Updated 13 February 2014

How to ease into the gym lifestyle

New to the gym? Here are some tips to alleviate your anxiety and help you ease into your new, healthy lifestyle.

The gym can be a very intimidating place to someone who is new to it and unfamiliar with the unspoken rules, complicated machines and gym etiquette that everyone else seems to know. Here are some tips to alleviate your anxiety and help you ease into your new, healthy lifestyle.

Take a tour

Most gyms offer you a brief tour before you first sign up. Take it. Don’t assume you’ll know where everything is or how everything works. Not everything is intuitive in a gym environment and even if you’ve belonged to a gym before, they’re not all the same. Make sure you ask lots of questions, not just so you know how things work, but also to make sure it’s the type of gym you will feel comfortable in.

Leave your cellphone in the locker

Unless you’re using your cellphone with earphones to listen to music, leave it in the locker in the change room. Apart from the fact this is your time to exercise, there are few things that will irritate your fellow gym-goers more than someone talking business on the treadmill next to them. Besides, if you can conduct a business call, you’re probably not working out hard enough.

Have a plan

It’s all very well to sign up at gym kitted out in sporty new workout gear... but looking the part and being in the right place won’t get you any closer to your goals. Avoid being one of those people who sign up at the beginning of the year and are MIA by the time winter arrives. Hire a qualified trainer to write you a training programme that you can follow, even if they’re not there for every workout. This will also help you avoid another big mistake many people new to gym make – exercising without correct form. Not only will this lead to injury, but it probably won’t get you any closer to your goals either.  However, if you can’t afford a trainer, join a group class until you feel more comfortable working out on your own.

One step at a time

You might be all gung-ho now, but if you push yourself too hard, too soon and sign up for every class available or spend two hours every day at the gym, you will burn out and very possibly injure yourself. If you exercise with an efficient training plan you will reach your goals much more easily and with less risk of overtraining. Leave your ego at the door – contrary to what you may think, no-one is keeping tabs on how much or how often you work out.

Take a towel

Getting sweaty is pretty much a guarantee when you workout, but leaving puddles of sweat on the different machines you use is a very definite no-no. And remember to wash your towel after every session, you never know what kind of germs could be lurking on that seat.

Pack it away

No matter how at-home you may feel in your gym, you still have to share it with a group of strangers, so if you use the free weights, or a skipping rope, or a kettlebell, be sure to put it back when you’re done. Good manners still apply even if you’re grunting, sweating and/or swearing during your workout.

Be considerate when the gym is busy

If you can only exercise during peak times, a little more patience and consideration from your fellow gym user is even more important than usual. So limit your time on the cardio machines to 20 minutes, give someone else a chance and then come back if you really, really need to. Again, it’s all about good manners!

Watch those post-workout rewards

Many gyms have juice bars and coffee shops that offer all sorts of delectable offerings which may be all too tempting after a gruelling workout. But if your goal is to lose weight, resist with all your might. Those ‘healthy’ fruit juices and smoothies pack a huge kilojoule punch and most contain more kilojoules than you have just burned. Drink water and rather pack a healthy post-workout meal.

Don’t let the weights section intimidate you

 Many people new to the gym feel incredibly intimidated by the weights section, which is often dominated by fairly well-built men grunting out reps with heavy weights. Women especially find this section daunting and end up avoiding it. But this is to your own detriment – working with free weights, when done right, is one of the most effective forms of training. If you limit yourself to the machines and occasional step class you really will be doing yourself a great disservice. If you really don’t know what to do, hire a trainer to show you the ropes.

Learn the lingo

If you’re new to exercise, being told to do three sets of 15 reps won’t mean much to you. So learn the lingo before you go. A rep (or repetition) is how many times you do the move – for example 15 reps would be 15 squats. A set is the number of times you do that exercise – so three sets of 15 reps means15 squats, rest, repeat, rest again and repeat once more. If you’re really not sure, join a group and you'll soon be cranking out reps with the best of them.

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