A beginner’s guide to the gym

Alice Windsor
Specialist Health Editor at Bupa UK
03 January 2019

I’m a massive advocate of finding what works for you when it comes to getting fit. The gym isn’t the only way to improve your fitness. Walking, cycling, trying your hand at a new exercise class or sport are all great ways to get you moving and burn calories. But if you’re keen to start the gym, as a keen gym goer myself, I’ll share with you some top tips to get you started. Ryan King, Senior Strength & Conditioning Coach at English Institute of Sport, also shares his thoughts on how to get the most out of your first few visits in a short video below.

Anything is more than nothing

I regularly go to the gym, but even I struggle to get back into the rhythm of an exercise routine after some time off. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Start slowly and increase your time and intensities gradually. Going in ‘hard and fast’ will only end in severe muscle soreness or an injury – especially if it’s all new to you. Short periods of exercise are still beneficial, especially if you follow a HIIT style workout. See your first few sessions as familiarising yourself with your surroundings and creating a habit.

Don’t shy away from weights

Most people think cardio is the only way to shift fat. But in fact, weight training is an amazing way to burn calories, sculpt your body and strengthen your muscles. Not only that, weight or ‘resistance training’ promotes bone formulation and therefore reduces bone loss as you get older. It can also help reduce aches and pains, such as lower back pain.

If you’re new to using weights, try a rough weight where you can manage 10-12 reps (repetitions) of a certain exercise. Repeat this for three to four sets, with short breaks in between. If your budget can stretch to it, a personal training session now and then can help make sure you’re using weights safely and correctly.

Focus on your goals

Try to remain focused on why you’ve started the gym. Don’t compare yourself to those around you. Set yourself small goals along the way to your ultimate end goal (if you have one), and remind yourself of this often. Having accountability can really help maintain a habit, so why not go to the gym with a friend? Also, making your intentions public is a great way to keep you going. I’m not talking about Instagram gym selfies, but simply telling your friends and family what you’re doing and why. This article is a must read if you struggle with goal setting or maintaining habits: Setting goals and sticking to them.

Create some ‘little nudges’

Life hacks, habit formers, little nudges – whatever you like to call them – can help you commit to something and follow it through. For example, if I’m going to the gym in the morning, I’ll tell someone the night before to establish some accountability, even if it’s just my husband, and I’ll lay out my gym clothes. Other ideas might include:

  • planning your sessions for the week ahead and writing them in your diary – this will make you more likely to commit
  • organising to meet a friend for a coffee after your workout – this gives you a focus beyond the gym
  • keeping a gym bag in your car
  • downloading an app, such as MyFitnessPal, or similar to track your progress – seeing results is a great motivator

Below, Ryan King, Senior Strength & Conditioning Coach at English Institute of Sport, shares his thoughts on how to get the most out of your first few gym visits.

Video transcript

I think one of the big roadblocks for people when they walk into gym is they see lots of people that look really competent and really know what they're doing. As soon as you're thinking about them you're not thinking about you anymore. You've got to remember if it's the first time you've been in a gym you're not going to know what you're doing and the equipment is going to look a bit alien and maybe even a little bit intimidating.

Some of the gym enthusiasts that are there will certainly look like they know what they're doing. The thing to remember is you've got to start somewhere, and as long as you're remembering that you're doing the right thing for you, that should help get you across the door and into the space. To make the most out of your gym membership, the best thing you can do is speak to the training staff that they have there. You wouldn't walk into a factory and expect to know how to work all the equipment, so why would you think that you would if you walked into a gym?

If you want to make the most out of your membership, the best thing you can do is understand the equipment and what it's there to do and how to work it. If you've never been in the gym and don't know any of that stuff, speak to the people on the gym floor because that's what they're trained to do and that will shortcut a lot of the pain of doing the wrong stuff for a long time.

We think about training as fatiguing the body. So we call it a minimum dose. So if we lift a weight and we damage the muscle, there will be a residual fatigue or a time that it takes after that training dose to recover, also known as stress on the body and then adaptation time. Depending on the type of exercise you've done and how intense is, will depend on how long you should take before you do a similar exercise again. That can be anything between 24 and 72 hours depending on the intensity of the activity that you've been doing.

Do you know how healthy you truly are? Bupa health assessments give you a clear overview of your health and a view of any future health risks. You'll receive a personal lifestyle action plan with health goals to reach for a happier, healthier you.

Alice Windsor
Alice Windsor (she/her)
Specialist Health Editor at Bupa UK

Did you find our advice helpful?

We’d love to hear what you think. Our short survey takes just a few minutes to complete and helps us to keep improving our healthy lifestyle articles.