Congratulations on taking the plunge: Getting started on your first fitness routine can be your catalyst to improving your health, physical abilities, and overall well-being — but it can also be a bit daunting, understandably.
Whether you start at home or in the gym, the fitness world might come as a bit of a culture shock. Luckily, exercise is all but guaranteed to become one of the single most rewarding facets of a long and healthy life.
But the question remains — what should you consider to make your first session the best it can be? Here are 11 easy breezy tips to nailing your very first workout in a commercial gym. Let’s dive in.
First Workout Tips
Do a Walkthrough
If you’re going to be frequenting the local gym for your fitness needs, it can be very helpful to do a walkthrough before your first workout to get a lay of the land, so to speak. Depending on the facility, it might have a ton of useful equipment or amenities that you can easily miss while sweating it out on the gym floor.
Take some time in advance to do a personal tour of the area to really soak in all the tools at your disposal, from yoga mats to dumbbells and barbells (or even a sauna), odds are there are some great options you hadn’t considered taking advantage of until you see them right in front of you.
Facility employees are happy to provide tours of the facility as well. That way, you’ll never get anxious wondering where the locker room, water fountain, or stretching area are.
Meet the Staff
The gym staff are excellent resources for you to understand everything you have access to and even get some advice on where to start.
The desk staff and management have helped tons of people just like you get started in the gym. Interacting with some of the friendly faces that you’ll see most often and getting the lay of the land from their perspective can be super helpful.
Additionally, touching base with an attendant or trainer provides you a familiar face to go to for questions or concerns.
Choose Your Time
Not only will planning your workout time in advance help you keep your schedule organized (you are starting a new routine after all), but it can also help you get the most out of your first session.
Whether it’s to find a class you’d like to attend, avoid the rush, or even show up to meet some of the gym regulars at peak hours, choosing a time in advance can be a great help.
Check out the class schedule, talk with the staff, or check the online reviews to sort out your preferred time to work out. Generally speaking, most gyms are at their quietest right after lunch or late in the evening, and are quite busy early to mid-morning or immediately after the workday. This varies tremendously by the clientele at your gym, though, so investigate for yourself.
If you’ve committed to your first (of many, hopefully) workout, savor your time. Set aside enough time to fully immerse yourself in the experience without the stress of scheduling conflicts or rushing between equipment. Relax, enjoy each exercise, and completely focus on where you are and what you’re doing.
The average workout can last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to stay any longer than you’re comfortable either. Hitting the gym can be daunting enough on its own; the last thing you’ll want is a ticking clock hanging over your head as well.
Have a Plan
The best way to avoid confusion is to walk in with a plan. Have an idea of what your fitness goals are and the equipment at your disposal before you start your first workout. When you have a clear picture of what that first session looks like, it’s a stress free experience that allows you to simply focus on enjoying the process instead of figuring it out as you go.
Choose your mission for the day, be it weights, cardio, or something in between — just make sure you walk into the gym with a goal in mind. Following a pre-written workout plan can certainly save you time and frustration on the big day.
Write Things Down
Writing down your exercises, the amount of weight or time you spent on a machine, or any other training information is a great way to set a foundation for long-term progress.
More than that, however, think about how each exercise or machine makes you feel — what did you enjoy about it, what felt off, what might require some more research to understand, or what should you cross off the list as not worth your time?
There are a ton of personal bits of information that will be helpful to track in your first session to keep each subsequent workout getting better and better. Write them down and build off your lessons the next time you exercise.
Bring a Friend
One of the best ways to improve your first workout experience is to partake with a friend. Whether they’re a seasoned gym rat showing you the ropes, or someone more in line with your experience level, having a workout buddy can really enhance your experience early on.
A gym partner can offer motivation, accountability, and take the pressure off of the first day and help it be the casual fun experience it should. Find a friend to tag along with for your first workout if you’re able.
Even if you’re dead-set on your goals and know what you want from the gym, don’t stifle your curiosity along the way.
There are often multiple machines that enable you to perform the same exercise, as well as different pieces of cardio equipment that might be interesting to you. Feed this curiosity and discover potential alternative ways to complete your workout.
A willingness to experiment and “taste test” all your gym has to offer can help you stay engaged with your workouts long-term and stave off boredom.
Remember to Breathe
Breathing during exercise, particularly resistance training, isn’t as obvious as you might initially think. Your breathing habits can strongly affect how you perform, especially while lifting weights.
A good rule of thumb for respiration is to inhale right before you lower the weight and breathe out as you press, curl, or raise it.
This is called the Valsalva maneuver and is meant to help you brace your core while you handle an external weight. The last thing you’ll want is to get light headed while you’re trying out a new exercise. When in doubt, breathe throughout.
Remember to Rest
One of the few things to consider when you’re hitting that first workout is to make sure your sets aren’t more difficult than they need to be. Training with specific rest periods (the amount of time you take to relax and recover between bouts of lifting or movement) can be tailored to your goals as you continue to train.
But, for now, simply remember to take the necessary time to recover between each set. 1 to 2 minutes of rest after each set (or between exercises) should be enough to keep you in the game from start to finish.
Once you have completed your goal for the day, whether it’s performing your first back squat or just walking the track without stopping, take some time to digest your experience. Ask yourself some questions: What did you like, or what didn’t work?
Reflecting on your efforts can help establish a positive relationship with exercise. Count up your wins for the day, no matter how small they might be, and make some mental (or physical) notes.
Doing so can help you determine where you might implement some of the things you’ve learned about yourself and your new routine from this first workout.
What to Bring to Your First Workout
There are a handful of key items that will help make your first workout that much more enjoyable from an organizational, comfort, or performance standpoint. While none of these are mandatory precursors to hitting the gym (well, clothing certainly is), you should consider them icing on the cake — equipment that can enhance your experience.
A Gym Bag and Lock
Some kind of bag is a good starting point regarding gym essentials. You’ll quickly find it both annoying and inconvenient to carry your phone, towel, a spare t-shirt, or your street shoes around with you in your arms. These things become much easier to manage with a good gym bag.
Any travel container works fine here, from a backpack to a duffel. Make sure you have enough space to store all your belongings — you might also consider a combination lock so you can stick your things in the locker room until you’re finished training.
Comfortable Workout Clothes
Workout clothes are a critical part of the training process, and they’re about much more than just looking stylish. Comfortable shoes, shorts or pants, and an appropriate top will help keep you cool and in many ways actually execute exercises with more ease.
For example, many lower body exercises can be quite difficult to perform if your bottoms don’t allow for free movement at the knee or hip. Athleticwear is specifically designed to help you move freely while wicking sweat and preventing overheating.
Shoes are another important piece of the puzzle. Most facilities will have some form of footwear requirement (for safety and to help with equipment maintenance), but, more than anything else, proper footwear may help with your exercise experience.
Sneakers or cross-trainers are great for both cardio and some strength training. If you’re curious about lifting weights, any sturdy flat-soled shoe will do nicely early on.
There’s plenty of specialty footwear out there specifically for lifting — just like how there are specialized shoes for soccer or golf — but your run-of-the-mill sneakers or tennis shoes should do just fine while you’re starting out.
A Water Bottle
Staying hydrated is a key component of any good workout. To save yourself the constant burden of shuffling back and forth between the water fountain and your training space, bring yourself a water bottle instead.
This small step can save a bunch of time and also give you the option to flavor your water if you’d like. It’s the little things that enhance your experience that much more.
Pen/Paper or Your Phone
Tracking your workouts is a tried and true method employed by gym rats all over the world. Having some documentation of what you accomplished as you finish each exercise is a great way to keep yourself motivated for next time.
You’ll also want to ensure you accurately record the weights you use or distance you run so you know where your baseline is for next time. Bring a pen and paper, or utilize the Notes app on your phone to keep yourself organized for future workouts.
One of the most important things you can bring with you is your own music. Most gyms will have sound systems playing an assortment of tunes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t customize your aural experience for a more enjoyable workout.
Bringing some of your favorite music to the gym with you can also provide a sense of calmness and familiarity. Or, you can blast your favorite banger to get yourself hyped up before trying a new exercise. Grab a good pair of headphones or earbuds and take your playlist with you.
Sample First-Time Gym Workout
Even if you know your “why,” you still might be at a loss for what exactly to do on your first day. If you’re looking for a good way to test drive your gym and break a sweat along the way, a full-body workout that incorporates a wide variety of equipment can be a great way to gain some exposure.
This workout is aimed at helping you get your feet wet with as much of the equipment in a commercial gym as possible. You’ll log a bit of time in the cardio section, sample the various free weights like barbells and dumbbells, and test out the many exercise machines as well.
Consider this workout a sampler to help you refine your tastes — it should be accessible and fun, while also working every muscle in your body. This session should take about an hour to complete. Start light, focus on your form, and enjoy:
Coach’s Tip: Rest for approximately 60 seconds between each set, and approximately 2 minutes between each different exercise you perform.
This Is Just The Beginning
These tips will help you nail your first workout, sure, but they’re just the beginning. Once you get into your own groove, you’ll be able to expand on your preferences and determine how to build a long-term, sustainable approach to physical activity.
Like any process, you should take things one step at a time. Try to make each individual workout as diligent, precise, and enjoyable as possible. You’ll be hooked before you know it, so ease in, enjoy the process, and have fun!
Featured Image: Dejan Dundjerski / Shutterstock