Getting your mindset right
Getting back into the gym after a long absence (or starting for the first time) can be an intimidating experience. Everyone wants to look like a god or goddess when they’re working out: those sleek, tanned, people with perfectly formed bodies who are just knocking it out of the park. Unfortunately, that self-induced negative pressure can do more to keep us out of the gym than anything else.
Remind yourself that not a single one of those people started out in the best shape of their lives, and many of them have amazing transformation stories. Unlike what your internal insecurities might be telling you, you’ll find that the vast majority of gym-goers are super proud when someone who is overweight starts working out, and internally they’re cheering for you. Start your routine with the knowledge that they’ve got your back and are there to help.
The people that gym-goers hate are the ones who are impolite, not the ones who are brand new to the environment. Keep these rules in mind as basics:
- Re-rack your weights. This has to do with free weights, not machines. On machines, you generally only change the pin that adjusts your weight and potentially swap out the handle attachment—you don’t have to worry about trying to remember what the previous setting was.
- Wipe off your equipment. There is nothing more disgusting than sitting down on a bench in a pool of someone else’s sweat. Any quality gym will have paper towels and sanitizing solution at multiple places on the floor.
- Use the equipment correctly. YouTube is a wonderful thing: if you don’t know how to complete an exercise safely, pull up a demonstration video. I guarantee you can find one for any exercise known to man. General rules of thumb: if what you’re doing involves moving the machine, jerking your body around violently, or humping someone else, you’re generally doing it wrong1.
- Be safe. For example, always use collars to hold your weight in place on a barbell. There are two basic kinds of collars you’ll encounter in a gym: spring and clamp. To use the former, simply squeeze the spring together and slide it down until it meets the weight. For the clamps, open them using the tab, slide them down the bar to the weight, then press the tab down to lock them.
- Don’t talk to someone when they’re actively using weights or a machine. Wait until they’re done, then approach them. Fellows, this is not the place to hit on someone. If you think she’s attractive, so does every other red-blooded guy at the gym; if she took time to talk to all of y’all, she’d never get her workout in.
Walk the floor
Once you’ve selected your routine, read through it carefully at home. If you don’t know what a particular exercise is supposed to look like, watch a form video on YouTube. Walk through the motions in your living room before adding any weight.
Then, go to your gym and don’t work out. Walk the floor and find where all of the exercise equipment you’ll be using is located. Being familiar with your environment will go a long way toward dispelling fear, insecurity, and nervousness.
First workout basics
Stretching is critical to long-term success: it increases flexibility, strength, and reduces the chance of injury. There are some things you should know, however. When you start your workout, avoid static stretching and engage in dynamic stretching2. A lot of people make the mistake of completing static stretches before working out; unfortunately, this reduces your performance–a stretched muscle doesn’t perform like a warm muscle does.
Remember that the only action in which a muscle can actively engage is contracting; i.e., pulling itself closer together. You want to warm the muscle up using dynamic stretches, work out, then work the muscle to its maximum length by using static stretches afterward. “Lengthen to strengthen,” but after you lift.
Emphasize form over weight ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS. I don’t care if you feel like a pansy because you’re pumping 15 lb dumbbells next to a monster whose curling 60s without breaking a sweat. Lock your form in first and then begin moving up in weight. This is one of the most common mistakes I see people make, especially us guys when our ego comes into play. If you find that this sense of shame/competition is a recurring problem, reschedule your exercise time and go when no one else is there (yes, you can work out at 4 in the morning without dying).
Don’t forget the support!
Finding an online fitness and weight loss support group is a tremendous boost to anyone’s efforts. Not only will you be able to get fitness advice and form checks, but you’ll be encouraged by the progress other people are making. These subreddits are great places to start.
The one trait that will make more difference than any other is consistency. Don’t feel like you need to go out and conquer the world and set records in every single workout. Doing something small every single day will bring about far more progress in a year than beating yourself to a pulp, getting injured, then sitting out of the game for months. You’ve got this!
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