The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Joining a Gym
The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Joining a Gym
Joining a gym is an investment. It’s not only a financial investment but it’s also an investment in yourself. It can be a daunting experience if you’re just starting out on your new fitness quest for the first time. What questions should you ask? What do you need to look for? It’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, pardon the pun. If you’ve ever wanted to know the basics on where to begin, this is the guide for you.
What Do You Want to Achieve?
This should always be the first question you ask yourself when your contemplating joining a gym, or undertaking any other commitment. Asking yourself what you want to achieve will help you set a goal and formulate a way to get there. Ask yourself if this is going to be a short-term or long-term goal. For instance, do you just want to lose a few kilos/pounds for a wedding or any other event or do you want to make a long term commitment.
This will also allow you to choose a gym membership that’s more suited to your needs. For example, if you just wanted to lose a small amount of weight then it would be unwise to sign a long term contract.
For me, this goal was a long term commitment. I set the goal of losing 100kgs (220lbs). I wasn’t going to be doing that over night.
Remember to keep your goal realistic, you won’t be Arnold Schwarzenegger Serena Williams over night. Anything you want to achieve will take time, effort and patience.
The worst thing you can do is set unrealistic goals, if you do this you will set yourself up for failure.
If it’s weight loss, toning up or building muscle, research ways you can achieve this sustainably. The latter is key, any change you make you want it to last.
Do Some Basic Research
Now that you know what you want to achieve I recommend doing some basic research on how to achieve the goal. This will also help you to be realistic. You’ll be able to get a feel for what sort of things you’ll need to do to achieve it.
Better Health Victoria have an excellent post that helps you decide which exercises are best for your lifestyle.
Having this information under your belt with also be great when you’re shopping around for a gym.
Set a Time You Plan To Workout
This is an important factor when joining a gym and it’s often overlooked. You need a time budget to figure out how much time you can dedicate to your new goal. This is split into 3 main areas.
Firstly, travel time to the gym, it sounds silly but this can make or break your gym commitment. If you have to travel a great distance it’s far less likely you’ll keep the motivation to go. Many of us have to juggle numerous commitments such as family or work and is often the reason we have neglected our fitness in the first place. Allocate how far you’re willing to travel, this will also help you narrow down choices when you’re shopping around.
Secondly, workouts. This may be a bit hard to do at first, but if you have an idea of how long you can spend at the gym the better it will be for you, especially when planning around your other commitments. Workout lengths vary between every gym goers and is dependant on many different variables. Starting out it can be difficult to judge, but you want to set aside at least 30-60 minutes for a work out in the beginning.
Another important factor to consider is when you plan to workout. Early morning? Afternoon? Evening? Most gyms are 24 hours, however there are also ones that aren’t so you need to be mindful of that. For instance if you’re a shift worker you may need to fit your workout schedule around different times or if you work schedule changes regularly. Knowing if you need 24 hour access will help you choose the right gym for you.
Set a budget beforehand
Knowing how much you can afford before committing yourself to anything will always save you heartache. There’s no point signing up for a gym membership if you can’t afford it. You’ll only create more stress for yourself in the long run.
Now that you know what you want to achieve and how to be realistic about it you can sit down and do the numbers. Most gyms work on a charge per-week basis, so work out a weekly budget to see how much you can afford.
The cost of gyms in your area will vary greatly. For example, here in Australia gyms range from $10 per week up to $25 per week. Some gyms also have variable membership fees depending on what services you require, you can read more about that below in Choose Your Membership.
If you’re after a budget app the people over at Nerd Wallet have an excellent post outlining a number of different apps.
There’s often a gym for every budget, so make sure you shop around.
Shop Around & Use Free Trial / Guest Passes
You now know what you want to achieve, what exercises you’re going to be looking at and you’re armed with a budget. It’s time to get out there and start looking at gyms!
Make sure you check out what gyms are around you, what they offer and how much they charge. Most reputable gyms will insist on showing you around before you join – if they don’t do this and insist you sign up it’s probably a good idea to walk away. I mean, you wouldn’t buy a car without looking at it first, right?
Gyms are no different. You need to make sure it’s a right fit for you, your budget and your goals. There’s no point joining a gym that only has weight machines when you want to do cardio or vice versa.
Many gyms offer trial and guest passes exactly for the this reason. They allow you to try out the gym and see if it meets your needs. Think of them as a test drive. Remember you’re not only investing in yourself but also investing in their facilities to help you achieve your goal.
Avoid Gyms That Put the Hard Sell on You
Generally this doesn’t happen in my area. I’ve only had it happen to me once and I regretted it immediately so that’s why I want to mention it. It may be more prevelant in other areas so it’s a good idea to be mindful.
Gyms are membership driven, so there’ll always be an amount of salesmanship. Most of the time gyms and gym staff are there to help you. It’s a service industry and it’s better for them in the long run if you achieve your goals. However, like other business areas you’ll always have your rogue traders that are only there to make a quick buck. So here’s something to look out for:
- Haven’t shown you the gym before asking you to sign up
- Tell you the price they quoted is only for today / one time offer
- Don’t give you time to think about your decision
- Try to guilt or bully you into joining
Choose Your Membership
So you’ve had a look around and you think you’ve found a gym that suits your needs and now it’s time to look at membership options. Membership offers vary greatly between gyms so this is a rough guide and where your previous ground work pays off.
You know what you want to achieve, you’ve done your research on how to get there and you have your budget. It now comes down to what you need, what you’ll use and what you can afford. Most gyms that offer different membership plans will scale access to certain areas or services of the gym. They might call them Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze for example and each one will have a different price point.
At the top you’ll have Platinum or some equivalent name. This will be your most expensive option and comes with everything the gym offer for instance classes, swimming pools if they have them, spa, sauna etc. Then you’ll have your mid range one which will set some limits on what you can access. Finally you’ll have your lowest tier which will prove your basic options.
There’s no point joining up for things that you wont use. However, your workouts may change in the future so it’s always good to ask if you can change plans at any time. Most gyms will allow you to upgrade but this might not be the case if you want to downgrade your membership. So it’s always best to ask before joining.
Team Up With a Mate
This might not be viable for everyone, but if you know a friend who work out regularly and lives close to you ask their opinion on local gyms. Ask about prices, facilities, services etc.
It can also be a great idea to gym with a friend too. It allows you to keep each other motivated and it will be less daunting if you’re just starting out. Plus many gyms have referral programs where you or your friend might be eligible for some free things. It can also be easier to get guest passes if your friend is already a member.
If you do start going with a friend make sure you remind yourself you’re just starting out. So don’t expect to do everything they can do straight away.
So you’ve now joined a gym and you’re preparing to head in for your first workout. Knowing what to wear can be an issue, especially if you are as large as me when I started out.
Firstly, invest in decent shoes. Most gyms will require you to wear closed in shoes to work out, don’t go in thongs/flip-flops. It’s extremely dangerous to do so. If you don’t own a pair already invest in a good pair of shoes that are suited to the exercise you’re doing. Head into a few shows stores and ask their opinions or research online.
All I wore for the first 6 months of my journey were sweat pants or shorts and a t-shirt. They were just old clothes, I didn’t go out and buy anything specific. If you’re losing a lot of weight this might be the best option, especially if your budget is constrained.
If your budget allows you can look into some compression wear. It’s not essential, but can help with chaffing if you’re of larger build.
What to Take on Your First Session
Knowing what to take to the gym on your first visit will help it be a success. There’s nothing worse than psyching yourself up for a workout and you’ve forgotten to bring a key component. Generally when you’re starting out you won’t need to bring much.
Concentrate on the essentials and don’t over think it. You’ll want to bring:
Gym bag / back pack – You’ll need something to keep and carry your gear in. You don’t need to invest in a ‘gym bag’, you can re-purpose a backpack or any other bag for now.
Gym towel – This is an essential and is part of good gym etiquette. You’ll need a gym towel to carry around with you to wipe yourself and equipment down during your workouts. It’s often something gym newbies don’t know about and some gyms will refuse to let you workout without one.
Water bottle – Make sure you keep hydrated during your workout. Gyms will often provide water fountains for you to fill your bottle or you can bring your own pre-filled. If you forget your bottle don’t stress too much, many gyms have vending machines.
Membership card / tag – You’ll need this to get into the building or scan in when staff are available. Keep this in your card gym bag or attached to your keys if it’s a tag.
Phone or paper & pen – This is optional. Starting out it’s a good idea to keep a log of what you’re doing and it’s intensity or how much weight you’re lifting. As a way to keep motivated it’s good to see and keep a log of your progress.
Headphones – Also optional. I find it very hard to work out without music. Most gyms will have music playing, but they normally don’t cater to my tastes. Also a lot of cardio machines, such as bikes and treadmills now have integrated TVs and internet connectivity.
Medical needs – If you have any medical issues that are likely to flare up while working our make sure you bring what you need with you. Whether it’s asthma, joint pain, or skin irritation don’t let it defeat you. I have joint problems so I bring a brace and basic pain killers with me to each workout.
Learning is Key
Don’t fool yourself into thinking you know it all when you enter the gym for the first time. Treat all of your gym experiences as learning experiences. Soak up as much information as you can. If there’s charts on the wall about stretching, read it.
If you’re jumping on a new machine they’ll usually have a guide on the equipment showing you what to do. Make sure you follow the guide as best you can to avoid injury.
This is also a great time to recheck on your research you did earlier before joining. If you’re planning to do free weights make sure you research correct form and practice with light weights until you can do it properly.
There’s a chance you’ll come across personal trainers in the gym. First and foremost they are normally there to help you. Generally when you join a gym you’ll get a free personal training session. Don’t be afraid to use it. It will give you a great place to start your new journey. You can use your free session to plan your future workouts and ask any questions you have about the gym.
Many personal trainers, although they’re employed by the gym, are actually running small businesses within the gym. Much the same as independent contractors, they are always on the look out for new clients. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however you should understand that point before you book in for your first session.
They’re a great asset to have on your side, but don’t feel pressured to buy additional sessions if you can’t afford it. If you can afford it, they can be a great motivator.
Leave your ego at the door. There will be people fitter than you, stronger than you and more muscly than you at the gym. There will also be people that can lift heavier weights than you. Absolutely none of that matters.
The best thing about gyms is it’s a personal experience. Every single person that goes to the gym is working on themselves and nothing else. If you’re going there to compete with others it’s the wrong mindset to begin with and it will do yourself more harm than good.
Don’t be scared to start off slow and build it up slowly. When I first started I could barely do a minute on the elliptical machine. The longest stretch I’ve done to date is 2 hours. Everything comes with time, the only thing you need is patience.
You’ll be learning new things about your body, how much you can push it, how fast you can go, how much you can lift… The thing is you don’t need to do it all at once.
Once you’ve found your limits and have adjusted to it then you can push yourself.
Make Use of Gym Classes
If your membership includes gym classes I recommend you give them a go. Classes are normally run by personal trainers, so it’s a good way to access their services without having to pay extra. Classes are designed and focused to give you a complete work out. Whether it’s strength, cardio or toning you’re after you can be sure there’s a class for it.
Don’t be scared of the group setting either. It’s an excellent way to meet new people who can inspire and motivate you. Also not everyone in the class will be fitness freaks either, remember everyone is there to work on themselves and there will be people of all different fitness levels there.
Ask For Help if You Need It
If you don’t know how to do something or there’s no guide, or just need clarification don’t be scared to ask for help. There’s usually personal trainers roaming the gym who you can approach for advice or help to show you how do something.
If you need someone to spot you don’t be scared to ask someone to help you. No one wants to see you hurt yourself.
Reassess Your Goals
By this point you may have been at the gym for a while, you’ve settled in and started to form a habit of going to the gym regularly. It’s a good time to reassess where you’re at and what your goals are.
As you learn new things you will begin to incorporate them into your work out. They may need to change or you may feel you’re on track. Everybody’s journey is different and it’s always a good idea to constantly reassess.