Let’s be honest, the gym is a scene: Guys strut around in sleeveless tanks trying to impress each other with how much weight they just benched. The gym is not the sort of place you want to look like a newbie — even if you are one. It can be mortifying to walk up to a machine and not know how it works or aimlessly pick up some free weights with no real plan. Even if it’s your first time inside a gym, it helps to go with a purpose and a plan. Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Grab your gym bag, make sure your socks match, and read this guide to start lifting weights like a pro.
There are some unsaid rules to the gym.
- Always keep a towel in your gym bag, and bring it with you to wipe off the benches, weights, and machines you use. No one wants to sit in your sweat. If you shower at the gym, bring a second towel to use for drying off after your shower.
- Load your favorite playlist, but don’t forget your ear buds, and don’t blast your music for your neighbor to hear. No one wants to listen to your music. Leave your cell phone in the gym bag, or keep it on vibrate to prevent the embarrassment when your ring goes off and to help you avoid the temptation to talk on the phone. Nothing is more annoying than listening to another person’s conversation when you’re trying to focus on your workout.
- Leave things as you found them. After you use a machine, re-rack the weight and replace all dumbbells or barbells to the correct slots.
- In between sets, don’t sit at the machine for long periods of time. Other guys may be waiting to use the machine. Be aware of those around you, and offer to share the machine so that you can alternate between doing a set and resting.
Create a routine
Find a beginner’s workout routine from a website like Muscle & Fitness or Men’s Fitness. You can also find great workout plans in men’s fitness magazines or by asking a trainer. Regardless of what you decide, make sure the commitment required in the plan is something that works with your schedule. Most beginner-focused routines will include the following elements.
- Perform the strength-training workout you choose between two to three times a week depending on your program and ability. You will want to take one day off from weight training between each workout to allow your body to recover and prepare for the next day’s workout.
- As a beginner you’ll want to control the weight you lift carefully. It will take some time to figure out what weight is perfect for you. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t need momentum to lift, meaning that you should be able to pause for a second before actually lifting the weight. The weight should be manageable enough that you can complete two sets of 8 to 12 repetitions to fatigue.
- Rest between 30 to 90 seconds between sets and one to two minutes between each separate exercise. This gives your body time to recover and absorb the benefits of the exercise.
- If you are able to perform 30 reps with a certain weight, it’s time to increase it, but don’t increase the weight more than 5% at a time. You’re aiming for steady, sustainable growth.
- Move slowly through repetitions in a controlled manner. You won’t get the benefit if you lift weights too fast. Going slowly uses more muscle tension and is gentler on your joints.
- As a beginner it will be easier to start on the machines as they are easier on the joints and will help ensure you don’t get injured. They also isolate muscle groups more efficiently, so they help build bigger muscles. Only move onto free weights like dumbbells when you feel comfortable with your form.
Fuel your body
What and how much you eat before and after a workout and the amount of water you consume will impact your performance at the gym and the physical results you’ll see. Everyone’s body type, workout intensity, and eating habits are different, so the answer can vary, but there are some general rules to follow with water intake and pre- and post-workout nutrition.
- Consume a 200- to 250-calorie pre-workout snack about an hour before you hit the gym. Avoid fatty, fiber-filled foods that can bug your digestive track, and stick with complex carbohydrates and fast-absorbing protein. Whey protein shakes or smoothies are always a simple, healthy option.
- Your post-workout snack should include fast-acting carbohydrates like fruit or a sports drink. This will help spike your insulin until you’re able to access some protein, which is essential for tissue growth and repair.
- Monitoring your water intake is important when you start a new workout routine. Take your body weight in pounds, and divide it by two. This is the number of ounces of water you should be drinking a day. When you start strength training it is key to replace the water you lose through sweat, so ensure that you compensate effectively.