Gyms can be intimidating for the newly-christened strength trainer. So many machines, so many types of weight exercises, and lots of buff dudes walking around who seem to know exactly what they’re doing.
I’ve spent most of my life avoiding them one way or the other. I was only a halfhearted participant in physical education in high school, and I didn’t play any high school sports. While I’ve become athletic through running in the past couple of years, I’ve still only had a small exposure to strength training – and then usually in uncrowded apartment gyms.
Large establishments (mine is LA Fitness) certainly add the pressure. But only a couple weeks in to serious gym attendance, I’m already feeling pretty at home. Here are some tips:
Go at a slower time. You’ve got to be in a good headspace. If performance in front of a ton of people is going to a problem, go at a time when most people are not at the gym. I’ve been going in at 10 AM, and while there are people around, I don’t usually have to wait to use equipment, or feel rushed because someone else is waiting.
Watch and learn (and ask). Don’t know how to work with a particular machine? Need ideas on bodyweight exercises? Keep your eyes open. Watch the experienced guys in the gym to get ideas on new ways to work your body out. And don’t be afraid to ask questions: these guys may be more pro than you, but they’re not unfriendly.
Experiment. Try a bunch of things. Use the dumbbells, use the barbells, use the machines. Familiarize yourself with the range of possible exercises, and in so doing, you’ll learn some first principles about weight management. Many machines come with instructions, many barbell exercises are well documented online, and dumbbells offer a nearly infinite number of exercises. The many machines and stations in the gym won’t intimidate you as much once you know some of them first-hand.
Use deductive logic. When you get down to it, strengthening muscle is not that complicated. Pay attention to how certain movements feel on different parts of your body. As you observe and practice, you’ll start seeing the logical connections between certain types of weighted movements and strain/exercise on different muscles. From there you can start to mix things up.
Start documenting a routine of exercises. Ideally, you can go into the gym with a workout plan already in mind. If you don’t, at least take notes on the exercises you try. This will give you something to reference on your next visit.
I’m already coming to really enjoy my gym visits. The pop music may be a bit annoying, but working hard alongside other dudes is a good feeling. I hope you’ll get some of it yourself.