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What to Do the First Time at the Gym

New to the Gym? Make It Less Intimidating With These Tips

Prior to this year, I had never set foot in a gym. Weird, right? I know, I know. Though fitness is now a part of my everyday life, I started with running, then yoga, then studio fitness . . . I was always intimidated by the gym. Would it be full of super meaty, ripped dudes pumping iron and side-eyeing me and my five-pound hand weights? Or super sculpted and svelte babes with some kind of crazy strength routine their personal trainer made just for them? What do I even do with the machines? They look like torture devices!

I'd consider myself to be a pretty awkward person in general, so as a complete newbie, I anticipated a lot of social anxiety vibes when I stepped into Equinox for my first gym day (not to mention a huge fear of having ZERO idea about what to do once I actually got to the gym). Fortunately, my experience this year was far less scary than I had predicted, and I learned some things along the way.

If you're nodding your head saying, "Yes, that's me," and "They really ARE torture devices!" then I've got you. These tips will help you feel more prepared so you can get the most out of your experience. You'll be a gym rat pro in no time!

  • Pump yourself up. Before you even leave your house, remind yourself of your goals and why you got this membership in the first place. A few words of intention and a quick pep talk can clear your mind of any anxiety or jitters that may be making you feel intimidated. Remind yourself: you are STRONG! Your decision to start working out means you're stronger than you know.
  • Bring a buddy. This one doesn't need much explanation — bring a friend! Whether they're new to the gym as well or an expert who can take you under their wing, it'll help so much to have a pal there with you (and know that if you don't have a friend to bring with you, that's OK, too!).
  • Make a game plan. Going in with zero idea of what you're going to do won't end well; this is one of the aforementioned lessons I learned, but I learned it the hard way. If you have no idea how to use the machines, and no one has ever taught you a gym routine, you'll end up on a treadmill — walking — and if you're like me, you'll be really mad at yourself. Do a little research: use one of POPSUGAR's printable workouts, or bring your favorite workout program with you on your phone (like BBG or Tone It Up), and follow one of those routines. Knowing what you're going to do ahead of time and having that intention makes you feel less aimless, lost, and insecure.
  • Pump the tunes. Headphones are everything in the gym, in my opinion. You need your music to pump you up and make you feel strong — and more comfortable! A good gym playlist can help ease tension and fuel an awesome workout.
  • Try a trainer. Some gyms offer you a free personal training session when you start your membership (Equinox is a prime example of this). I used this time to pick up some tips and tricks and learn how to use the machines. See if you can book a session or just ask a trainer how to use a machine — one quick lesson could set you up for so many more workouts so you can optimize your gym membership.
  • Start with classes. If your gym offers group fitness, this is an awesome way to get into the swing of things (and definitely how I started!). You'll have a trainer telling you exactly what to do, and the benefit of the group fitness experience.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't waste your time feeling afraid or nervous. Ask someone who looks like they know what they're doing, or anyone on the gym staff — that's what they're there for! Their end goal is for you to get healthy and love the gym, which you obviously can't do if you're floating around aimlessly or too intimidated to come back.
  • Snap a selfie. Before you roll your eyes, let me explain (then you can go back to rolling your eyes). For many women, a gym selfie has nothing to do with vanity — in fact, it can be quite the opposite. Taking a picture before or after your workout can inspire confidence, build up your self-esteem, and keep you accountable for your workouts going forward. In fact, these pictures can be so effective, trainers actually encourage gym selfies!
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kathryna Hancock
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