Survival Tips for Your First Time at the Gym

You've finally made the decision to sign up for a gym membership. Congratulations on your big step. Now you need to go to the gym.

The first time you step foot into the gym can be very intimidating. There are muscle men making odd grunting noises, dropping weights on the floor, and looking very intense with their facial expressions.

Then there are the women in fantastic shape. Their hair looks great, even if they just threw it up in a ponytail, and they seem to know what they are doing. It's overwhelming.

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Now, here you are—new to the gym, lost and not quite sure what each machines does. Where do you begin?

First, get a tour of the facility. If anything, you'll at least learn where the locker rooms are.

Next, if you can afford a personal trainer, sign up for five sessions. This one-on-one coaching is a great way to learn how to best use the equipment for your needs. You'll be able to work on your form and get on a steady workout routine. Bonus: you'll know at least one friendly face every time you go to the gym.

If you can't afford a trainer, ask one of them to show you around for a few minutes. A good gym should allow you to speak with a trainer. Trainers will typically show you 2 to 3 different machines and help build your confidence on the gym floor. Don't be shy; ask for help.

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Since you're new to the gym, it's important to know a few key terms:

  • Reps/Repetitions: This is how many times you do the move. For example, you can do 12 bicep curls—that's a rep.

  • Set: This is the number of times you do that exercise. For example, you did 12 bicep curls, took a one-minute break, and then repeat the exercise. You just did two sets.

  • Work in: This is when you share a machine with someone. You do a set and the other person does his or her set. This is helpful when the gym gets busy.

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Here's some more gym etiquette you should know:

  • Bring a towel. Some gyms offer towel service, but most don't. Call ahead and ask if you're not sure or just bring your own anyway.
  • Limit your cardio time. If the gym is packed, you should only stay on a cardio machine for 25 minutes. You can do your workout and finish up with cardio if you want to do more. It's only fair to allow everyone a turn.
  • No cell phones. Leave your phone at home, in the car or in the locker. If you use your phone to listen to music, don't answer calls. If you must take the call, go to the locker room. It's rude to disturb other gym goers with your conversations or to chitchat on a machine when others could be using it.
  • Wipe down machines when you're done using them. Let's be honest, you go to the gym to sweat. Just don't leave it on the equipment.
  • Share the machine. If you're on a machine and you notice someone waiting, ask if he or she would like to "work in" with you.

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