Four Tips for Your First Time at the Gym

How many years has your New Year’s resolution been to get into shape? Personally, I’m at year three. Every year I’ve told myself I’m going to get back into shape like I was in high school. I’d make some lame attempt at running in the summer, and then I’d go back to my sedentary ways. My high metabolism has let me easily hide behind the curtain of being thin but not fit.

This year I decided this was the year. We could afford to add me to my husband’s gym membership. This is the year I am going to be more than thin. I am going to be fit and strong.

My husband has been going to the gym consistently for four years now as a way to manage his Crohn’s disease (not doctor recommended, but it has worked well for him). This last year he said to me, “I haven’t been running for three months. I’ll think I’ll go for a 5k today.” Of course he comes home as happy as can be and ready for his gym routine. You can imagine how annoyed I was. I haven’t run a mile in … well, more years than I want to admit.

As you know, starting a new routine is hard. It takes 21 days to form a habit, and day one of any new routine can be incredibly intimidating. But it’s important to set smart fitness goals for yourself. As a gym novice who stumbled her way through the first time at the gym, here are four tips to help you have a great start to your first time at the gym.


asian woman, black woman, white woman at gym together

1. Go With an Experienced Friend or Mentor

My first time a the gym, I walked into LA Fitness and my first thought was, “Oh, dear Lord, what am I doing here.” I made the mistake of going during the 4-6 window, which my husband lovingly refers as “meat-head hours.”  Even the girls were adding 45 pound weights to the bench-press bar. I wasn’t sure I could even lift forty-five pounds. If I had been by myself, I would have walked to a treadmill, done a very short pretend run, and walked out intending never to return.

Because my husband was there, he acted as my unofficial trainer and cheerleader. He showed me the proper form for each of the exercises I was supposed to do and spotted me on all of my weights. Since I wasn’t exactly sure how much I should be lifting, having someone who knew what they were doing was a huge blessing on my first time at the gym. That also meant my husband was stuck doing two-a-day workouts, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

Related: The Importance of Setting Smart Fitness Goals


new york taxi

2. Show Up with the Attitude of a New York Driver

I pick up little driving quirks in every state I live in, and in New York I picked up the attitude: “It’s your problem, not mine.” I could care less about tailgaters because it’s their problem; they are in a rush, not me. I can go as fast or as slow as I darn well please, and you’re just going to have to deal with it.

As I walked through on my first time at the gym thinking that I stuck out like a sore thumb, I kept telling myself, “If they don’t think I fit in, it’s their problem, not mine.” Even though I felt self-conscious, that thought helped me focus on what I was doing instead of imagining what everyone else thought of me.

Related: Why Millennials Get a Bad Rap


blond hair woman with hair in braid

3. Wear Your Hair in Low Ponytail or Braid

I know what you’re thinking: this is weirdly specific advice about hair for your first time at the gym. Personally, I just put my hair in its normal ponytail and thought I would be good to go. And I was just fine, until I had to do a bench press. That “just fine” ponytail was right in my way when I needed to place my head on the bench. 

I was already feeling incredibly self-conscious at this point, so having to take my hair out and pull it back up was not doing me any favors. A low ponytail (or a braid) will keep your hair out of your face and out of the way of any equipment needs.

Related: Great Cookbooks You’ll Use Again and Again


blueberry yogurt with fruit and granola

4. Have a Healthy Post-Workout Snack Ready

There I was, 8:30 at night after my first successful workout, and I was eating a delicious bowl of chocolate Cheerios because none of the healthy stuff in the house sounded appealing. About halfway in, I realized that this might be counter-intuitive to my fitness goals. Maybe I should have planned ahead.

If you’re not sure what to have, try something that is high in protein. My husband’s go-to is peanut butter and chocolate milk. If you’re looking for something that feels healthier, have some cottage cheese or prepare some Greek yogurt with fruit. If all else fails, simply run to the store and buy a pack of protein bars.

How about you? Any words of advice you can share with a gym novice like yours truly?

As you know, starting a new routine is hard. It takes 21 days to form a habit, and day one of any new routine can be incredibly intimidating. As a gym novice who stumbled her way through the first workout at a gym, here are four tips for your first time at the gym. workout | fitness | healthy living | exercise | gym | weights

As you know, starting a new routine is hard. It takes 21 days to form a habit, and day one of any new routine can be incredibly intimidating. As a gym novice who stumbled her way through the first workout at a gym, here are four tips for your first time at the gym. workout | fitness | healthy living | exercise | gym | weights


How Am I Tracking My Workouts?

To help keep track of my routine, I am using the StrongLifts 5×5 Workout Log App on my iPhone. The suggested routine is fairly straightforward with specific instructions for each exercise.  It keeps it simple by having all routines with 5 sets of 5 reps and focuses on five basic lifts: squat, bench-press, row, overhead press, and deadlift. For each new workout session, the app suggests adding five pounds, but if you don’t feel ready to add five pounds yet, it makes it easy to adjust to more or less weight.

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  • Reply Serene March 5, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    Haha I loved this! I recently joined a gym myself, however, rather than attend a normal gym, I joined one that offers classes i.e. spin class, boot camp, H.I.I.T. I love it. You show up and she has the workout on the board then proceeds to demonstrate every station. Then after setting you loose, she walks around and helps the class. Also it’s very helpful with the circuit rotation. And if I have any questions, I can also ask the person in front of me who just finished the current station I’m on. And some classes she splits up in teams and we do team workouts. I have tried gyms in the past, and basically show up and act like I know how to use the equipment, which I’m sure I look like a little crazy flailing my arms around and switching machines every few reps never really pushing myself. After joining my current gym, I will never join a normal gym again. I have now learned how most of the equipment is meant to be used and definitely feel the difference when the trainer corrects me. And the best part is I feel like I have a personal trainer for the low rate of 35$ a month! And it’s mostly women! Look around I bet there are personal owned gyms like this everywhere! There is a app called MINDBODY that my gym uses to book a class and pulls up other local gyms in your area once zip code is put in. Good luck. Keep up the good work! Wish I had your fast Metabolism :(

    • Reply Jaclyn March 6, 2018 at 9:29 am

      Don’t worry, my days of fast metabolism are numbered. That has been one of the biggest factors in being consistent in going to the gym.

      I know exactly what you mean by showing up and pretending to know how the equipment is used. I had NO IDEA what I was doing other than what I learned in high school gym class, and it’s been a while since high school. Having someone there who knows what they are doing has been critical for me to even want to go back.

      I haven’t tried the classes yet, mostly because I haven’t had the discipline to show up at a specific time. I’ll have to try it. And that price point is a great deal! It sounds like you found the perfect location.

  • Reply Diana March 5, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    Way to go! I think as moms (for some of us, maybe just me) the excuse of being tired or not having enough time due to all the other things you need to do, makes it hard to want to work out. I also have the same goal of wanting to feel good about myself and to be stronger (and yes the weight loss too). I am in the same boat of making a workout routine. Right now, I simply workout at home doing insanity Max 30. Currently I’m sticking to it! I love your advice and having the attitude. Need to know why you are working out and just keep going!

    • Reply Jaclyn March 6, 2018 at 9:26 am

      I agree, there are so many other things in the day that can take you away from personal health. I think you have to hit that point where the excuses no longer weigh you down and just jump in.

      That’s great that you’ve stuck with it! I really think the hardest part isn’t the actual workout, it’s setting the routine. Rachael’s thinking about doing a post focused on working out at home because it is a LOT easier for people to work out at home.

  • Reply Julie Anna March 6, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    These are great tips! It’s intimidating going to the gym alone having a routine. I think the biggest part of what made it comforting for me was knowing that everyone is so invested in their own workout that they’re not watching you. In college I would go when the gym opened because everyone was usually asleep and fewer people made me more comfortable. I think that’s a great alternative if you have to go alone for the first time in order to get the hang of things. Even now I’ll have a slip-up on a machine or pick weights too heavy, but that happens to everyone, more than we think.
    And yes, braids all the way! Once I tried pushing through with a regular bun on the bench press…never again!

    • Reply Jaclyn March 7, 2018 at 8:26 am

      Early morning sounds like a perfect time to go. My husband goes at 5:30 am and really enjoys the regulars at that hour. I wish I was a morning person, but I’m one of those girls that sleeps in until the very last minute possible.

      Just last night I couldn’t help but notice how the dynamic changed right around 6:45 pm. I really think that 4-6:30 hour is terrible for someone by themselves, just starting out, and feeling self-conscious.

      Got any tips for getting better at the bench press? All of my other exercises I seem to move forward at a normal pace, but I seem to take forever to build up enough muscle where I can comfortably add five pounds to my reps.

      • Reply Julie Anna March 7, 2018 at 12:22 pm

        I hear you! I am usually a morning person by all means in the summer, but in the winter I end up working out in the evenings instead. But it’s definitely hard going at busy times like that, especially with used up equipment and not knowing if it’s okay to ask to work in and things like that.

        I’m actually kind of lacking muscle-wise myself, so I’m not sure if I’m the best person to ask! But my biggest game-changer for upper-body muscle building (and in general) started when I was eating more and getting more protein in. I’ve been borderline underweight my whole life (unexplained digestion issues, yay!) and I’d always get a little muscle, but never progressed. Then I started working my way up with eating more and I started seeing more muscle mass. The part I’m working on now is keeping my eating habits consistent so I keep my progress! :)

        In the gym I’d say a lot of it has to do with experimentation and perfecting your form. Some people claim they see better results doing back and chest on the same day rather than splitting it up. And I mention perfecting form because I had a similar issue on the bench. I asked my coach to spot me one day and he noticed I wasn’t going down all the way – which is super common! Fixing that, I felt it much more, hit my triceps, and started seeing more growth. Fixing your form might mean decreasing a few pounds at first, but it’s well worth it for preventing injury and seeing good results.

        Even though I’ve been into it for a while I still feel very new at it, but I think that’s the fun of it, that you’re always learning. My dad’s been into it his whole life (and followed bodybuilders for decades) and he’s still learning. And I think writing this response has got me excited to work out tonight too!

  • Reply Charley March 24, 2018 at 7:07 pm

    This post was so encouraging for me! I always struggle with going to the gym because I’m nervous about what others will think of me. However, I struggle with working out in my dorm since there’s not much room and it’s my relaxation place. This inspired me to go back to the gym without a care in the world.

    • Reply Jaclyn March 25, 2018 at 7:17 pm

      That’s great! At the end of the day, you are there for you – and no one else! When I worked my phone job in college, I got over my fear of rejection because I realized that I would never talk on the phone ever again with that same person. I feel like the gym is the same way if you go to one of the large ones like LA Fitness or Gold’s Gym. The only person you’ll see more than once is probably the one at the front desk. It’s probably a lot different at locally run gyms, though.

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