but just because someone can lift heavy doesn’t mean they’re using the correct technique.
6. Workout to music
As well as being a universal placard that screams ‘please don’t speak to me’, sticking headphones into your ears and playing your favourite songs can have a positive effect on your performance during a workout, causing you to be able to run further, cycle longer and swim faster than usual.
Some have even gone as far as to describe exercising with music as similar to using ‘a type of legal performance-enhancing drug’. Now, we’re not sure we’d go that far, but it definitely helps squeeze out a few extra reps.
7. Update your workout wardrobe
This one’s all about feeling good in your own skin, doing a little retail therapy and finding yourself some fresh ‘fits for your workouts. For those of you that are new to the gym, the chances are you’re there to try and feel healthier – either physically or mentally. Sourcing yourself some new gym kit can go a long way to making you feel the part as you step into your new house-of-gains, all the gear – right?
If you’re wondering what to wear to the gym on your first visit, we’ll be honest with you - it all comes down to a little bit of trial and error. Depending on what your goals are and what you’re training, you’ll want a different outfit that’s fit for purpose…
For example, if you’re planning to spend your time getting acquainted with the treadmill or you fancy venturing into a HIIT class, try pairing a lightweight, breathable t-shirt with sweat-wicking leggings, or shorts. This combo is set to keep you cool and comfortable throughout your entire workout.
If yoga and pilates is more your style of workout, you’ll want to find gym clothing that is unrestrictive and that moves with you through every motion.
8. Eat a good pre-workout meal
Remember how we said this was going to be your ‘gym guide for beginners’? Well consider this your quick-fire introduction to pre-workout nutrition.
It sounds obvious but eating before you work out is an easy way to increase the quality of your training session – it’s a way of prepping your body with energy and providing it with the nutrients it needs to be able to recover effectively.
Before we go on, as a rule of thumb, carbs are your go-to food group for energy. This is because your muscles use the glucose (sugars) from the carbohydrates as fuel. Depending on the type of carbs that you’re consuming, these sugars can be fast or slow releasing - this means that different types of carbs will in turn affect your blood sugar levels either really quickly or incredibly slowly and over a much longer period of time. Your blood sugar levels are measured with the GI index – with high GI foods containing fast release sugars (like sugary drinks, white bread and white rice) and low GI foods offering slow releasing sugars (such as porridge oats and other wholegrain foods). Following so far?
By consuming fast releasing carbs, your body will then release glucose into your bloodstream more quickly, causing a spike in blood sugar levels. In short – fast releasing carbs are short bursts of fairly instant energy. However, this energy is not sustained and the spike in blood sugar levels will subsequently drop (this could cause a crash in your energy levels). We’ve put together some of the best pre-workout meals and snacks for you to have to maximise your energy levels during a workout.
Best Pre-Workout Meals (to be had 2-4 hours before exercise)
- Sandwich or wrap filled with chicken/fish/egg/cheese and salad or peanut butter
- Jacket potato with beans, cheese, tuna, coleslaw or chicken
- Pasta with tomato-based pasta sauce and vegetables
- Chicken with rice and salad
- Vegetable and prawn/tofu stir fry with noodles or rice
- Mixed bean hot pot with potatoes
- Porridge made with milk
- Wholegrain cereal (such as bran flakes and Weetabix) with milk or yoghurt
The above are based on a lower GI (slow releasing) for a more sustained release of glucose.
Best Pre-Workout Snacks (to be had 1-2 hours before exercise)
- Fresh fruit
- Dried apricots, dates or raisins
- Cereal bar or flapjack
- Toast with jam or honey
- Porridge or wholegrain cereal with milk
The above are based on a higher GI (faster releasing) for a more immediate release of glucose.
9. Start with what you’re already comfortable doing
It sounds obvious, right?
Reduce the amount of ‘newness’ to your routine by starting with the equipment and exercises you’re already comfortable with.
If a brisk walk on the treadmill is where you’re at your happiest, head on over and get your steps in – alternatively, your happy place might be blasting through a HIIT workout (and we commend you if it is). Either way, by starting with the workouts you know, you remove a level of uncertainty in the gym.
Once you’re acquainted with your surroundings and happy to start testing the ‘uncomfortable’, try venturing away from the workouts and exercises you know; you’ll probably find that the things you weren’t so confident to try when you first entered the gym are no-where near as intimidating as you initially thought.
Let your confidence build gradually, there’s no pressure to be an absolute ‘gym-bro/bro-ette’ within minutes, days or even weeks of going to the gym (or ever for that matter). Think of it as a marathon and not a sprint, the most important thing is that you’re comfortable with yourself. Take it step by step and let your confidence build naturally.
10. Watch what other people are doing
We’re not suggesting you need to take a high vantage point on the stair machine, or sneak behind the rack to peek at your peers.
But, if you don’t fancy an induction (which we would wholly recommend, FYI.) or you’re not up to asking for a hand just yet; by taking note of how others move around the gym – where they’re getting the equipment from, putting it back and general gym etiquette for example – you can quite quickly come accustomed to the dos and don’ts of your little lifting mecca. So, now you can start to plan your workout whilst warming up on the treadmill or in-between sets of stretches… although, we’d always recommend going into the gym with your workouts previously planned.
It goes without saying that finding a gym that you are comfortable training in is paramount to you having a positive workout experience. So, when you’re looking for your new house of gains – do a quick Google search for ‘gyms near me’ and take time to flick through some of the reviews.
It’s worth noting here that people can be fiercely loyal towards their gym, so expect high ratings all round; however, read the comments and see what it is that people rate about each spot to determine if it’s the one for you. It would also be useful to ask if the gyms you're looking at offer a free trial to make sure it's 'the one' before committing to a membership.
If choosing your new sweat box wasn’t pressure enough, there are a multitude of different types of gyms (see below), so it might be worth sourcing one that suits the workouts you’ve got in mind best.
Different types of gyms:
• Classic Lifting Gym
Renowned for low cut stringers, hefty grunts and biceps Arnie would pine over – the lifting gym is not a place you’ll easily find a treadmill. Perfect for those looking to compete in their first show, add mass and bulk. A lifting gym is a bodybuilders dream.
• Traditional Fitness Gym
More likely to spring to mind when you think of ‘the gym’, the more traditional ‘fitness gyms’ tend to be stacked to the nines with treadmills, rowers and free weights alike. Ideal for those looking to improve general fitness and strength, somewhere like this should have everything you need.
• Leisure Center
Usually owned and managed by the local authorities, leisure centers often have a range of facilities available that can cater to anyone on their fitness journey. It’s not unlikely to find some sort of swimming facility and/or multi-purpose sports hall attached to a leisure center, so these can be great places to add cardio into your routine or try something new.
• Racquets Clubs
With a focus on racquet sports such as Tennis, Badminton and Squash – these gyms tend to have a smaller, more traditional gym to compliment people training for their given discipline.
• Country Club
Similar to a Racquets Club in that its main focus isn’t primarily on the gym, a Country Club will typically offer many of the same facilities as a fitness center but with an accompanying pool and golf course.
12. Prepare yourself mentally
So, if you’re new to the gym this definitely does not mean sitting yourself down and psyching yourself up for a massive sweaty session. This is all about getting yourself into the frame of mind that everybody has to start somewhere and you’re going to the gym for YOU.
If you’re feeling a little self-conscious, rest-assured that even the most seasoned of lifters will understand that you’re at the start of your journey and you’re trying to make changes towards a healthier lifestyle… so, cut yourself some slack (it’s important).
If you’re struggling to get into the mindset to go and train, or you’re a little nervous about having to do a gym workout for the first time, remind yourself of your reasons for going to the gym. These long-term and short-term goals (see number 2) should be your North Star and keep you motivated to train. Remember, it’s not a sprint – so ease yourself into it.
13. Ask for help
Easier said than done sometimes, we get that… but do be prepared to ask for help.
When you’re new to the gym it can certainly be daunting to approach others that have been training for a while, however, you’ll likely find they’re happy to help. Gyms breed a natural community of shared knowledge with a common objective of bettering oneself. Those around you will be more than happy to let you in on their tips and tricks to making sure you’re using the right form, able to stretch that little bit farther or even shave a few seconds off your fastest 5k. You never know (and God forbid), you could end up making a few friends.
Just remember to be polite and respectful when you do - some people use the gym as time for themselves. If someone’s training on their own with headphones in (they obviously read point six) they might be less open to spending time to go through your bench technique, so don’t take it personally.
Now, with your new-found friendships and ever-growing cheat sheet – be confident that you can approach anyone to ask for help.
14. Be the confidence booster someone else needs
Sometimes being the confidence booster that someone else needs can help you to feel better too.
A little bit of empathy can go a long way and you can bet that if you’re feeling a little nervous about being new to the gym, there will be someone else feeling exactly the same way as you. Whether you’re shooting someone an encouraging smile from across the gym floor or dropping them a compliment on their fresh new gym kit, bringing positive energy to the gym will make it feel a far less threatening environment.
15. Build a routine
Forming a routine relationship with the gym will stop it feeling like such a chore when you have to go. Now, we’re not saying there won’t still be days when you wake up wanting nothing less than to jump on the treadmill or pick up a dumbbell, but having set days or times for your training will make it easier to stick to a routine.
I know we harp on about this a lot at Gymshark, but that’s because we really do believe it. Make your routine a habit. Take up #Gymshark66 to start forming positive habits and build a new routine by sticking to your pledge for 66 days. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym everyday for 66 days, it might be that you eat more healthily or get more sleep – all of which will help your performance when you train.