Navigating the Gym as a Fitness Novice

Entering the gym for the first time can be daunting, especially with the of pressure to perform that’s the hallmark of fitness culture. This pressure can stem from your own personal goals: you’ve already struggled to pull that sports bra over your head; the least you can do is make your workout worthwhile. Much education and advice surrounding staying fit and active comes from Greek Goddess-esque influencers whose job it is to lift heavy and look amazing while doing it. Although these fitness content creators often try to be inspirational and relatable, I personally feel intimidated by and distanced from these women, so their tips don’t quite seem to resonate.

Although I am no sporty spice or fitness guru, I’ve transitioned from avoiding anything remotely athletic with a ten foot pole to being a frequenter of the athletic center. I didn’t make this transition with any fancy protein shakes or designer athletic shoes. Sometimes the simple things make all the difference, so read on for simple tips to make the gym more palatable. 

Get Comfortable in the Gym Environment

This is the most important step. With multiple floors, daunting equipment, and chiseled weightlifters, the gym itself can be intimidating, and the environment can be a huge deterrent from even beginning to work out. The best thing that a complete newcomer can do is familiarize themselves with the gym.If you don’t feel comfortable in the gym environment, you won’t want to push yourself to work out. It’s best to start off with picking something familiar and easy to do, such as walking on a treadmill. 

Try a Fitness Class

I love fitness classes for a couple of reasons; they promote community rather than competition, they provide a structured workout, and they’re just more fun than lifting weights or running on a treadmill. I like to try out different types of classes, or mix in both classes and regular workouts to add variety and keep me from getting bored. Conn offers classes like yoga and pilates that you can take for credit, as well as MixxedFit, a dance fitness class that is open to the public. If you want to go off campus to get your fitness fix, a Pure Barre studio also recently opened in Waterford! 

Perfect your Playlist

This is my secret for keeping my at the gym and active for a sustained amount of time. Before you build up enough stamina intrinsically, let it come from the music blasting in your ears. Music helps me clear my head and distracts me from the monotony of repeating a movement over and over again. Creating a badass workout playlist gives me energy and pushes me to keep working out and move my body. It’s also key for timing my workouts; for instance, I’ll sustain a movement for the duration of a song, or I’ll create a cardio playlist, alternating two upbeat “running” songs with one “walking/jogging” song. 

Learn a new machine or exercise every day

When developing a sustainable fitness regime, mixing things up is key. Trying different exercises keeps you from getting bored and empowers you to find exercises you actually enjoy doing. This will also force you to work different muscle groups and gain more knowledge, little by little. I like to alternate between oldies but goodies, and exercises I’ve never tried. In terms of finding new workouts, I suggest looking up different moves or instructions on how to use equipment before actually hitting the gym. Getting excited about trying a new move that seems fun is a huge motivator for me, and having an idea of what to do will make for a more efficient workout. If you're looking to start lifting, I prefer the machines to the free weights because they're more user friendly. You can try out an unfamiliar one without much prior research,  because there’s usually instructions on how to use the machine and what muscles it works. Further, they’re generally less customizable than the weights, making machines more structured and less overwhelming. If you prefer bodyweight workouts, I love looking to workout videos to get inspiration for new moves. Blogilates and Whitney Simmons on YouTube are my go-tos; they have tons of workouts for every level, speed, and muscle group. 

Dress the Part

Activewear has surfaced as a huge trend. It seems as though every day, a new luxury fitness brand is popping up, selling strappy sports bras, badass muscle tanks, and leggings with geometric patterns and mesh cutouts. Wearing a moisture-wicking athletic tank top instead of an old camp T-shirt to the gym makes me feel more confident (and tells other people that I know what I’m doing), and also improves my comfort during my workout. Plus, looking cute in your new workout gear is a great motivator to hit the gym! If you don’t want to invest in expensive athletic clothes, especially as someone new to working out, Old Navy and Target have a wide variety of cheap and high-quality options.

Finally, and most importantly: Motivation and Results

The most important thing about working out is to make sure that you're doing it for the right reasons, that you are dedicated to your fitness not out of self-hatred, but out of self-love. Hyperfocusing on the desire to change how your body looks, or pushing past your limits to an unhealthy extent, will have debilitating effects on your mental wellbeing. Results aren’t a flat stomach and thighs that don’t touch. Results don’t have to be a five-minute mile. Results aren’t quantifications of your body, nor are they the aesthetics of it. Results are how your body feels and what your body can do. Results are gaining confidence in your capabilities and realizing that you are a powerful woman. Results are when your workout sets the tone for a productive day and your success at the gym motivates you to kill it in class. Results are aching muscles and a sweaty forehead, but you don’t feel gross; in fact, you love the feeling. Results are having something to motivate you to get you out of bed. Results are having a clear head and less anxiety. Results are when your work ethic and desire to better yourself translate to other aspects of your life. Results are when bettering your physical health inspires you to better your mental health and engage in acts of self-care.