How to Start Going to the Gym and Keep Going Once You're There

Before I came to college, I had never seen the inside of a gym. I hadn’t been to a sports complex other than to attend my brother’s baseball games, and I certainly hadn’t thought about running since high school P.E.

My freshman roommate was really into working out, so she would drag me to the gym with her. Initially, I was very committed. Going to the gym everyday was an attempt to get my money’s worth for what I was paying to attend AU. After about a month of non-stop working out, and after having never stepped on an elliptical machine before, my intensity began to wane, and I stopped going to the gym again until the following semester.

 In January of my first spring semester at AU, I made the decision that I was going to actually commit myself to working out. I saw the person I wanted to be, and from that moment on, every decision I made regarding my body would be made with her in mind.

The following is a list of steps to consider taking if you’ve been meaning to start working out, but haven’t, or if you’re afraid of being judged by the uber-buff athletes in the gym, or if you’ve been making excuses to stay away from the gym for far too long.  

Step 1: Make a Plan-Part 1

            This step is easy enough, but there are a lot of components that go into it. You need to decide the goals you have for your mind and body and determine a plan of action to reach them.

Do you want to lose weight? If so, I suggest aiming for a specific size rather than a weight. Muscle weighs more than fat, so two people who weigh 150 lbs. could look vastly different. Also, if you aim for a size, it’ll be easier to see the progress you’ve made. Instead of focusing on pounds you can’t seem to shed, you can focus on how your jeans feel a little looser. Another way to track your progress is to take pictures along the way. While it’s important not to obsess over the pictures or take one every day (it will have the same effect as focusing on that pound or two that doesn’t seem to be disappearing), it’s a nice reminder that you’re on your way to your goal if you look back at pictures of yourself a couple months ago vs. your body right now.

If your goal isn’t weight-loss oriented, there are still some things you need to consider. Maybe you want to get stronger; if that’s the case, think about what body parts you wish were more muscular. Do you want stronger arms or legs? Do you want a butt to rival a Kardashian? Or maybe you just want to be able to do a pull up? Whatever your fitness goals, there are specific ways to target each muscle group.

Step 2: Make a Plan, Part 2

Next you’re going to need to do some research. Let’s say you’re looking to get your whole body active and fit, not just one particular area. You’ll need to start with a weekly plan, which might look something like this:

Day 1: Arms

Day 2: Legs

Day 3: Abs

Day 4: Butt

Day 5: Cardio

Day 6: Rest

You can decide how you want to exercise each day. Maybe you use weights on arm day, and maybe cardio is primarily done on machines. Don’t feel intimidated to use the machines, they all have very explicit instructions on how to use them without injuring yourself. If you ever feel like you’re unsure of how to use a machine, read the instructions or ask someone who works at the gym. Exercising without knowing what you’re doing can lead to some pretty nasty injuries.

A great way to find exercises to try is through Pinterest. Simply search “Butt workouts for beginners” and you’ll find an assortment of really great pictures and how-to’s that’ll show you the safe and proper way to do different exercises.

If you’re nervous about trying a new exercise in front of a lot of people, try it in your dorm or apartment first. Mimic the way you’ll do the exercise, just without any of the weights or accessories, and really get a feel for the motion. By the time you really try it for the first time, you’ll look like a pro!

Finally, take all of these exercises you’ve found and compile them into a list (I suggest making it on your phone, as paper list at the gym might get sweaty and gross, but that’s your prerogative). The list might look something like:

Arm Day, 1

  1. Bicep curls
  2. Hammer curls
  3. Front raise
  4. Lateral raise
  5. Triceps extension

You’ll want to have a couple different variations of each day, so you’re not always doing the same exercises in the same order. You may start out passionate, but doing the same exercises over and over could burn out your enthusiasm very quickly. Additionally, it’s important to add some variations into your workouts so your muscles don’t become accustomed to the same movements over and over. You won’t be getting anything positive out of a workout if you’re just going through the motions. Along the same line, it’s important not to do two days of the same body part in a row (ie: you wouldn’t want to do an arm day right after an arm day). You need to give your muscles time to rest after you work on them, so doing the same muscle group twice could be damaging to them.

Step 3: Begin Your Workout!

Okay, you’ve planned and planned and planned, now what? It’s time to start exercising of course! When you begin, there are a couple things you need to consider:

It’s important not to go too hard, too fast. Not only will it curb your enthusiasm quicker if you burn out after the first week, but you could seriously injure yourself if you go from never running to running 10 miles on your first day. Chose weights that seem too light, and run at a pace that seems too slow. Your first couple rounds for each day should really be about getting the motions right (and, I should mention, you’re going to be pretty sore after your first couple workouts, if you’ve been fairly inactive up until this point). After you’ve been working for a little while and you feel comfortable, then you can up your speed. Don’t feel like you need to go at the same pace as the girl next to you—she’s doing her thing, you do yours.

It is also important to think about warm-ups. Walking straight from the locker room to the weights is a big no-no. Go to the cardio area and warm up your body, get your muscles loose. You can really hurt yourself (bear with me as I discuss yet another means of injury) if you try lifting or even stretching with out a warm up. So just spend 15 or 20 minutes on the elliptical and get your blood flowing. After you’ve done this, you should stretch. You’ll increase your flexibility if you stretch during every one of your workouts, and it’s also just good to do while you’re exercising. Again, don’t stretch until you’ve warmed up. You’ll see that waiting until you’ve run or biked a little actually helps you reach your toes easier.

    

Step 4: Keep Yourself Motivated

Well, it’s been five months. You’ve been going to the gym practically everyday, you’ve noticed little changes here or there (perhaps you can go up a flight or two of stairs without getting winded, or maybe you can lift heavy things at work), and you’re utterly bored. How can you keep up your active lifestyle when your enthusiasm for it is consistently getting smaller and smaller? Here’s are some tips to avoid losing motivation:

  • Pair your workouts with a new diet. Healthy food will give you more energy, making it easier to get to the gym. Also, if you’ve noticed your weight loss plateauing, a switch to healthier food could help revitalize your efforts.
  • Find cute, small ways to inspire yourself. Pinterest is a great way to see how other people are doing it. I love looking at inspirational pictures that say things like “I’m working on myself, for myself, by myself,” or “Be the girl who decided to go for it.” Some people make countdown charts of the weight or inches they want to lose, while some people combine both methods to make a “motivation wall”.

  • Find small things that get you excited to work out. Maybe buy some new work out clothes or sneakers. Make a playlist of your absolute favorite songs that you’ll only listen to when you’re at the gym. These’ll make you excited to go to the gym and keep you motivated once you get there.
  • Reward yourself! Plan treats for small milestones. If you reach a goal, buy a new outfit, or get a mani-pedi, or adopt a fish. Is there a book you’ve been wanting to read? Tell yourself you’ll read it after you can run an eight-minute mile. Is there a restaurant you’ve been dying to eat at with your friends? Plan a night out after you can do twenty pushups. The possibilities are endless and very fun to think about.
  • Keep researching. I cannot stress it enough; if you fall into a routine and keep doing the same types of workouts for months on end, you will lose your motivation. Look for new techniques to try and master. See if there are any machines you’ve always been really interested in, but have never bothered trying. If it’s been a while since you last did one of your favorite moves, do a mix of old and new. Variety is key when it comes to keeping your enthusiasm up.

If you feel like you need more information, the internet is full of information you can use. Don’t be afraid to seek out different motivational techniques that work for other people and try them yourself. Above all, make sure you fully understand whatever exercises you do to avoid hurting yourself and make sure you get the best workout you can! 

Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11