The gym can be a scary beast if you’re new to exercise or coming back to the gym after a long hiatus. The foolish man dives right in without a program, without guidance and just ‘wings it.’ Know what happens to that person? Injuries, boredom, plateaus and failure. If you’re a gym and strength training newbie, just follow my guide below to tame that monster and help you reach your fitness goals:
Ditch the machines, learn the primary exercises: In the fitness world, coaches often argue for or against the use of machines in an exercise program. It’s about as productive as the arguments on cardio vs. no cardio and carbs vs. no carbs. Given the right conditions and goals, machines are excellent tools. However, gym newbies should focus their time and effort on learning the primary exercises: deadlift, squat, push up, chin up, press and loaded carry. You see, machines tend to work muscles in isolation, but our bodies don’t function in that manner. Multiple muscles work together as you move and so we should train them as such.
The primary exercises I list above recruit multiple muscle groups, emulate everyday movement patterns, and burn more calories than doing a bunch of machine work. Sure, it’s more intimidating to work out with your own bodyweight or with free weights when you’re new to training but with guidance from a coach or trainer, you’ll master the moves in no time!
Know who you are: Before starting a new exercise program, it’s important to understand where you are health-wise and where you want to go. This is your point A (the now) and point B (the goal). Point A includes where you are physically (in body composition and other health matters), what your current eating and exercise habits are, etc. For example, every one of my distance clients that start my exercise and lean eating program is required to track one week’s worth of meals, send me their measurements and body composition information, before photos, and videos of a few basic movements. From there, I can determine the right exercise program and nutrition counseling that will help them reach their goals.
This brings us to Point B – the goal. Having a goal is important for all gym goers. It’s not enough to say ‘I want to get buff’ or ‘I want to lose 5lbs’. You must dive a little deeper to identify what you really want, how you plan to achieve it and by when. My overweight clients often want to ‘lose weight and feel better.’ Fair enough. Who wants to feel like shit all day anyway? But when I dive deeper into their motives, what they really want is to develop better habits to pass on to their children; to live long enough to see their kids get married; to feel confident and sexy in their skin. Point B tends to be very emotional for some and that’s ok. Just be real about where you want to go and why.
Learn how to do a dynamic warm-up and mysofascial release: In middle school, our warm-ups consisted of a light jog around the gym, a few stretches and ZERO cool-down. Thankfully, we’ve gotten a lot smarter. Thanks to science, we know that a dynamic warm-up is a better way to prepare the body for the day’s training session. Naturally, the warm-up will depend on your goals, skill, and comfort level but it should include movement prep work, such as hip opening exercises, shoulder mobility drills, and dynamic stretches. A good warm-up is also a way to ‘temperature check’ how your body is feeling that day. If you feel sluggish during the warm-up you may want to go a little lighter during the workout. If you’re crushing it, this may be a good day to kick up the intensity.
Mysofasical release is also important for movement efficiency and can be done with a foam roller and a lacrosse or tennis ball to break up tension in the muscles. Again, a beginner will benefit tremendously from hiring a trainer for a few sessions to learn exactly how to do a dynamic warm-up and mysofascial release that matches their skill and comfort levels. But if you’re looking for guidance, watch this video.
Learn from someone smarter than you: Let’s set our pride aside for a moment and come to terms with the fact that we can’t be great at everything. It’s easy to seek guidance from fitness magazines or the buff guy doing bicep curls in the squat rack (that guy is an a-hole by the way), but if you want to THRIVE in the gym, go to a reputable and knowledgable coach. If you can’t see one in-person, that’s ok too. There are tons of great coaches that come to mind that give tons of free resources online. Tony Gentilcore, Neghar Fonooni, Jen Sinkler and Adam Bornstein come to mind (and me!). The gym is a less scary place when you are guided by someone who knows their shizzle and DOES NOT do curls in the squat rack. Seek these wise masters. Ask questions. Pay a trainer if you really want personal attention, but do so with someone who will give you a safe and effective program.
Find a workout partner: This is similar to the one above except that it involves actually working out with this person. You don’t need to workout together every single time. Heck, you don’t even need to do a workout together when you’re both at the gym. But having that accountability will keep you motivated on days you just don’t feel like pushing yourself. Even better, the energy between two or more people can make the entire process more fun. While I love to workout alone, I often miss the energy of running with a group or lifting in a group environment. Finding a good workout partner is not easy and it’s ok to have more than one. Recruit some friends and get to lifting!
How did you overcome your gym-time jitters? Can’t wait to hear your stories!