Sometimes I forget what it’s like to start from the beginning.
With no knowledge of the gym or exercises at all. At least not any concrete information. But then, there are times like these, when a new year starts or when I start to spend more time around females that aren’t sure what to do with the gym equipment that I reminisce on the days when that was me.
I remember signing up for a gym membership with my best friend back in the fall of 2016, both of us optimistic and naive. We both wanted to put on some weight and some muscle so we thought it would be a good idea to go together, you know, to keep each other accountable and motivated.
And it went exactly how you think it would. We hopped on random machines that looked interesting, tested them out, and then eventually left the machines to do some ab workouts.
Well that lasted for about a month before we both called it quits. We just couldn’t figure it out.
It took me 2 more tries with deciding to go to the gym before I actually stuck to it.
The second time around, I still had no clue what I was doing and this time I was on my own.
I assumed I could just look at the pictures on the machines, do a few reps, and get a good work out. And I wasn’t exactly wrong. The days following my gym visits I felt like I worked my muscles a little bit, but I didn’t know what exactly I did to make it that way.
And after a couple of months I didn’t know why I wasn’t seeing any progress. Sure, I knew there probably wouldn’t be dramatic progress, but I should’ve seen at least some muscle.
Well, third times the charm, because after those first 2 months I decided I wasn’t going to be like everyone else. I knew I had to do some serious research on the gym and working out if I wanted to see any results.
So that’s what I did. I stayed up all night reading fitness blogs, studying bodybuilding articles, watching exercise YouTube videos, and literally soaking up all the information I could.
And you know what? It was overwhelming. There’s so much contradictory information out there it was hard to figure out what worked and what didn’t. But instead of giving up, I took what I thought was the most useful information from all of my sources and I experimented on myself.
And years later…
Here we are.
If my story resonates with you, just know you don’t have to go through all of that. You don’t have to struggle to figure out what to do in the gym.
Because there are people like me who’ve done it all for you. I’ve even talked about fitness mistakes I’ve made on the blog so you don’t have to make the same mistakes. If anything, you can study what people like me have done and the advice we give so that you can do it better and faster.
So I’m putting it all out on the table. All the advice and tips that would’ve helped me so much when I was first starting out in the gym. And if this helps you out definitely let me know! I love hearing from you guys!
The Complete Beginner’s Guide to the Gym
(This post may contain affiliate links to products that I truly recommend, at no extra costs to you, if you decide you’re interested in anything mentioned. Feel free to check out the disclosure for more info.)
Get Familiar With the Gym Floor and Equipment
So let’s start this off assuming you already have your membership and that one of the gym employees gave you a tour of the gym.
Regardless, still make sure to take a tour of the gym on your own and get familiar with where everything is. Because I’ve learned that it can feel awkward if you’re wandering around the gym looking for equipment or the bathroom. It can also take time away from your workout if you’re not sure where the next machine is.
So take a few minutes when you arrive at the gym for the first time to do a quick walk though and see where everything is. Most gyms are organized into sections, for example cardio is in one area, machines in another, and free weights in another. And even then, those sections are organized too.
As for the equipment itself, if it’s a machine it’ll have a picture on it showing you what muscles it uses and a two step instruction on how to use it. Even though it has those pictures I still 100% recommend that you watch a video or have someone show you the proper way to use it, because there are certain ways to use a machine to make it more effective and to keep you from hurting yourself.
That way, you don’t end up making the mistake that I did by using machines but not really getting anything out of it.
If it’s free weights like barbells or dumbbells and you have no experience with them, then definitely watch some videos on what they can be used for. For example you can look up “barbell exercises” or “dumbbell workouts for upper body,” to learn more about exercises and how you can use the equipment in the gym.
Put Together a Workout Plan
I would typically say do this before the gym, but since you have to know what type of equipment your gym has first before you start putting together exercises, I’d do this second.
Create a Schedule
When it comes to putting together a gym based workout plan, the most important part is being realistic about the number of days you’ll be able to go to the gym and for how long. You want to create a plan that you can stick to. There’s no point in putting together a plan for 5 days if you’re only going to be able to make it there 2 – 3 days a week.
So figure out what fits better into your schedule and what you think will give you the best results.
If you only have 2 or 3 days available to workout, that’s fine. Try doing all full body workouts to make the most of your time.
If you can go 4 days, you can do an upper/lower split. That just means that one day you’ll work all of your upper body muscles together (chest, back, biceps, triceps, shoulders), and the next day you’ll do all lower body (quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves). And repeat.
5 days or more? That’s dope. You can mix and match your routine however you want. As long as you train all of your muscles throughout the week, you’re set. A popular way to train in the gym is by splitting up muscles groups for certain days. Like doing workouts based on pull movements and push movements. This is something that I do.
If you want to see my exact routine you can check it out here.
Pick Your Exercises
Once you’ve figured out what muscles you’re going to work on each day, then you can pick a few different exercises that you’re going to do for them. Remember when I said to look up exercises? This is when that really comes in handy. Like seriously, do your research. Just being able to see how something is done and getting a few tips here and there makes a huge difference.
Your workouts don’t have to be complicated, they just have to be effective. So you can start with 4 – 5 really good exercises a day and see really good results. The key is to pick exercises that work multiple muscles at one time. These are called compound moves or compound exercises.
They’re great for helping you build muscle fast especially when you’re starting from 0.
For example, if you only have time to workout 2 -3 days a week and you’re doing full body workouts, exercises like the “squat to press” or a “squat row” is going to be great for you. But doing something like a simple bicep curl isn’t going to be as helpful because it’s only working one muscle and the amount of time it takes up can can be unnecessary.
Does that make sense?
Now with that being said, if you have more time to be at the gym, then you can add in exercises that isolate certain muscles if you want, like bicep curls or hamstring curls. But I wouldn’t worry about things like that so much in the beginning, unless like I said, you have a lot of time on your hands.
What I recommend is going on Youtube and take a look at some of your inspiration’s workouts. It always helps to get ideas from someone else. Especially if it’s something you’ve never tried before. You don’t have to make your workouts exactly like theirs. Just take a few things from them that you think you’d like.
Take the time to put together a workout for each day that you’re going to be at the gym. And get familiar with the exercises that you’re going to do before you go in so that you know what you’re getting yourself into that day. So make sure to watch someone doing the exercise with proper form and that you have an understanding of how to do it correctly.
If you really don’t want to come up with your own workouts or just don’t have time, you can always get a workout plan from someone (or myself 🙂 ) that inspires you and that you think knows what they’re doing and how to help.
Start Your Workout
Now that you have all the prep done to have a bomb workout, it’s time to do exactly what you came there to do. Here are my best tips for having a great workout as a beginner:
Cardio or Weights First?
Always weights first unless it’s just a 5 – 10 minute warm up. You don’t want to use all of your energy on an elliptical if you still have a 40 minute workout to do. Use your initial bit of energy to lift.
And if you’re focused on weight gain, cardio isn’t going to be super important anyway.
Take it Slow
You don’t have to jump straight into the middle of the weights section if you don’t feel like you’re ready. Even if that’s what your workout plan says, if you’re nervous about it, find another way to get the same workout done. Or you can bring a friend with you so you’re not alone.
One thing that I find helpful is using one type of equipment or machine to get all of my workout done so that I don’t have to walk around the gym if I don’t want to. A couple of great machines for this are the cable machines and the smith machines. You can use either one of these machines to get a full body workout done if you wanted to.
You can even just grab some dumbbells or kettle bells and stay in your own little area to get your workout done too.
If being in the weight section of the gym doesn’t bother you then have at it girl! You can get more creative with your workouts. Just remember, you don’t have to try every exercise you see or be in the gym for 2 hours. 4 – 5 exercises is enough for one session if you work your muscles well.
Most importantly know that your muscles WILL BE SORE AFTERWARDS. Your body isn’t used to this type of work yet and you will definitely feel it the next couple of days. But no worries! It happens to all of us. Even myself when I don’t workout for a while.
If you’ve never really been in a gym before, there’s a certain unspoken set of rules that should be followed. I will say that a lot of people ignore these and don’t have proper gym etiquette but hopefully you won’t be one of those people.
But before I get into those, the most important thing that you should note is that no one cares how you look, how much you weigh, or what exercises you’re doing. Even if they do, who cares? Their opinions of you don’t matter. The sooner you understand that, the easier it is to focus your attention on getting a really good workout.
Okay so back to the unspoken rule thing. Please be considerate and wipe down the equipment that you used after you use them. Especially if you sweat. No one wants to have to clean up after you.
Also, there may be times that you have to wait to use equipment because someone is already using it. Try not to just jump in while someone is resting in between their set. If anything, just ask if you can share or ask them how many sets they have left. If they say that they’re almost done just wait patiently for them to finish or move onto something else.
For the love of God supplements are not necessary. And anyone that tells you they are really needs to do their homework or they’re just trying to get you to buy things you really don’t need.
Here’s the thing, supplements are just that: SUPPLEMENTS. They are available to supplement an already healthy diet. The only thing you should really be focused on is eating good foods and lots of it.
Things like BCAAs and protein powders and fat burners are not something you should be worried about at all when you’re first starting out or even as and advanced lifter unless you feel like you need a little help with muscle recovery or help burning a little bit of fat (on top of what you’re already doing!).
So remember: food first! But if you really want to try taking protein, one brand that I love is Syntha 6. The vanilla ice cream tastes really good and it mixes will with smoothies. I love the birthday cake remix version too because it has little sprinkles and brownie pieces.
I hope that helps!
Honestly, other than that, just get in there and have fun. Put your headphones on and go to work!
If there’s something that I didn’t mention about the gym that you have a question about let me know in the comments! And if you liked this post it helps me a ton if you…