Beginners guide to the gym

September 02 2015

If you’ve never ventured into a gym, it can seem like a pretty scary place. What are all these machines? What do I do with them? Is everyone looking at me?

Never fear, we’ve teamed up with Zanna Van Dijk, creator of the #girlgains movement and self-confessed ‘lover of all things health, fitness and nutrition’, to bring you the ultimate beginner’s guide to the gym.

So you can stride through your workout with confidence.

What to wear and take

First things first, don’t worry too much about how you look. You’re there to sweat, not to impress.

Wear gym kit that you feel comfortable in. Make sure it isn’t too tight and that you have a good range of movement. Wear a good pair of trainers that are worn-in, to avoid blisters.

Don’t forget to take a bottle of water to sip on throughout your workout: if you sweat then you need to rehydrate.

Where to go

The majority of gyms are divided into three main areas:

1. The cardio machines – these include treadmills, cross trainers and bikes. They’re designed to improve the efficiency of your heart and lungs

[caption id="attachment_1383" align="alignnone" width="1900"]bikes Exercise bikes[/caption]

2. The resistance area – this includes things like barbells (bar weighted at each end), dumbbells (hand weights), benches and squat racks (frame where you can do standing barbell work). This can look intimidating at first, but I promise you that strength training gives real satisfaction

[caption id="attachment_1385" align="alignnone" width="1900"]weights The dumbbells[/caption]

3. The flexible space – an open area which you can use for different tasks. Do stretches on the mats, and train with equipment such as kettlebells, balls and TRXs (flexible suspension system)

[caption id="attachment_1386" align="alignnone" width="1900"]kettlebells Kettlebells[/caption]

So, what should you do?

I always recommend using the induction that every gym offers. It’s your chance to try out the different machines and ask any questions. Following this, here are some more ways you can build your confidence in the gym:

  1. Book in a couple of sessions with a personal trainer. They can discuss your goals with you and design a basic program to work towards these. They can also help you out with different equipment and training techniques, and check your form so you avoid injuries
  2. Book into some group classes. These are a great way to safely pick up new moves and try them out. Then you can take them into the gym and do them by yourself
  3. Find inspiration online and in magazines. Look through fitness websites and publications and note down or print off any new exercises or workouts you want to try. Take these into the gym and give them a go – and don’t be afraid to ask for help from other gym-goers or the gym staff. They will be more than happy to help you


An example beginner’s routine:

There is no one-size-fits-all workout, as how you train will vary depending on your specific goals.

However, here is an example workout that uses a variety of gym equipment and works your whole body. It should take you between 45 minutes and 1 hour to complete.

5-minute cardio warm-up

A 5-minute fast-paced incline walk on the treadmill to get your heart rate up and mobilise your joints.

Resistance training

It’s ok if you’re not familiar with the free weights and weight machines. Just ask a staff member to show you which ones are which and how to use them safely.

Choose a weight that you can lift for 10 reps. The last few reps should be really challenging! Leave around 60 seconds’ rest between each set. Do three sets of 10 reps for each of these:

  • Dumbbell lunges
  • Leg press
  • Dumbbell shoulder press
  • Lat pull down
  • Cable chest fly
  • TRX plank (3 sets of 30 seconds)

HIIT cardio circuit

5 rounds with minimal rest:

  • 10 burpees
  • 10 press-ups
  • 10 sit-ups

Stretch and cool down

Final Quick-Fire Tips:

  1. Be realistic. If you’re a complete beginner, set an achievable goal of going 3-4 times a week rather than every day
  2. Take a friend. You can motivate each other and learn together
  3. Don’t worry about what anyone else in the gym thinks of you. You are there to work towards your own goals, not to impress anyone else. You’re doing this for you!