So you have decided to stop buying new, bigger clothes and instead chose to make yourself go to a gym. Good for you. Now, I imagine that out of excitement you already went to the biggest sportswear store near your area and bought a salary’s worth of gear. And you already paid your local gym 3 months in advance because they gave you a discount.
Chances are, if you’re not a nice looking gal with really tight clothes, the gym instructors are not going to bother to be at your side at all times, making sure you’re not going to get yourself injured. They’re just going to measure you up, print a generic gym routine, and off you go into the steel wilderness of broken dreams.
Fastforward to a fortnight and it’s been 14 days since you’ve stepped on a gym. Now let’s make a list of all the possible reasons of why would someone buy a gym membership and then not go, and you let me know which ones sound familiar:
-Last time you almost fainted or vomited all over the sweaty carpet floor.
– After the Gym instructor (let’s call him Lance) saw a cute girl trying to figure out
which machine was going to pump her glutes more, you were left on your own trying
to get that bench press bar over your throat.
– You didn’t know what the hell you were doing, or what were you supposed to feel, and where.
– You felt stared at, particularly by the gym buff who’s preworkout shake was wearing off and he REALLY needed to use that machine.
- -The place was packed and every single machine from your routine was taken.
– You were fat-shamed and eye-balled by soccer moms because you had to interrupt their 30 minute conversation about breast implants and chemical peels to be able to use the Smith Machine.
– You do not know what a Smith machine is, or a Cross machine, or a Power Box, but Lance doesn’t care. He still writes “Smith machine split squat 4×10/90 sec/supersetted with AMRAP Military Press using 65% RM” on your routine.
– You felt the work of a chest exercise on the back part of your thigh and you suspect it’s not where it’s supposed to be felt.
Don’t worry. We’ve all started like this. We have all started from scratch at some point, not knowing the difference between a barbell and a dumbbell. Heck, I paid for a gym membership 5 different times (and stopped going) before I took it seriously. The thing you lack is not talent. The thing you lack is not genetics. The thing you lack is called motivation, and a little grasp on the gym basics.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED
You really don’t need much. The protein shakes, the lifting straps, the kee wraps, the flat shoes, the $300 earbuds, those will all come in due time, if you ever need them of course.
Here are the basics:
1. Your Doctor’s Blessing. What you really need starting out is your physician’s approval to weightlift, that’s it. If you have an old injury or a chronic illness, you might want to get that checked out before stepping into a gym. It’s always a good idea to ask your doctor what exercises you should avoid.
2. Comfortable clothes. You really don’t need special gym clothes, or special shoes. Shorts and an old T-shirt with some decent running shoes, socks and undies. that’s your uniform.
3. A towel. To wipe yours’ and others’ smelly sweat. It’s a courtesy to your fellow gym mates.
4. A bottle of water. Dehydration is a thing, and it will give you cramps; you can even faint because of low liquid volume on your vessels, so you better drink when you feel thirsty.
5. Lifting gloves. Having your hands’ skin pulverized after workouts is a bit painful and uncomfortable. There are people who don’t mind and develop calluses. If you’re not into calluses, or just want to be able to lift without pain getting in the way, gloves are a good option.
YOUR FIRST DAY
Like I said, the instructor typically measures both sides of each body part so you can track your progress, ideally each month. If they have the equipment they can also tell you your body fat %, your lean mass weight, among other things.
After you’ve been measured, Lance is going to ask for your mid-term goals (more on that later), and then he will tell you to go warm up. Now, there are several things you can do to warm up. There’s something called “active warm-up”, you can YouTube it. I prefer it over traditional warm-ups because it involves moving your muscles in different angles, which help to prevent injuries. If that’s not your style, you can hop on a treadmill or an ellyptical bike; 5-8 minutes will suffice. The goal here is not to do your cardio, but to warm up and stretch before your workout.
What can your mid-term goals be? Generally, men tend to ask for a hypertrophy or strength-hypertrophy program, while women tend to ask for fat-loss and functional training. It depends whether your main goal is to add muscle, burn fat, or other (for example, a swimmer who wants to do complementary work on the muscles of the back and arms). Let’s say you want hypertrophy, because Chad at work is really buff and does really well with the ladies.
So, while you were warming up, Lance punched in a couple of exercises for each muscle group and arranged them in (I hope so) a logical way, and divided them into several days, which are called “splits”. If you manage to get yourself past the 4-week mark, which is when the majority of newcomers (a.k.a. Noobs), drop out, you will be given either a 2-day, 3-day, or 4-day split.
Now, you’re probably wondering: what’s a split? Well, a split is how you’re going to divide your weekly training. A split can be upper-body and lower-body, by muscle groups (one major + one minor, or antagonizing movements), or by push-pull. For beginners, it really all depends whether you have the time to come 2, 3, or 4 days a week. I personally prefer Full-Body workouts if you’re just starting, because you will be doing relatively light weight to get your body used to all the future pain and suffering that comes with heavy lifting (just kidding… but seriously though). They can be done 3 days a week, resting a day in between.
You can do active rest (low-intensity jogging, swimming or whatever aerobic exercise you prefer that doesn’t involve heavy lifting or training) or you can just chill at home. If you wish to know about workout splits, like which one’s best for you and how to make your own, I’ll be doing another article on that topic.
There are some misconceptions and bad habits that people tend to have. The most frequent ones are: Sample A) women thinking that adding ressistance work is going to make them buff; and Sample B) men wanting to develop only their chest and arms, without really working anything else.
About sample A: Just because you’re working with weights doesn’t mean you’re going to grow muscle. Growing muscle depends on a lot of factors, mostly the high-protein daily intake and a hypertrophy-oriented workout. If your objectives are to burn fat and have a slim and fit silhouette, you should rely more on weight training for accelerating fat-loss, since ressistance-training with weights burns a lot more calories in 20 minutes than a low-to-moderate intensity treadmill run (if done properly).
And then we’re left with Sample B: … God, I hope that we could just work one part of our bodies and miraculously didn’t have any injuries in the long run, but it isn’t possible. Antagonizing muscles are necessary for good posture, and for overall development and growth stimuli. If you work your chest a lot more than your back, not only will your shoulders drop forwards making your posture weird, but you will have back pain and spine instability as well. The same goes for people only training arms; it won’t cause a major injury by just working on your arms, but you’re going to look like a gorilla (highly disproportionate size of arms vs body).
THE FIRST MONTH
So let’s say you chose a 3-day full body split. The goal here is to get your muscles and joints used to pulling and pushing weights, to avoid injuries and to build resistance to fatigue. Your future workout routines will depend on your main goal, but for now the most important aspect is learning the technique of each exercise. I can’t stress this enough:
You need to try to feel, localize and understand which part of the muscle you are working on in every exercise! Developing that mind-muscle connection is fundamental to avoid injuries, and to be as effective as possible with your workout. Theres not a DAY that passes at the gym without the typical guy “lifting” 90 lbs on a biceps curl, jerking his upper body back and forth to be able to pull the weight up. I’m sure that with proper technique he wouldn’t be able to lift even 25 lbs. You’ll know’em when you see’em.
Today there’s practically no excuse for not doing an exercise correctly, because you have Youtube and Google on your phone to check the technique when you’re not sure. The first few times you do an exercise is going to feel weird, and if you have Lance by your side he’s going to give you some tips which will sound a little weird (pull with your elbows, try to break parallel, etc). Try not to stress too much about it, just keep doing the exercise with an appropriate weight so you can try and localize the muscle you’re supposed to be working out. In time, it will become easier.
Once you’ve done everything on your routine, don’t forget to stretch. I know stretching can be quite boring and painful at the beginning, but just try to make a habit out of it. Try to stretch at least the body part you trained after each workout, in time this will prevent injuries and will improve your technique. If you don’t know any stretching exercises for the hamstrings, try searching “Stretching exercises for the hamstrings” on Google or Youtube. I’m pretty sure there will be quite a few results.
Listen, if you try to change your whole lifestyle from one day to the other, it will just make your life miserable. The point in all of this is that you find enjoyment in exercising, let the gym be your sanctuary, your place to discharge all your frustrations, a place where you can better yourself every time you come through the door. If you make a drastic change like starting to go to the gym, and on top of that you stop eating fast food, and start doing a low-fat diet you’re going to have so much change in your life that you’re going to end up feeling overwhelmed, depressed, hungry and unsuccessful, because you don’t know what you’re doing in neither of those areas!
So if you want to make a change, make a small one, but make it long-lasting. At the beginning try setting really simple goals to keep yourself motivated; acknowledge your desire to change and feel grateful just because you woke up 30 min earlier to prepare a healthier breakfast. Pat yourself on the back because you made it to the gym; let “going to the gym” be your goal, instead of “today I have to do legs, abs and calves”. It doesn’t matter if you don’t finish your workouts, what matters is that you keep going to the gym and improve with every workout.
I have read a LOT of information about bodybuilding, dieting and lifestyle changes in my life. Plus, I’m a Doctor. Plus, I’m really obsessed with bodybuilding. Plus, I started going to the gym because I was fat, so I can relate to many readers. What I have written here is the product of years of training, of trial-and-error, countless hours of youtube videos, and bodybuilding articles.