Thinking about joining the gym? Here’s 12 tips to help you get started…

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about joining the gym, and you’ve decided that now is the time to bite the bullet and work towards your fitness goals. You might be feeling excited, intimidated, or even a little lost – but it’s important to remember that the gym has something to offer everyone and it’s never too late to get started.

Research has shown that strength and balance training becomes even more important later in life if you want to maintain and improve muscle strength and your ability to balance. It can also be an effective way to boost your mood and ward off depression.

And whilst the gym isn’t everyone’s favourite place to exercise, its wide range of equipment and facilities make it a great place to start your fitness journey.

With this in mind, these 12 simple steps will help you to approach the gym with confidence…

1. Choose your gym wisely

If you have more than one local gym in your area, then it’s worth going to see them all before you commit yourself to a membership. It might be that one gym has classes or facilities that appeal to you more and would make your gym sessions much more enjoyable. Or maybe one gym is nearer to your home or workplace and would be much more accessible.

Most gyms will offer you a free tour if you phone up and book an appointment, and some may even offer a ‘free guest pass’ option to prospective members, which will give you a chance to test out the facilities before you make a commitment. Always try before you buy wherever possible – this way you’ll feel more confident about signing on the dotted line for a membership.

2. Book an induction

Once you’ve joined the gym, you will nearly always be offered an induction – which is a chance to walk around the gym with a qualified instructor and learn how the equipment works. Some gyms will insist on an induction (for safety reasons) before you can go it alone, whilst at others, it’s optional. Some people try to skip their induction because they feel awkward about it or think that they don’t need one, but it’s always best to go if you want to reap the maximum benefits from your workout. This way you’re less likely to find yourself using equipment incorrectly, avoiding equipment altogether, or giving yourself an injury that will set you back.

Your induction is also a great time to ask instructors for advice on how best to achieve your goals e.g. how best to lose weight, gain muscle, or work on strengthening a particular area of the body. Don’t waste the opportunity!

3. Know what your fitness goals are and arrive with a plan

If you’re thinking about joining the gym, then chances are, you already have a good idea about what you’d like to achieve. For example, maybe you are already happy with your weight but you’d like to work on your cardiovascular fitness to increase your energy levels. Or maybe you’re looking to increase your upper body strength or work on your balance. Having a plan can help you to stay focused in the gym, allow you to monitor your progress and prevent you from becoming bored.

Often the best way to come up with a plan is to do your own research. YouTube is a great place to start with this, as there are plenty of useful videos that will show you which exercises you can do to achieve a specific fitness goal. Many gyms also give you the option to book a free consultation with an instructor who can help you create a tailor-made diet and exercise plan.

4. Remember that nobody cares what you look like

Entering any new place for the first time can be a little bit daunting and you may be worried about looking silly. But this is a common fear held by many – even those who may appear completely confident. Self-consciousness can trick you into thinking that all eyes are on you, even when they aren’t.

It can help to banish those fears by reminding yourself that no one will be paying attention to your workout because they’ll be too busy trying to make sure that they don’t look silly themselves. The more time you spend worrying about other people, the less time you’ll spend focusing on the workout, which means that you won’t be getting the most out of it. So try to worry more about your own progress and less about what anybody else is doing, because it really doesn’t matter!

5. Build your confidence up by going to classes

Are you someone who struggles with confidence or motivation when it comes to exercise? If so, then it can help to start off by signing yourself up to a few classes, which are usually included in the price of a full gym membership. The great thing about going to a class is that chances are, once you’re in there, you aren’t going to turn around and leave halfway through, so you find yourself with no choice but to finish what you started. It can also be a great way to become familiar with different exercise techniques e.g. squats, lunges etc, which can help you with your solo workouts in the gym.

Many people enjoy the social aspect of a class, as it’s a chance to meet like-minded people who’re all working towards similar goals. Classes can also make you feel like you’re all in it together, no matter how tough the workout gets! And this sense of camaraderie can really keep you going. So whether it’s yoga, circuits. or a weights-based class – consider trying at least one and see how you get on.

If you want to try a live class from the comfort of your own home before venturing into a gym, then you could try Move It Or Lose It. They run classes that have been developed by experts in ageing research to help people maintain greater independence in later life – and each class is designed to help you improve your balance, flexibility, aerobic health, and strength. 

Classes are usually held UK wide at local gyms, community and leisure centres, but have gone virtual since the pandemic, and can be done on-demand, or live. Classes do carry a fee, though if you already have a membership with a gym or leisure centre network, you might be able to take classes as part of this, with no extra charge. If you don’t have a membership, you can still take your first class free, to see if you like it.

Taking a class virtually first can be a good way to ease yourself into the idea of going to the gym, and boost your confidence by proving to yourself that you can do it. For more virtual class ideas you might want to check out our articles, 11 of the best online dance classes for beginners, or 5 steps to staying fit from home.

6. Visit the gym outside of peak hours

Whilst you’re still learning the ropes at the gym (and even after you’re feeling more confident), it can help to visit the gym outside of peak hours, if you want to avoid competing with other gym-goers for space and equipment. No one wants to spend 20 minutes waiting for a set of dumbbells or queuing to use the squat rack, so by working out when the gym is quieter, chances are you’ll feel more focused, less flustered, and will probably enjoy your workout more. This is particularly important when you’re starting out and trying to make your gym habit stick.

Peak hours at the gym will vary, but will often be in line with people’s work patterns – for example, during the week, you can usually expect the gym to be busier before work, at lunchtime, and after work. If you’re not sure when your gym’s peak hours are, then it’s worth phoning up and asking so you can work around them.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Everyone has to start somewhere, so there’s no shame in asking an instructor or even an experienced gym-goer for a little help. If you aren’t sure how to use the chest press or the rowing machine, then don’t be afraid to ask for a demonstration. Similarly, if you’re unsure whether your technique is correct or you’re finding that a particular exercise is causing you discomfort, then try pulling an instructor to one side and asking them to correct you.

As you become more confident and familiar with your workouts, chances are you will need to ask for less help, and may even find that newbies come to you for advice.

8. Track your progress

If you want to become a regular at the gym, then it’s important to keep track of your progress. We tend to stick to things better if we can see results, and often the best way to make sure that you can spot progress (even if it’s small) is to keep a record. For example, if your goal is to cut down your 5K running time, then keep a record of each run. Or, if your goal is weight loss, then keep track of how many pounds you’re losing each week.

Why not treat yourself to a fitness journal and commit to filling it in after every workout? It’ll be worth it when you look back in a few weeks or months and see how far you’ve come.

9. Take a friend or family member

If the idea of going to the gym alone is really overwhelming, then consider seeing if a friend or family member will join the gym with you. You can encourage and motivate one another and share in the highs and lows of your fitness journeys. Some people use the gym as a time to zone out and spend time with themselves, but for others it can be a chance to mix with like-minded people who are working towards positive goals.

Having a gym buddy can be great on days that you don’t feel like working out, or if you feel like giving up on the gym altogether – because they’ll be there to keep you going, and vice versa.

10. Take music with you

Music can contribute a lot to your workout in terms of motivation, stimulation, and escapism. Some people find that having their headphones in helps them to block out the rest of the world and focus only on themselves, whilst others love nothing more than creating a killer playlist to help them tackle an uphill climb on the treadmill.

Music is a very personal thing so it’s up to you to decide whether it will help or hinder you – but it’s definitely worth a try.

11. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a session

Life gets busy sometimes and there may be times where you had planned to go to the gym but can’t make it due to work or family commitments – or perhaps you just need some downtime. This is perfectly okay and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it or punish yourself with a harder, more gruelling session the next time you go. Similarly, if you can only make it to the gym for a half session, this is still better than not going at all. With the right approach, the gym can be fun and will hopefully become something that you look forward to, so try to be easy on yourself, or it could start to feel more like a punishment.

12. Don’t overdo it at the start

Once you commit to a goal, it can be easy to become so focussed on achieving it that you almost go into overdrive. It’s better to view the gym as a lifestyle choice, rather than a race that you have to finish. If you look at it like that, then it will be easier to pace yourself and avoid burning out because you’ve done too much too soon.

Try to set yourself realistic, sustainable goals – like going to the gym once or twice a week. You can always do more later once you’ve given yourself a chance to get used to it.

And remember….

Exercise can take us on an emotional rollercoaster. Some days it makes us feel great and we really notice how much progress we’re making, whilst other days it feels hard and overwhelming and we may question whether we can do it at all. On more difficult days, it’s important to remember that you signed up to the gym for a specific reason, and that reason or goal should always be the thing that keeps you going.

Although the gym can be a little daunting at first, it’s a place where positive change will happen if you let it – so don’t give up!

Have you recently joined the gym? Or are you an experienced gym-goer with some tips to share? Join the conversation on the Rest Less Community forum – or leave a comment below.

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