Advice For January Gym Joiners

Since I work out in the gym of the college that I work at, I’m just starting to see the January Joiners (resolutioners, if you will) this week. The students just got back to campus, which means that our gym now has the influx of New Year fitness buffs that many of you have already been seeing for the past couple of weeks.

As I was looking around during my lift yesterday, I saw a handful of people who came in, looked around with a puzzled (and terrified) look on their faces, and then proceeded to just stand there with that same look for at least 10 minutes before doing anything.

I get it. The gym can be a very scary place if you’re not used to going, especially if it’s a new gym that you’ve never been to before. But my gym is about as un-intimidating as gyms can be; it’s fairly small, it’s almost all students, and the weight room is very separate from the main fitness floor. But still, people stand there amidst a sea of treadmills, ellipticals, and Life Fitness machines, without the faintest clue where to begin.

As someone who has gone through this gym-paralysis before, back when I was in college, there are five main pieces of advice I can give to these people to help make the experience a little bit more terrifying, and a little more enjoyable.

1. Just try something. If it’s your first day in a gym in months, years, or ever, start out small and do more as you become more comfortable. Maybe that means today you just walk on the treadmill or ride a stationary bike for 20 minutes. That’s ok, that’s something. Doing something easy is better than just standing there, and it will help make you feel a little bit more comfortable in this foreign space, I promise.

2. Don’t be afraid to walk around and look at things. In other words, don’t just stand there. If you’re not familiar with your gym, how are you going to know what your options are if you don’t walk around and look at things? It’s easy to walk in and hop on the first piece of cardio equipment that you see, but it’s also easy to take 5-10 minutes to walk around to get yourself oriented. No one’s going to look at you strange for doing this either. Trust me, most people at the gym are far more interested in what they are doing than what you are doing.

3. Take it slow. As with big changes in diet, big changes in your fitness routine (like working out for the first time… ever), should be made with baby steps. If you throw yourself into a super intense circuit training on your very first day there, not only do you run the risk of hurting yourself (or someone else, God forbid), but you also run a huge risk of burning out way too soon. Start easy, and go from there. Like I mentioned above, pick something that you know you can do — riding a stationary bike — and then build on it. Maybe do some planks and some body weight squats and lunges. It’s better than nothing, and it’s a good way to get your body moving after not doing so for some time.

4. Talk to an experienced professional. I kind of think this goes without saying, but if you walk into the gym and truly have no idea what to do with yourself, your best bet is probably to spend at least one session with a personal trainer.  At the very least, they will be able to show you the different equipment that the gym offers, and help you with your form on some basic exercises. Use this time well, and don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions. It is their job to help you on your fitness journey, and trust me, you are not the first person they’ve seen who has no idea what they’re doing.

5. Focus on what you can do, instead of what you can’t do. A lot of people stay away from the gym because they’re petrified of all of the scary looking equipment, both in and out of the weight room. Sure, you may not be able to squat like the guy in the power rack, but I’m sure that with some proper cues, you’ll be doing body weight squats like a pro in no time. This goes back to tip number 3 of taking it slow. Who cares if you have to start with body weight squats, stationary bike, and wall push ups? Everyone has a starting point, and the only way you’re going to get better is to recognize yours, and work your hardest to improve.

Jumping in over your head and getting frustrated because you can’t do a push up will not help you improve. Learning how to increase your strength gradually, working towards someday doing that first push up is what it’s all about. Focusing on the negative only reinforces the belief that you aren’t good enough, which is probably what kept you out of the gym in the first place. Instead, focus on what’s getting better — maybe your body weight squat suddenly feels too easy and you can add in some dumbbell weight — now that’s progress!

Just remember, your experience is yours and yours alone. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should be doing or how fast you should be doing it. Sure, let a personal trainer push you a little bit, but don’t let anyone tell you that you have to be doing this weight lifting program or that running program. The important thing, when starting a new fitness regimen, is just sticking with it. Consistency is key, and hopefully after a little while you’ll actually start to enjoy yourself.

Readers: What is your biggest piece of advice for gym newbies? What scared you the most when you first started going to the gym?

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17 thoughts on “Advice For January Gym Joiners

  1. Hi! Loving your blog. Mild pet peeve: not amused when I showed up to my 6:30am spin class at 6:25, and the class was packed already! This is why I love March 🙂 But kudos to everyone who took the first step to a healthier life!

    M.

  2. Pingback: Advice For January Gym Joiners | I Train Therefore I Eat. | Know What You Eat

  3. Great post! Something I’d recommend to people who are new to the gym, especially if they are shy or nervous about talking to staff, is to take advantage of other resources out there. Find a training plan, either in a book or online, and start following it, because that will take out a lot of the guesswork and will let you know exactly what you have to do each day. And if there are exercises that don’t make sense, look on YouTube for videos. I do both of these things all the time and I haven’t considered myself a gym newbie in years.

  4. I love that you took the time to write this out. I have seen so many new gym-goers this past month and they all look a bit timid. There are so many times that I have joined new gyms, whether because I took some time off of training or due to a move, and I too felt that timidity. I hope they all remember that we were all beginners at one point. We have all had to start somewhere, the only thing that matters is their own goals. No one there is judging you, and my biggest piece of advice is to train based on your own goals, not because of what others may think. Try everything, take the group classes, and find a fitness routine that you actually enjoy so you WANT to go to the gym. Fitness is a personal thing, you just have to find your niche.

  5. I think you have a lot of what I would advise. It is hard right now, my Yoga classes are mat to mat with people who are trying it out. The regulars all look at each other with the knowing stare of having been there before.

    But hey, you know – I was there too at one time, you have to stick it out, baby steps and figuring out what makes you happy at the gym will make you want to keep coming back.

  6. My first time ever at the gym, I felt so frustrated because I got tired too soon. I felt dizzy after some jogging and cycling and nearly passed out. A few sessions later, I noticed I could do so much more than my first time.

    I need to get back on track 😦

    My advice to newbies:
    – Slow progress is better than no progress; at least you are doing something.
    – Commitment is the key. Some days you “won’t feel like going” to the gym, but you better get up and go because it is going to be more rewarding than sitting on the sofa and saying “woe is me”.
    – Never mind that guy with the 20 kilos in each hand. He was not born this way, and if he is right in his head then he is not judging you for carrying those purple 2 kilo rubber dumbbells.
    – If you are still in your comfort zone, you are still warming up. The idea is to push your limit a little bit every time until it becomes the norm, then push a bit more.

    My advice to people returning to the gym after quitting for a while:
    – Take it easy. You were on a pause and you are NOT going to be able to resume where you left. You need to take a few steps back and see what you are capable of NOW.

    That’s all 😀 thanks for taking the time to read my comment.

    P.S. I love your blog! ♥

    • Thank you so much! And you have some wonderful advice here. I especially like the part about getting out of your comfort zone. That is the hardest part for some people, and it can really suck at first, but once you see progress it’s so rewarding!

  7. These are all great tips! I think my advice to someone who has never been to the gym before is to go with a friend who already goes to the gym. That’s what I did my first time and I’m pretty sure that if she hadn’t been there to show me the ropes and make me feel comfortable, I never would have gone back.

  8. Pingback: F&F Friday Favorites ~ 1.24.14 | Fitness & Feta

  9. The one things I tell all gym newbies to remember: WE ALL HAD TO START SOMEWHERE! Even the most fit looking person there was once a newbie like you were. Don’t be intimidated!

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