A Collegiette's Beginner's Guide to the Rec. Center

For a long time, I avoided the Recreation Center at UMass. I recently decided to conquer my fear of the gym, however, and thought I'd give some tips to fellow Collegiettes who may also be wondering how to get started at the Rec. Center.

1. What to Wear & What to Bring

Read carefully. This is very important, and will probably be a huge relief to those intimidated by the Recreation Center. No one cares what you wear. As long as you are in clothes suitable for working out, nobody will bat an eyelash at the fact that your leggings are not from Lululemon. Also, fair warning: the more you wear gym clothes, the less you will want to wear your real clothes.

As for bringing items, I strongly recommend taking full advantage of the locker room at the Rec. Center. That way, you can bring everything you need for your workout, and you can keep your bag, school supplies, etc. in a safe place for free. Personally, I bring a reusable water bottle, head phones, and an armband that holds my phone so I can listen to music while exercising.

2. The Warm Up

Before you start picking up heavy things, you should warm up in order to avoid injury and maximize your exercise performance. According to the American Heart Association, “A good warm-up dilates your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen. It also raises your muscles’ temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. By slowly raising your heart rate, the warm-up also helps minimize stress on your heart.”

In my experience, ten minutes of cardiovascular activity combined with stretching gets the job done. I chose the elliptical as my warm up because I figured I was far less likely to face-plant on an elliptical as opposed to a treadmill. Honestly, running was a struggle at first.

In fact, running didn’t feel remotely pleasant until my fourth trip to the gym, when I experienced my first “runner’s high”. Trust me, that rush of endorphins is well worth a couple days of struggling, and will push you through the rest of the workout. Plus, seeing my progress, even if it’s something as small as being able to run for twelve minutes instead of ten, has undoubtedly been a confidence boost.

3. The Weight Room

Fortunately, the Rec. Center here at UMass Amherst is fully stocked with weights and other workout equipment. If you are worrying about being judged, my first piece of advice is to stop worrying. Seriously. Everyone is way too preoccupied with their own workout to notice anything you are doing.

That being said, if you are still feeling self conscious, there are great tutorials on YouTube where you can practice your form in private before taking your moves to the Rec. Center. Also, when it comes to weights, start small and work your way up. If this means doing bicep curls with five or eight pound weights, then so be it! Remember, nobody is judging you.

4. Group Classes

If the weight room isn’t for you, try one of the Rec. Center’s group fitness classes! From yoga, to spin classes, to Zumba, the Rec. Center has plenty of options. Plus, this is a great way to meet people to work out with. All you need to do is register (for free!) online, sign up for a course, and show up on time!

5. The Buddy System

Speaking of working out with others, I highly recommend bringing a friend with you to the gym! You can motivate each other and share tips and tricks. I’ve found that talking to a friend while doing a wall sit makes the whole experience a lot less painful.

6. Remember to stretch!

After you work out, remember to stretch in order to avoid any injury. Plus, you will be much less sore the day after a workout if you remember to stretch.

Since I still consider myself a beginner, I'm sure I will have more tips as I continue my fitness journey. Hopefully, the Rec. Center doesn't seem so scary or intimidating anymore. Remember, nobody is judging you. You've got this!

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