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New guy in the gym


It must be 15 years ago, but I still remember very clearly feeling entirely ridiculous as I watched the two 8kg weights I was holding swaying about above my head like two tiny balloons on the end of two painfully skinny lengths of string. This is not how I imagined it would feel, and I didn't like it. In truth had it not been the case that I'd made the decision to become a personal trainer, and had already signed up for a gym instructor course to begin this process, well I might have given the whole gym thing a bit of a swerve. 

I stuck at it then, and not immediately but over time, I came to quite enjoy myself. The movements were feeling more natural, the weights were going up, and life itself was seemingly getting, well easier. I noticed that I was stronger and faster, didn't tire as easily and rarely became unwell. I enjoyed excellent sleep, boundless energy, apparently greater balance and co-ordination, and I won't lie, I quite liked that my arms looked a little less noodley. 

Understandably I hope, I was keen for everyone to enjoy feeling the way I did, but as a newly qualified instructor I'd forgotten the most important part of any journey, the start. The programmes I was writing then, and thought were brilliant, were designed to meet the specific training goals the member had detailed to me. Which probably sounds like a good thing. What I hadn't factored in however was the process of building confidence in to a programme, or consider the process of learning, or even understand the level of behavioural and lifestyle change required to go from not working out to working out multiple times a week. There's a Chinese proverb that says 'a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step' (might have been Laozi, might have been Confucius, might have been someone else, but it was definitely a long time ago and it was definitely a wise observation); I was asking people to start at step 308. 

So how do you start at the beginning? Well here are my top 5 tips for the new guy or gal in the gym:

  1. Head for the upright bike. Ensure the seat height is approximately the level with the waistband on your shorts, trousers or tights, then get on and peddle. Aim for 5 minutes. Have a shower. Go home. Feel awesome.
  2. During your first few visits, watch what everyone else is doing, and see if there is anything you fancy having a go at. Once you are sure, ask an instructor to show you how it works. Perform one or two sets of around 10 repetitions, with a weight that feels comfortable. Have a shower. Go home. Feel awesome. 
  3. Continue with your 5 minutes on the upright bike, and your new exercise, and aim to visit the gym as often as you can, but with a target of 5 times a month. 
  4. If you feel you want to stay on the bike for a little longer, give yourself a specific target of 2 minute additional increments, and if you want to increase the weights you lift, add a kilo or two and see how this feels, going up or down in weight based on how good it feels.  
  5. If you see another exercise you'd like to have a go at, ask the instructor to show you how to do it, and perform another one to two sets of around 10 reps with a weight that feels comfortable. 

Once going to the gym feels like an enjoyable and established part of your week, here are 3 training goals you might like to set yourself:

  • By 12 weeks - complete a mile (or 1600m) on any 2 different pieces of cardio vascular equipment, and 2 sets of 10 reps on 3 different weights exercises. One where you push something and one where you pull something (both with your arms) and one for your legs. Aim for 5 workouts per month. 
  • By 24 weeks - Complete 4 miles, using any 2 different pieces of cardio vascular equipment, and 3 sets of 10 reps on 4 different exercises, but now with a weight that you find challenging. Again one where you push something and one where you pull something (both with your arms) and one for your legs, but also choose a 4th exercise which can be anything of your choice. Aim for 6 workouts per month, and try at least one group exercise class. 
  • By 52 weeks - If by now you have found a specific type of training that you enjoy, KEEP DOING THAT. If you are happy with our programme and would like to progress this, complete 4 miles over 4 pieces of CV equipment and continue with your 4 exercises however perform 3 sets of 12 reps if you'd like to build some more muscle, or 3 sets of 8 if you'd like to get a little stronger. Stick with the target of 6 visits a month, plus additional classes if you have found some you enjoy and if you haven't already, perform at least one of your exercises in the weights room (a dead lift would be an excellent choice). 

I wish you all the best with your training, because there's no doubt about it, it feels good to feel good. 

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