Most gyms offer an induction for new members. Here’s how to make sure you get what you want from yours…
My gym induction involved a male instructor walking me around the weighted machines. He recommended that I try a circuit of leg presses, leg curls, chest presses and bicep curls. I did it – three times a week, for a few weeks. It was not thrilling.
The irony is that I knew this regime was not what my body needed. A few weeks beforehand, a personal trainer friend of mine had taken me to a gym back in my hometown. He’d been on a mission to get me off the home workouts which I no longer felt challenging and into the weights room. He taught me the basics of squats and deadlifts, and I loved it.
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When I went back to uni, I signed up for my first solo gym session. It was a decision that I was excited about, if not a little apprehensive; the gym was a place overrun with sports teams and I knew no one else who went.
So when I turned up for my induction, only to essentially be told to stay out of the weights room and stick to machines, it was defeating. I knew where I wanted to be – back at that squat rack as my friend had taught me – but as soon as I’d taken the leap, I had been put back in my box.
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Inductions are similarly disheartening for many people. What is sold as a chance to get to grips with the gym environment and get some pointers on your goals, often ends up with a trainer giving you generic advice and sending you on your way.
Someone with a more recent experience of this is Nancy Best. A coach herself, she wanted to learn a new skill and begin Olympic lifting, so she contacted a popular strength-focused gym.
“One of the things that I was really surprised about with the initial inquiry into said coach’s services was that there were quite rigid structures in place around what kind of induction measurements needed to happen. There were no real background checks on me as a client, my history or my goals even. I was told we’d be doing my body measurements and taught how to use the machines - for what? I wanted to start snatching!” she says.
The problem isn’t really with individual trainers or managers who show new members around, but an industry (and largely gendered) issue. “Cardio and machines with the aim to lose weight are what gyms have been known for for a long time,” points out Best.
“What’s sad is that actually, in a really positive way, the conversation has moved on; now people go to the gym for all sorts of reasons like their mental health, to learn skills, to strength train or do calisthenics. We now need to think about why machines are such a dominant part of an induction.
“I think it’s old fashioned and also quite dangerous – as a coach, I know that you should be checking people’s history, particularly with things like eating disorders, and remembering that the client is in charge of what services they access. You can’t blanket assume what people want.”
What’s the point of a gym induction?
If an induction shouldn’t just be a tour and some measurements, what actually is the point? “The purpose of a gym induction is to welcome members – whether they have previous experience inside a gym or not,” explains Wai Yip, a personal trainer at PureGym Leeds.
“They should finish with an idea of the gym layout, a baseline knowledge of the kit, awareness of what facilities are available, where and who to ask for help, and hopefully feel as though the gym is less daunting. Inductions are available for everyone, no matter how long they have been a member.”
Inductions shouldn’t just be a walk around. They should usually involve doing a short session so your trainer can see you move – it’s a great chance to have an expert watch your form and point out any imbalances or weaknesses you may not have known about.
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Kat Crisp, also from PureGym Leeds, points out that inductions may focus more on resistance machines than free weights because “fixed resistance machines as these have one sole purpose; free weights can have multiple exercises for the same muscle group.”
However, there should never be an absolute rule about what happens in your induction – your trainer should tailor your session to you. “The PT taking your induction should ask you questions about your goals and offer you advice about the intensity and rep ranges you need to be working at to meet them. Bear in mind that if there are multiple people on the induction, it may be more generalised – but don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout,” adds Crisp. She also points out that PureGym has different induction booking systems depending on your goal, so you can turn up to the one that is most relevant.
How to get the most out of your gym induction
Let them know your goals
“The best way to do this is to set the scene before you arrive,” says Best. “Email the gym or trainer and let them know what you want from your session – it’s easier to set your boundaries ahead of time than when being faced with a professional on the gym floor.”
Don’t be afraid to refuse
If you get there ready to learn about setting up a rig or performing a pull-up and they still go off-piste, don’t be afraid of calling them out, encourages Best. “It’s a bit like going on a date – you have every right to walk away if what they are asking is uncomfortable. When I think about some of the gym inductions I’ve had, I probably do need to take some responsibility for allowing myself to be guided rather than reminding them that I am the client and my interests matter,” she says.
Take a friend
Whether you feel more comfortable turning up as a pair or just want the support of a community you can ask questions to, talking to others is a great way to feel confident before an induction. “I have so much respect for people who go out on their own and do it completely by themselves, but I think being part of something where you can ask the so-called silly questions is useful. Particularly if you’re a beginner and don’t want to talk to the inducting trainer about it,” says Best.
Questions to ask at your gym induction
- How will this help me meet my goal?
- What is peak time, and how busy does it get?
- What other services do you offer?
- What weight should I start this exercise with?
- How many reps should I perform this exercise for?
- Do you offer training plans for races, competitions or goals?
- Can I get nutritional support?
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).