The best piece of advice I'd ever been given about exercise was,
"Know what you're doing, and know why you're doing it"
Before I'd ever stepped in a gym, I'd studied for literally hundreds of hours. Like many people, I didn't have the money to afford a personal trainer or even the spare cash to enter a gym. Over the space of three years, I had to teach myself nearly everything I needed to know about general nutrition, fitness and health. The Internet suddenly became my best friend, albeit sometimes an untrustworthy one.
When I went to the gym for the first time however, I still felt like I didn't know what I was doing. Regardless of all the work you do, there will always be gaps in your education. Hence, my second piece of advice is:
"Don't be ashamed to ask for help"
Personal trainers and approachable guys across the weights rack are good for this. I'll talk about this later too, but I've yet to meet a guy or girl that's come to the gym in a bad mood. So long as you're nice, you'd be surprised how even professional bodybuilders can be kind-hearted souls.
Straps and Belts
It's not necessary to bring accessories like lifting straps and weight belts to your first gym session. Those types of accessories are for weights too heavy or awkward to lift by hand. If you do decide to bring them however, know how to use them.
What To Bring
Before you go to a fitness institution of some sort, you need to know what you should bring.
Most gyms will ask that you show some sense of hygiene by bringing, or purchasing, a towel. A small one will do in most cases. You don't want to lift weights in a pool of other people's sweat, and neither does anyone else.
A good drink bottle is not essential but highly recommended for your workout. Your first time at the gym might not be the most intense, but you don't want to walk out the door looking like a dried-out grape, (which is actually a sultana, but 'dried-out grape' sounded better).
If you're not already dressed for some hard work, it's a good idea to bring some appropriate clothing. Not only will you look strange showing up in a school uniform, which I have done before, it can make the exercise just that little bit more difficult.
Lastly, and not necessarily something I would recommend for gym novices, bring an iPod or similar device. Music is motivating. I'm sure there's some scientific studies that prove that fact, but it's pretty common knowledge. Just be sure that you don't start humming, and never ignore the rest of the world, they might be waiting for a turn.
In a nice little list:
- Bring a towel
- Bring a drink
- Dress appropriately
- Bring the right attitude
- And music, if you prefer.
What To Do First
No matter how much you research or learn about the gym culture, there will always be things you won't know. Like I've said before, and will likely say again, if you don't know how to use a piece of equipment, don't wait until you break it to ask for assistance. The gym doesn't hire employees to make you look bad.
The first thing I do when I go to the gym is say hello to the guy or girl behind the counter. Why? Because it's a nice thing to do. If you've gone this far, I'll assume you've already filled out the membership paperwork. If you haven't done the paperwork, now would be the most appropriate time! After that however, I try to head straight for the lockers to secure my spot.
The gyms I've been to throughout my life have always had the choice of little locker-boxes, with no security, or actual lockers, secured by the good ol' padlock. I've never had anything stolen from me while I was at the gym, and I didn't really want to hire a locker, so I've always used locker-boxes.
Back to the point, I used to use this ritual of walking over to the lockers, as an opportunity to scope out my surroundings.
Once you get comfortable, and depending on your fitness goals, it's probably a good idea to start out slow in either the cardio section, or the weights area. People aren't likely to judge you for using small weights on your first day, but you will garner strange looks if you head straight to the heaviest weight you can lift.
Again, in list form:
- Say a casual hello to the person running the place (because it's nice)
- Sign up to the gym, if you haven't already.
- Head to the lockers to protect your stuff, and get a feel for the area
- Start out slow
If You're Nervous:
This ties in well with the 'ask for help' advice I gave before. Lots of the time, people at the gym are just happy to see a newbie giving fitness a try, regardless of your appearance or knowledge base.
Watch The Natives!
But don't stare!
Sometimes, there's just no better way to learn, than to watch the professionals at work. If you're not sure how something works or what you should be doing, it can help to learn from others. Perhaps while you're over on the treadmill, it might pay to glance occasionally over at the guys that look like they know what they're doing.
People who regularly attend the gym are some of the happiest I've ever known. Why? Because they spend their days trudging through their 9-5 jobs, waiting to get to the gym. When they get there, they're often too happy to be annoyed at anyone. What I'm trying to say is, if you stand and scratch your head, it won't be too long until someone takes pity, and asks you if you need help.
When you go to the gym, there's a certain expectation that you will abide by it's rules. No-one likes that guy that shouts and throws weight around, especially if it's their first day. So, here are some general rules for us all:
Rack your Weights:
Like your mother said, "If you're done with your toys, put them away." The same applies to the weights you lift. It shouldn't be another person's responsibility to clean up after your mess.
Don't Drop your Weights:
One of the first gyms I ever went to was built above a hairdressing salon. Nearly every single time someone dropped a weight, accidentally or not, we had an angry man come upstairs to shout at the manager. Therefore, never drop your weights, because you might just damage the gym, (God forbid!), your toes, or your reputation.
Wear Proper Clothes:
Don't show up looking different, if you can help it. Wearing inappropriate clothing, such as ugg boots, can restrict your movement, and make all the exercise you do unnecessarily dangerous. Personally, it peeves me when people come to the gym wearing sunglasses and a hat, so don't do that, please.
Use a Towel:
As I mentioned when I started this article, if you've got a towel, you should use it. No one likes other people's sweat on the machines, and it can make the gym environment unsanitary. So, clean up after your own mess by using a towel whenever possible.
Show Patience and Respect:
All that I've told you about how nice gym people are, only applies if you show patience and respect. If you interrupt someone when they clearly look busy, or if you steal someone's piece of equipment, be prepared to garner some abuse. Always ask if someone's using a machine, and if they are, don't make a big deal about waiting. It's just common sense.
Bring A Friend or Make Some More
If in doubt, enlist the help of a trusted friend, and preferably one with a bit more experience. Workouts are made more productive with a friend pushing you to lift that little bit more, or run just a little bit faster.
If your friends know nothing about exercise, it may just be best to become friends with the gym's employees or regular members. All of a sudden you realise how important it is to say hello to the staff everyday.
But Don't Worry!
If you're worried about being judged when you go to the gym, don't be! Above all, everyone's in the gym for nearly identical reasons, and that's self-improvement.
Decent people don't target others for being new, or for being overweight, or whatever else. If you're in the gym, most of the time, there's an unspoken amount of respect between everyone there. No one should feel victimised for trying to improve themselves, and the gym shouldn't support that sort of negative culture.
So feel free to go to the gym, without the fear of being judged.