The other day I was at my local gym, walking on the Skillmill like a good little hamster, when I noticed a salesperson bringing a new prospective sign-up around on a tour. She showed off the different machines — SkiErg (skiing in one spot; no snow), Skillmill (hamster wheel for humans), Assault bike (kinda like the elliptical and a spinning bike spent a drunken night together and this was the result). I glanced over at the newbie. She was nodding and fake-smiling in that way that says, “I don’t know WTF you just said, but take my money.” So the gym got another sale (cha-chiiiinnnng) and the world got another woman who will likely be doing the after-work swipe-by come February.
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What To Do In The Gym When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing?
When you’ve never used a gym before, it can be helluva intimidating. It’s foreign on every sensory level. The first thing that hits you is the smell – a mix of sweat and chlorine that you don’t encounter in the outside world where air is fresh and people are normal. Then there’s the sounds… metal clanging on metal, whirring machines, loud bangs and thuds from who knows what and grunting. So. Much. Grunting. The gym at peak time feels closed in, like you’ve stepped through a wormhole into another reality where everyone is really determined and fierce. All you see are muscles, lycra, weird contraptions with handles and levers and men and women doing unfamiliar things with them. Fiercely.
The first time I walked into a gym, nearly 20 years ago, I wanted to turn around and walk straight out again. Instead, I put my head down and missioned with purpose to the one section where I knew what I was doing — the free weights (thanks, Dad!) and that’s the only section I used for about two years. But when you know your way around it, the gym becomes a playground. Use these tips to skip the feeling awkward part and go straight to crushing it.
1. Avoid peak time if you can.
Peak time is the gym’s equivalent of ‘just woke up after passing out on the couch with a full face of make-up’ — not its best look. You’ll struggle to find equipment, you’ll queue for cardio machines and when you use the strength machines, strangers will hover nearby, like cats waiting for you to drop your tuna sandwich. If you must go in peak time, jog on the treadmill. Sounds obvious and even defeatist, but hear me out: the treadmill is easy to use. You can’t really go wrong (just don’t step onto a moving one.) What’s more, they’re typically arranged facing the rest of the gym. From that vantage point, you can watch other people and get a sense of the lay of the land – what’s where, how you use it, who the friendliest trainers and assistants are. And, yes, you’re getting a workout. A study in JAMA found that cardio fitness improves longevity. The study involved 122 000 adults from age 18 to 80 – and treadmills.
2. Go to classes.
And I don’t just mean Zumba, five days a week. The average gym has a wide range of classes — yes, Zumba, but also step aerobics, abs, spinning, functional training, boxing, you name it — all run by qualified instructors. Each class uses different equipment, moves and training styles. So the more you go to, the more familiar you’ll get with using all the different thingamajigs the gym has to offer. The instructors will show you how to perform exercises properly. Plus, you don’t have to think about what you’re going to do or where — you just go straight to the studio and do what you’re told.
3. Hire a personal trainer for a month.
The only downside of a gym class is that it’s not tailored to your body, needs and goals. A personal trainer will formulate a workout plan specifically for you and teach you exactly how to do all the exercises properly. They’ll likely take you to different parts of the gym and have you using different pieces of equipment on different days. A month should be enough time for you to feel confident enough to take what you’ve learnt and go it alone. If it’s too pricey, ask about discounts if you train with a friend or small group.
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4. Go in with a plan.
Aimlessly wandering into the gym is a first-class ticket to feeling spare or overwhelmed. It’s also how you end up hogging a reclining bicycle while watching cat videos on your phone. Digital workout plans like our own Shedding For The Wedding give you a training programme delivered to said mobile device. There are also plenty of other one-off workout options available if you aren’t ready to commit to a whole programme. But planning in advance is a must.
5. Ask for help.
No, no one will think you’re a clueless fool. Why? Because if there’s one thing that excites a ‘gym person’ more than the sight of an empty bench, it’s the opportunity to show someone else what to do. Women will remember when they were you and be eager to help a sister out; guys will relish the chance to be a hero. Seriously, they’ll be telling their bros the epic tale of the damsel who needed a bench adjusted for many leg days to come. Shweet.