How to get started at the gym

How to get started at the gym

How do you get started at the gym?

How do you go from nothing, which you do now, to being seriously strong, with a head turning physique?

Many will tell you that you need to be doing free weights and bodyweight exercises if you want to build serious strength that transfers over to the real world.

You must go and straight away be doing compound barbell exercises, using progressive overload and tracking what you lift.

But in reality, who can start a new habit as big as going to the gym regularly, and do it all perfectly from the beginning?

At first, you just need to build good habits

Perfection can come later.

When I first started in the gym, I did a lot of things “wrong”.

For one, I was too scared to go in the free weights area!

Grabbing free weights is daunting. You need to know what you’re going to do with them. You need a plan.

You can’t just wander from point to point and do the exercises like you can on machines. There are no instructions.

People in the free weights area tend to be big and strong, and know what they’re doing. I felt like I would be out of place because I would be lifting the lightest weights, and probably doing it wrong.

For months I only used machines, and I was enjoying it.

Those machines allowed me to still work my muscles and see some results.

That may not have been the BEST workout routine, but it was the best thing for me at that time because it kept me coming back.

Something more advanced with all the other little habits – like tracking – that are required, would have been too much for me to adhere too.

What’s the point of enforcing “optimal” if its never going to be stuck with for long enough?

Don’t give up on achieving your goals

My machines based workout wasn’t the best, but it kept me coming back to the gym.

In my spare time, however, I was starting to read about beginner strength training programs. I found Mark Rippetoe, Nerd Fitness and Stronglifts online, and starting thinking about upgrading my level of training.

There was a lot of emphasis placed on being able to do a pullup, so I worked on these. Luckily for me, there was an assisted pullup machine in the machines area – so I could happily start including this in my routine.

Over time, I was able to gradually remove assistance, and I got my first unassisted pullup.

I started transitioning to the free weights area after doing lots of reading about bench presses, squats and deadlifts.

My confidence took a few knocks when people (usually personal trainers) pointed out that I was doing things wrong and at risk of injuring myself but this feedback helped me to become better.

    • I used to do squats on my toes (thinking this was correct).
    • I bench pressed as much weight as I could, with shoulders flared out at a 90 degree angle.
    • I deadlifted with a hunchback
    • I did one arm rows with a rounded lower spine.
    • I used my biceps and momentum to move the weight on the lat pulldown.
    • I probably did 100 other things wrong.

And here I am today.

Don’t regret things you’ve done wrong, just learn from them and move on…

I don’t regret my months spent exercising only with the machines because I was too intimidated by the free weights area.

Nor do I regret doing everything wrong in the free weights area.

That time wasn’t wasted. I spent time building habits.

The first habit was simply GOING to the gym regularly.

The second habit was learning from material online, other people in the gym, and my own mistakes.

It’s easy to feel like you need to be perfect and know exactly what you’re going to do when you go to the gym.

But in all honesty, you just need to start and figure it out as you go along.

Could I have done things better in my first few months? Yes.

Was it the best way to start in the gym? Definitely not.

I could have spent time with a good personal trainer and spent those months learning all of the major compound lifts and laying the foundations for most free weights exercises by learning proper form.

But was it a waste of time? No way.

Don’t wait until you’ve got all of the information to act. Just get started. Do whatever you want at first, but learn continuously both inside and outside the gym.

Even if your first few months are simply training your mind to make going to the gym a habit, then THAT is progress! You can work your way up from there.

If all you feel like doing is going on the cardio machines or lifting on a few of the fixed weight resistance machines then do that.

Eventually you can start trying to accomplish a bodyweight squat with good form, or work on your pullups.

Just do something!


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