Tips for Gym Newbies

If your New Year's resolution has you hitting the gym for the first time, follow these expert tips to workout like a pro.

gymGym photo via Shutterstock

If you’re like 38 percent of Americans, you made a weight-focused New Year’s resolution this year, which means you’ve probably just bought or renewed a gym membership—maybe for the first time ever. Joining a new health club can be intimidating, but don’t let any new-kid-in-town nerves hold you back from reaching your fitness goals. Bobby Kleinau, fitness manager at The Sports Club/LA (4 Avery St.; 617-375-8200) shares his tips for working out like an old pro.

1. Scope out the place

Kleinau recommends doing anything you can to get a feel for the gym before diving in on your own. “Most gyms these days will give you one to two complimentary training sessions with one of their staff trainers when your membership begins,” he says. “Use these sessions to get acclimated to the floor as well as to become familiar with the machines and equipment you will utilize.” No free sessions at your gym? Kleinau says it can also be helpful to join group fitness classes to get to know other members, or to find a piece of cardio equipment that faces the rest of the exercise floor to observe how things work.

2. Focus on yourself

“Many new gym members get so caught up in everyone else, what everyone else is doing, and what everyone else must think,” Kleinau says. “Fact is, most people are so into their own thing, they can care less what you are doing.” Kleinau also says it’s helpful to come to the gym with a specific goal in mind for each session—that way, you’ll be less likely to focus on those around you.

3. Figure out the best time to go

If you’re intimidated by the idea of a packed gym, find out when your club’s peak hours are (Kleinau says they’re usually from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., then the lunch hour from 12 p.m.- 1 p.m., and then the post-work hours of 5 p.m.  to 8 p.m. on weekdays). Some days of the week, Kleinau says, are also more hectic than others. “The gym is usually most packed on Mondays and Tuesdays, as people are making amends for their previous weekend of poor health choices,” he says. “As the week rolls on, the crowd begins to thin out.”

4. Use the buddy system

You’ve heard it before, but Kleinau says it really can be beneficial to work out with a friend. “The best way to maintain your consistency is to have a solid accountability partner,” he says. “Start going to the gym with a friend but just make sure it’s a friend that is going to keep you accountable.”

5. Follow gym etiquette

“Gym etiquette does indeed exist,” Kleinau says. “There are unspoken rules that, if violated, can result in some nasty looks.” Kleinau’s main rules for avoiding the stink eye are simple. He suggests to avoid grunting and noise-making, properly put away your weights, wipe down cardio machines after use, don’t get in the way of people using mirrors, and politely ask if you can “work in” if someone is on a piece of equipment you want to use.

6. Know your limits

A common first-timer mistake, Kleinau says, is trying too hard to impress veteran members. “[New members often] start lifting more weight than they actually can correctly,” Kleinau says. “Make sure your form is correct with every exercise you do. If something doesn’t feel right, stop it immediately and ask questions.”

7. Act like you own the place

Even if you’re not feeling super confident, Kleinau’s advice is to fake it. “You’re only a newbie if you act like a newbie,” he says.