Fitness Tips for Beginners: Addressing Common “Newbie” Issues And Learning How To Look Like A Pro In The Gym
As a full-time personal fitness trainer in various capacities, I’m in the trenches at all sorts of gyms. I work at basic facilities in residential areas, to esoteric gyms with cool “toys,” and in big corporate locations.
I’ve seen a lot of interesting gym behavior in my time, and the one thing that always gets my attention is watching a “newbie” (i.e., “beginner”) in action.
And it’s not because I’m thinking of making money on a prospective client.
We’ve all been there at one point, taking that first step, trying something new and being brave to change and challenge our bodies, and make ourselves healthier and stronger. You won’t ever know it, unless you take that first step out of your comfort range, and get out of your “box.”
Watching a “newbie” allows me to better identify what their worries and concerns are—which allows me to become a better trainer because I can customize programs accordingly, according to the most common “newbie” challenges.
So what are some of the typical newbie challenges and/or worries, and how can you overcome them? What can you do so you look like a seasoned pro in the gym? Let’s get started…
1. Feeling overwhelmed by the large number of seemingly incomprehensible exercise machines!
Even seasoned trainers like me have NOT seen it all. I’ve come across machines I don’t recognize, although everyone else seemed to know exactly what it’s for (chances are, they had no of an idea that I did, however).
So what do you do? Observe.
Do you see sign on the machine with a picture display or explanation?
Read it, or see if you can get a fellow gym enthusiast to demo it for you.
When I’m on my own lifting or in the gym working, I’m always happy to give a demo. Ask a trainer if you see one. Don’t be shy, because most trainers are happy to do this.
2. Feeling like everyone’s eyes are upon you.
Stop that! It’s not the case.
Even if you smack the cable weight stack a little while trying it out, nothing irks a trainer (and gets our attention) more than rude behavior from people who should know better…
…like that guy grunting loudly while doing something non-taxing, like triceps extensions.
…or the dude needing a spotter for dumbbell curls (biceps), as the spotter yells: “it’s all you, bro!”
…then rudely dropping his dumbbells on the floor when he could have easily racked them.
…or the inconsiderate lady doing ballet stretches in the squat rack while someone waits on her.
The key therefore, isn’t that you’re up-to-speed on every piece of equipment in the gym. If you act with common courtesy and good grace, and respect other members, you’ll never have to worry about being singled out by anyone.
3. Not relating to, or being familiar with, gym terminology.
This happens to everyone, and frankly, it’s to be expected.
It happened to me when I tried powerlifting for the first time. I had no idea what people meant when they referred to “chalking up,” or “tearing the bar apart,” or “fixing the hip drive,” or what bench shirts, knee wraps, and what an Inzer belt was.
But I was determined to give powerlifting a shot!
What did I do to overcome my own “newbieness?”
I read about it, researched programs, asked if anyone at my gym knew any powerlifters, etc etc. If you are a newbie in the gym and have no idea what a squat rack is, or what a recumbent bike looks like, or where the leg curl machine is, ask for a free orientation at your gym, use Google or Youtube as a resource, or go the library.
Open your mouth and don’t be afraid to ask!
I’ve heard from other newbies that some trainers or other gym members can be snobbish or unhelpful. That’s certainly not the right attitude.
Ignore those people and move on. Fitness isn’t a cult, so anyone acting like you ought to know something should be dismissed.
There’s enough room for all of us- and of all levels. In my experience, committed beginners always make the best progress, especially with regards to strength gains.
4. Being unschooled in gym “etiquette.”
One of the biggest newbie mistakes is to begin using a machine / weight bench / treadmill without first checking with the person using it if they are finished. I don’t know how many times this has happened to me; I’m using a machine, finish my set, and walk away during my break to fill up my water bottle.
By the time I get back (usually less than 90 seconds) someone else has begun to use the machine – someone else who was just watching me doing reps less than 2 minutes earlier. This is very annoying, as I wasn’t finished yet.
The correct protocol is to ask; “are you finished with this?” Or, “do you mind if I work in?”
Don’t just jump in and start using a machine / bench without confirming the current user has completed his/her sets.
5. Not relating to some of the folks in the gym.
You can find some interesting folks at the gym. Excessive grunters, super-peppy instructors, elitist fitness cult snobs, and die-hard bodybuilders. These may not be the kinds of people you relate to, and certain behavior might turn you off. That’s understandable.
What do you do?
Find a time of day where it’s quieter for you to come in and work out, train at home, find a different gym or small training studio, or schedule sessions with trainers who can meet you outdoors or at home for private sessions. If you want to build a healthier and stronger body, make it a priority, and schedule it in your day. It’s about YOU and not about anyone else in the gym.
6. Giving up after Day 1, or Week 1.
Don’t expect results to come overnight, or that you’ll be able to pick up the big barbells right away, or that you can master the squat in one workout, or that your scale will magically budge after 1 week (though it has for many people who clean up their diet), and that you won’t be sore.
Don’t expect to necessarily like weight training at the beginning. You’ll be sore. Sorer than you’ve been in a long time. This is definitely a “race that goes to the tortoise”, so stick with it. (If you started taking piano lessons today, would you expect to be playing Carnegie hall tomorrow? Would you expect to skip all the monotonous practicing needed to get there? Hardly.)
Most people who do stick with it really love it; the benefits of weight training extend far beyond a healthier body (weight training is an incredible stress releaser, it can also help you sleep more soundly, etc).
Be realistic too; the first time you walk in a gym, you may be able to manage only 20 minutes before you tire out.
Over time however, that 20 minutes grows to 25, then to 30, then to 45, and then before you know it, you’ll be getting in an hour at a stretch.
It happens to every single beginner that I’ve seen that sticks with it. Trainers never getting tired of encouraging newbies to stay the course, because once you make the little increments of time a habit, it grows into bigger increments, and that ultimately translates into ingrained habits and ultimately results.
If you look good, so do we. It’s win-win, all around.
So to wrap it all up, the morals of this story are:
- When in doubt—ask; open your mouth, and open your eyes.
- Be courteous to other gym members.
- Have a plan and do a little research before you walk in for the first time.
- You’re there for you, so ignore rude behavior.
- No one is watching you, so relax.
- If a machine is being used, ask the member if they are finished or if you can “work in.”
- Make working out a habit so you can and find what works for you.
Whatever your goals are, you can achieve them. But if you don’t take that first step, you’ll never know! And with these 7 tips at your disposal, no one will have the slightest clue that today’s session in the gym is your first!