This time of year there are always a few fitness buffs on the internet complaining that January is their least favourite month at the gym because of all the new people that jump on the bandwagon as part of their resolutions. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but I do understand where those people are coming from.
Don’t get me wrong, if a new year inspires anyone to take control of their health and make fitness a priority then they are awesome and amazing and everyone should support them. The problem, in my opinion, comes down to etiquette. Once upon a time (in most gyms) there was an orientation for people who were new to the gym and wanted to know how to use the equipment properly. Sometimes it was mandatory when you signed up. These days, many gyms are more eager to sign someone up for an annual membership than they are about ensuring new members are familiar with gym etiquette.
Going to the gym for a workout has the potential to result in serious injury. In any other situation, if such risk was included, there would be a safety review of some kind. I think the gym should be no different, for all our sake. There’s also a level of common courtesy that a lot of people choose to ignore.
For anyone who may be new to the gym (or has been around a while and hasn’t learned yet lol,) here’s a quick list of the top 10 things I think are important before you begin your training. Keep in mind, these are just my opinion and some people may disagree, but I think they’re fairly universal.
10 – If you don’t know how to use a piece of equipment, ask!
I know most machines have those little pictures on the side and descriptions of how to use a machine but for the sake of your joints (and potentially your pride,) if you don’t know how to use a machine, or don’t know what muscle group it works, ask someone who works at your gym. They are there to help you!
Further to this point, don’t curl in the squat rack. People’s heads will explode.
9 – Don’t offer unsolicited advice
This is a bit more for the people who have been around but still haven’t learned, but unless what someone is doing poses a serious safety risk, it’s better to just leave it be. If you’re legitimately concerned, tell the gym staff but don’t take it upon yourself to “school” anyone because you don’t know their circumstances. For instance, I do some exercises modified (as per the instruction of a physiotherapist) and multiple times I have had casual gym-goers come up to me to tell me that I’m doing an exercise wrong. I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, you don’t know about my injuries/restrictions or current training plan, so it’s better to just mind your business.
8 – Be prepared to modify your training plan
Sometimes you might have a six exercise circuit planned for the day that requires you to use a good amount of machines/equipment at one time. Then you get to the gym to discover that it’s quite busy. Be considerate enough to recognize when it may not be a good time to do large supersets/circuits that will keep other people from using equipment while you make your way around the gym.
7 – Have a training plan
This is one I consider vitally important. I see surprisingly few people at my gym that seem to be following a plan. They either do the exact same routine every day or they go with the intention of doing a certain muscle group and just choose exercises at random. It’s important to have a properly constructed training plan, work certain muscles together, do certain exercises in sequence, track your weights and know exactly when you walk in the door what you’re going to be doing. Either consult a personal trainer or check out some of the free plans available at www.bodybuilding.com.
6 – Invest in a personal trainer
If it’s within your budget to do so, I would absolutely recommend that any person new to the gym get a personal trainer, even if it’s just for a couple months. Not only will having a trainer teach you the proper ways to perform exercises, they can make you a training plan, help you set SMART goals and most importantly, keep you motivated and on track to make training a regular habit.
If a trainer at your gym is out of your price range, there are still alternatives. Many personal trainers have taken their businesses online and will provide you with plans, guidance and motivation via the internet for a more affordable rate. You may even be able to find an online trainer in your area that will meet with you semi-regularly for check-ins. If form is your concern, there are videos of most common exercises available here. Be careful when searching YouTube for videos on proper form, ensure that the person posting the video is a certified trainer because lots of people think their form is great when it’s not.
5 – Don’t be a cardio bunny
Even though lifting weights has become much more popular with the rise of Crossfit, I still see so many women walk into the gym, spend 45 minutes walking on the treadmill, then walk out. Sure, a healthy heart and lungs are important, but when it comes to fat loss, you can burn twice the amount of calories in half the time by strength training. Ladies, lifting weights with not make you bulky! It’s not physically possible. Even men require focused training over considerable time to build a large amount of muscle. No woman is going to pick up a 20-lb weight and instantly turn into She Hulk, I promise.
There’s a hormone the body produces which plays a very important role in the production of muscle mass – testosterone. We all have it, but men have more of it than women. That’s why men typically have more muscle mass than women. Without enough testosterone, it’s not possible for a woman to build “bulky” muscle. In order to do so, without the use of steroids, she would have to dedicate years to heavy lifting, staying on a specific diet and/or being genetically gifted.
4 – Chatting with friends is best left for Starbucks
Every now and then I workout with a friend, but there’s an unspoken agreement that we are there to workout, not to socialize. We can do that before and after our workout. Having friends around is great if you’re in need of a spot, want someone to check your form, or just appreciate the extra motivation from having someone you’re accountable to with you.
Having a workout partner becomes an issue when you spend more time standing around chatting than you do actually working out. The most frustrating thing for other people who are trying to do their own workouts is often when people casually sit on benches, surrounded by dumbbells, or lean against machines, just to chat. Gym benches aren’t just seats, they’re workout equipment and should be treated as such. If you want to chat, go to the locker room or better yet, save it for after your workout.
3 – Clean up after yourself
Gyms are a pretty dirty place. Sweaty people have their hands all over everything, touching one thing then moving on to the next and many dedicated individuals continue their workout routines even while they’re sick. I like to think most people wouldn’t leave the bathroom without washing their hands, so don’t leave your equipment without wiping it off.
Also, once you’re done with your equipment and you’ve wiped off what you were using, return it to where you got it. Many gym rats are bad for this, I know, but there’s nothing more annoying than having to use your rest time to put away someone else’s plates/weights because they couldn’t be bothered. If you load ten 45-lb plates onto the leg press, you should be removing ten 45-lb plates from the leg press when you’ve finished your sets.
2 – Focus on yourself
If you feel self-conscious coming to the gym, rest assured, when you walk through those doors with the goal of improving your physical health you are coming in with the same goal as everyone else. Don’t feel as though anyone is judging you because for the most part, they aren’t, and anyone who might judge you doesn’t actually matter.
Focus on you, not anyone else. Remember the reasons why you are going, why it’s important to you, and ignore the rest of the noise. If you consider yourself to be a person who is out of shape, don’t assume that if you see a woman who is lean and muscular that she is thinking negatively about you. I’d bet money that in most cases she’s not thinking about you at all, but if she was, she’d be happy to cheer you on.
1 – Do what you enjoy
I’m not foolish enough to believe that everyone loves lifting weights as much as I do. Going to the gym is fun for me, it’s relaxing, it’s a hobby I genuinely enjoy. If it stopped being fun (and it has in the past) I would look at incorporating some new activities into my routine.
If you don’t like staring at a wall while you do cardio, find other activities to make it more fun for you. Join a Zumba class, go skiing, take a long hike or a bike ride, do something that gives you joy while at the same time exercising your body. If you don’t like spending an hour working out, then don’t! Try a 10-minute, high intensity, Tabata workout instead or follow a powerlifting-style program that incorporates complex lifts that engage more muscle groups in a shorter period of time.
Being resentful of going to the gym is a sure-fire way of ensuring that if you ever fall out of your routine (life happens) it’s going to be twice as hard to get back into it because you’ll be focused on how much you don’t want to do it.
Find the things you enjoy, there’s so many ways you can get and stay fit! Good luck to those just starting their fitness journeys. I’ll see you at the gym. 😀