Hopefully you didn’t get pressured into some “elite-performance personal training package” with your new gym membership, especially when you went into this with the mission of taking your body on yourself. (I can’t stand the aggressive sales tactics of gyms!)
It’s your first day, you’ve got no idea what to do or where to start. That’s OK, what you do know is that you’re trying to cut belly fat and build a little bit of muscle (or a lot of muscle).
Separately from this post, you might find my piece about how I got over my fear of the gym to be helpful. Additionally, my take on how our phones and gym selfies affect our performance. If you’re here for weight loss, and that has been particularly challenging for you, take a scroll through our 20 best ways to lose weight for good.
Take these steps as your guideline to navigating the weight room. Let’s go—you can do this!
STEP ONE: Get a little warm up in.
If this truly is your first time in the gym and working out, you can’t just start banging out bench presses and squats. Find a spot away from people and do a set or two of push ups, pull ups, body weight squats, planks, shoulder circles and walking lunges just to get the blood pumping. While you’re at it, observe the gym floor, get a good feel what machines and free weights are where. Use this time to get comfortable and acclimated with the space—as you progress, you’ll get into a flow with your workouts.
While a warm up is very important for obvious reasons (primarily injury prevention), there’s a lot folks out there that go overboard and use up valuable energy with their warm up instead of actually working out. Check out this piece on the two ways you can warm up, plus what you don’t need to do.
STEP TWO: Do a little bit of everything
Similarly to the above, when starting out for the first time, your body will go through a shock when you hit it with any kind of training. Muscle soreness actually can feel pretty good, but walking around like you got hit by a truck means you probably went a bit overboard. We recommend starting out with three workout days per week (on-off-on-off, etc.) and performing 2-3 sets of an exercise for each muscle group of the body at about 60% of your maximum ability. For example: Legs, squat. Chest, dumbbell bench press. Shoulders, dumbbell lateral raises. Biceps, dumbbell curl. Triceps, cable pushdowns. Abs/core, planks. (Speaking of core, check out these 20 ways to give your core a great workout). We also suggest starting with dumbbells vs. barbells when first starting out as it will help with developing muscular balance. With barbells, the body tends to favor the dominant side.
Don’t know how to lift weights? Check out our guide of the 20 best exercises for men and women. Rather just do bodyweight workouts instead? Check out our 10 best bodyweight workouts for building muscle and losing weight.
STEP THREE: Always clean up your stuff
Whether your gym is immaculately clean, or a bit rough around the edges. Always put away your weights and wipe off your equipment. No one wants to smell and feel your sweaty stinky ass—it’s disgusting. And no one wants to re-rack dumbbells and plates either. It really is a basic, understanding among gym-goers to clean up.
STEP FOUR: Refuel the right way
Once your workout is over there’s still one more thing you need to nail down—a solid meal. Make this a serious habit because it’s legitimate. You’ve worked up a sweat, pounded your muscles and they need to recover and rebuild. But you can’t refuel with just anything. Cortisol, a stress-hormone in the body begins to build up during workouts and can strip away gains if not suppressed. Give your body a shot of protein and carbohydrates. Whey protein, and a banana (or two) should cover you. However, try to avoid fats such as peanut butter and oils as these slow down the digestion process. Your goal at this point is the ship nutrients in the muscles via the blood stream as quickly as possible.
If you’re still a bit unclear on nutrition, check out our piece on intuitive eating for lean muscle. Also, update your grocery list with our collection of the 20 best foods for muscle-building. Happen to be a seafood lover? You need to try our 5 muscle-building seafood recipes that aren’t salmon.
Good luck. Now stay consistent!
NEXT STEPS: Take things to the next level
After you’ve put a few weeks in the gym and you’re getting more and more comfortable with performing different exercises, it might be a good time to get onboard with a more regimented plan. We have a massive collection of 30 (and growing) FREE complete workout plans for every type of goal including building muscle, losing weight or increasing athletic performance.
Have you been plagued with annoying injuries, aches, or pains? Don’t let that hold you back. Check out our workout prescriptions for total-body pain-relief.