12 Ways to Go From Newbie to Gym Regular
Every January, countless people make the resolution to start hitting up the gym. But adopting a new lifestyle habit can feel like an overwhelming task, especially when it involves an investment of time and money. Plus, even if you’ve been able to make it work, and you are getting there a few times a week—congrats, that’s huge!—it can take some time before you really feel comfortable in this new environment.
The reality is that a lot of fitness spaces can feel intimidating and uncomfortable, especially at first, when you are new to working out and aren’t quite sure what to expect.
But pushing through that initial trepidation can pay off with huge rewards as you begin to eke out your own niche in that space.
To help you feel more at home and ready to kick ass at the gym this year, we asked trainers, fitness instructors, and gym regulars to share their best gym tips on how to carve out your own spot and feel like you belong. (And to be clear, it’s not on you to overcome the systemic barriers to feeling included. These are just tips to help get you a little more hype for your workout!)
1. Pick one thing and get really good at it.
One reason you may feel out of place at the gym is that you’re not quite sure you’re doing things correctly—and that other people are picking up on it. To combat that, Morit Summers, certified personal trainer and owner of Form Fitness Brooklyn, suggests picking one thing that you can work on over and over again at the gym until you feel like you’ve mastered it. Continue to start your workouts with that for a confidence boost, but then move on to attempting another new-to-you exercise. You’ll have that self-assurance behind you from already getting really good at one thing to bolster you.
Along those same lines, focus on exercises that you actually like doing, especially while you’re finding your footing. “There is no one right way to do fitness,” says Amanda Wheeler, C.S.C.S., trainer at Mark Fisher Fitness. “The very best fitness plan is the one you enjoy and can be consistent with. If you’re choosing exercise you hate because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do, it will only last for a short bit of time. If you find something you love, it will be way easier to show up over time.”
And when you’re enjoying what you’re doing, it’ll be easier to focus on your workout and feel confident in yourself.
2. Wear clothes that make you feel good.
“I love pulling out bright and vibrant clothes that makes me feel invigorated before I start my workout,” says Latoya Shauntay Snell, ultrarunner, freelance chef, photographer, and founder of Running Fat Chef.
Feeling comfortable and confident in the clothes you’re wearing can go a long way, so go ahead and treat yourself to a new workout outfit, or that pair of leggings you’ve been eyeing up. (Need some inspiration? Here are 22 amazing workout leggings to get you started.)
3. Make friends with the front desk staff.
Ever feel slightly envious of those subtle “hello” nods the gym regulars give each other when they arrive? Don’t worry—once you start coming in more and more, other exercisers will likely start giving you the nod too. But until then, don’t underestimate the push power of a friendly welcome from the worker at the front desk.
What’s more, having an ally at the front desk can help if you need help, like if you are unsure how to use a certain machine or piece of equipment, or don’t know where to find what you’re looking for. If the front desk staff doesn’t know the answer, they can track down someone for you who does.
4. Walk in with a plan.
Knowing what you want to do in advance can help you streamline your gym time—and make you feel less aimless.
“It’s much more challenging to have an effective, efficient workout if you’re wandering around trying to decide what to do. Going with a plan in advance, whether it’s one of SELF’s workouts or another workout you have access to, will give you the exact exercises in the exact order so all you have to do is execute, not think,” says Wheeler. (Just make sure if you’re finding a workout program online that it’s created by a qualified, experienced trainer.)
Snell says that she does this personally, even though she’s a gym regular at this point. “Although I am no stranger to the gym, there are days where I don’t want to be spontaneous. I’m super old school and prefer to write out my workouts in a small notebook with an established amount of reps and sets,” she says.
It’s good to remain a bit flexible, though, to accommodate how you’re feeling that day. Snell says if her planned workout for the day ends up seeming a little unrealistic once she gets to the gym—say she doesn’t have as much energy as she expected—she’ll modify some exercises (like doing a squat thrust or frogger instead of a full burpee) or reduce the reps in each set.
5. Set a start and end time for your session.
Speaking of having a workout plan, set a hard start and hard stop for your routine. For example, go in at 5 p.m. and plan to be out the door by 5:45 p.m.
“This will help keep you focused and tuned in to your workout versus wasting time watching others, aimlessly doing the elliptical, or wandering,” says certified personal trainer Serena Scanzillo, founder of the SerenaFit Virtual Training Studio. “You don’t need to kill yourself at the gym or be there for two-plus hours to see results.”
Setting time boundaries can help reinforce that—and actually encourage you to get going in the first place, since you’ll know you’ll be right back home soon.
6. Learn the high-traffic times, so you’re not in for a surprise.
Times like weekdays before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. tend to be pretty high-traffic, no matter what gym you’re in. And for good reason—they generally tend to be the most convenient (like when people are getting out of work). But because they tend to be more packed, you may end up feeling more anxious doing your thing with all those people around.
“If I attend my home gym, I am typically aware of the peak hours. Whenever I travel, I either call the facility to inquire beforehand or do a basic Google search—some facilities have projections available online for certain days and hours,” says Snell. This gives you a chance to use the gym when it’s less crowded, so you can try things out without a bunch of people milling around or waiting their turn on the equipment you’re using.