The best tips for new gym-goers to get the most out of their training.
The Olympics are always one hell of a show, but there’s no doubt that this year’s had something extra special. Whether it was watching the pure joy of athletes finally getting to the world stage after a 12-month delay or because their resilience, determination and ambition hit harder after our experiences of lockdown, who knows – but this year’s games were more inspiring than ever.
Actionably so, it seems, as new data from gym brand Fitness First recorded a 31% increase in new joiners over the first two weeks of the Olympics, compared to the same July period last year.
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The surge in sign-ups shouldn’t be seen as a coincidence, according to Tim Andrews, head of fitness product at Fitness First: “Our hallways and corridors at Fitness First are buzzing with members talking about their sporting heroes… showing the nation is set to get active once more, leave lockdown behind them and build on the positive legacy of the games.”
And there are many reasons why more of us want to get into gymming. According to previous research by the gym chain, over half (55%) of those who wanted to build a better regime post-lockdown aimed to increase their fitness while 41% wanted to move as a way of improving mental health.
Being new to the gym can be a scary venture, particularly if you’re used to sweating it out alone from the comfort of your bedroom. With that in mind, we asked Strong Women trainers and followers to share what they wish they’d known when they first walked into the gym. Here’s the best of their advice.
No one cares what you’re doing – so ignore them
Hands down the most common piece of advice people had for new gym-goers is that no one else cares about what you’re doing. Gyms can feel pretty intimidating, and it’s easy to believe that you’ll stick out like a sore thumb as a beginner. It’s simply not true – everyone in the gym is doing their own thing, and as the responses to our questions show, most of your fellow gym members will respect that (or probably not even notice).
“Everyone is too busy checking their own muscles out to care what you’re doing,” joked frequent runner Chloe Stephenson. Gymnastics coach Jessica Hassen also responded, “No one is taking notice of what you’re doing as everyone is too busy doing what they’re doing.”
Giving up caring what people think is easier said than done, so if you’re really struggling to remove the fear of judgement, the advice is to distract yourself. “Blasting a good playlist or tuning into a podcast is a good way to zone out of your environment and focus on what you’re doing,” says Emma Obayuvana, Strong Women Training Club trainer.
But most importantly, remember that if you’re in there worrying about you, then everyone else is probably in there worrying about them.
Ask for help from roving PTs and gym staff
That doesn’t mean you have to stick to your own devices and refuse to engage with other people. “Gym staff are there to help you. Ask for an intro session!” encouraged gym-goer Alice. Personal trainers themselves were also keen to encourage people to talk to them: “Don’t be afraid to ask for advice,” commented strength coach James Lee.
“As a rule of thumb, if you don’t know something, you should always ask. You’re new – there’s no shame in not knowing all of the answers,” said Andrews.
Your induction session should always be free, and trainers can give quick tips on exercises and forms on the gym floor without you being a paying client. For more in-depth advice to get you started on your gym journey, consider doing a few sessions with a PT. “You might not be able to budget for an ongoing programme, but you’ll definitely learn something new in just a few sessions with a PT,” agrees Obyuvana. “It will give you a chance to learn the fundamental movements, watch how to set up kit and ask any questions you have in a safe environment.”
Don’t be afraid of taking up space
“I wish someone had told me that it’s OK to ask other people how many sets they have left, [rather than wait around for equipment],” responded gym user Heather Finnamore. “It’s your gym too – not just for muscley men.”
This is such an important – but often overlooked – aspect of training. While it’s totally fine to set yourself up with a pair of dumbbells in the corner, you are a paying member and have every right to access whatever kit you need or want. “Taking up space is so important for women. Making use of the areas that are traditionally male-dominated will benefit you – weight-bearing activity is so important for us all to do.
“Asking someone when they’re done isn’t rude or awkward – if anything, it will probably mean that they are a bit more efficient with their training to get the kit over to you faster than if you just waited by the side. You deserve that, you shouldn’t be wasting your precious training time,” agrees Emma. “Let’s be honest, they probably won’t become your best friend, but sparking up that conversation might mean they become someone you can smile and nod at, meaning you feel a bit more relaxed in the gym.”
Get a gym kit that makes you feel confident
What you wear to the gym matters. Not from a fashion perspective, but for your confidence, comfort and performance. While all you really need for a good workout is some leggings, a bra, a top and some trainers, it’s the type that really matters.
“Wearing the right sports bra is hugely important, because we need that support for health reasons and to stop us from feeling self-conscious,” says Emma. There’s no shame in caring about your kit, either. “Getting leggings and other pieces of kit that fit perfectly and that you love the look of is motivating and gives you a self esteem boost.”
The right kit also entails a pair of headphones that won’t fall out during burpees and any resistance bands or weight lifting kit that isn’t provided at your gym. “Always bring a change of underwear,” said one respondee whose sessions involve both the gym and swimming. “Honestly, there’s nothing worse than getting out of the pool and having to put your sweaty gym pants back on.”
“Forgetting an item of clothing can easily ruin your day,” agrees Andrews. “My advice is to prepare the night before and plot out what you’ll need. It’ll give you time to charge your fitness tech, too. Perhaps most importantly, make sure you don’t forget your toiletries. We’ve all become accustomed to the mindset of ‘everything I need is around me’ when exercising at home, and this can quickly trip you up if you forget your deodorant and hair products before a busy day at work.”
Nail the basics before lifting heavy
Don’t assume that you have to use the heaviest kit just because you’re in the gym and have access to it. “For a new gym-goer, focus on form and intention rather than intensity,” says Obayuvana. “Forget about needing to break a huge sweat or lift a certain weight for it to be a good session. Instead, think about the what and why of your workout. It will be so much more beneficial for beginners to understand the movements and how it benefits them than if they just go hell for leather for 45 minutes.”
If you’re planning on sticking with your training routine, then there’s no rush to lift a certain weight or run a certain time. “Start with body weight and increase if and when you want to,” encourages yoga instructor Pip Roberts.
Find the routine that works for you
From how many sessions a week to what you do in the session itself, getting your ducks in a row is important. “I wish I’d known about the importance of mobility and stretching, as well as the correct workout split for me,” said a weight-lifting respondee.
Let’s start with organising your week. Firstly, ensure you schedule in enough rest days. “Doing HIIT classes on every day of the week can be a ticket to exhaustion,” says Andrews. “If you’re a beginner, my advice would be to start by staggering classes across the week, mixing your routine up. I can remember how excited I was when I first stepped foot in a fitness space, but don’t run before you can walk!”
Then, work out what kind of sessions you like. Do you prefer to nail a full-body session a few times a week or would you rather do an upper/lower body split? Either way, schedule your workouts so you have enough time for your muscles to rest before training them again.
During your actual session, ensure you carve out enough time for a proper warm-up. “Mobilising the body before you start wakes up those neural connections and primes the muscles to understand what movements are about to come,” Obayuvana says. “Plus, it encourages blood flow to the muscles to reduce the likelihood of injury.”
For more gym tips and a beginner-friendly training plan, sign up to the Strong Women Training Club.
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).
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