By Christopher Baiata
We all start somewhere, that first day of school type feeling where we don’t know anyone. It can be gut wrenching and overwhelming at first.
Something NEW. I started Training in high school where all I knew was my basement, a few sets of weights, one badass soloflex band assisted machine, and some cement filled plastic weights. This was until I met a friend named Shawn, who convinced me an actual gym is what I needed to make real progress. In 2007, I stepped foot into a planet fitness. Yeah, I know… the don’t deadlift and make no noise purple place from hell.
I was nervous and had no idea what to do.
Magazines with all my favorite bodybuilders is all I had to go by and learn from, so I went at it. From machines I had never seen before to free weights I had never even dreamed of lifting, this was a scary place, but I was excited. From the moment I started following a program, I was addicted. I was all in and ready to take on being dedicated day in and day out. It took some getting used to, and making new friends in the process, but I became more and more comfortable in this newly found wonderland.
There are many things in the gym that a newbie may not know what they are for. From free weights, to barbells, benches and machines. This will all seem confusing at first as you don’t know where to start. The first thing anyone should do is set a goal. Guy or girl, this will be one of the most crucial things you can do. By setting a goal and writing it down, you will set what you want to do into stone. A plan is a hell of a lot more effective when you write it down as it becomes more than just a spoken word and from that you can incrementally take the necessary small steps to accomplish one big goal.
The gym floor is usually arranged into sections in most gyms. Cardio machines (the devil!) are usually grouped into one area. Sometimes overlooking the gym in a wide open area or maybe in an upstairs level where they are separate from the weights. Gyms often put a small area near these with mats, light weights, bands and foam rollers. This is where you can warm up, perform dynamic stretching, train abs, and take selfies. Lmao. I will warn you though, gym mirrors will always make you look larger than you actually appear, especially with good lighting!
Next would be the machines section where most of the time, the machines are grouped by the manufacturer or the muscle group they train. Some gyms have machines that are plate loaded, some that have a pin you move up or down to increase or decrease the weight, and occasionally you’ll run into a gym that has machines that you adjust a knob and increase air pressure as its means of resistance.
Learn your body, see what works for you and what doesn’t. Not all the machines will fit your body’s physiology and you may need to find other ways to train the muscles you want to hit. Not all machines are created equal and that’s the truth. Companies don’t take into consideration limb lengths for all people and not all of them are adjustable. Don’t be afraid to try them all though, you never know which ones you’ll like!
The next area you will encounter would be the free weights (the best place to be!). From plate loaded barbells for benching, rowing, squatting and deadlifting… to dumbbells for hitting muscles with even more variability. These are your weapons of choice for building serious strength and muscle. A good mix of these in your program will make you big and strong and help you burn calories.
The human body will take its time learning the compound lifts to make you strong. A compound lift is one that works multiple muscle groups at one time, and are usually what many call “the best band for your buck” movements. These can include but are not limited to squats, deadlifts, bench press and many variations of the latter. These movements need to be practiced over and over again to get better at them as your body learns them. The more the neural patterns become ingrained into your brain, the stronger you will get. Becoming stronger is a skill and it takes a long time to master it.
One of the best things you can do by far is Google videos on how to do specific exercises in your gym. Doing your own research is a great skill to have and being curious is a fantastic trait to utilize. Don’t be embarrassed for not knowing how to do something. Another great source of information for the questions you may have are the trainers in the gym. There are no stupid questions, everyone has to start somewhere! The more you know, the smarter you can train.
Now, there will be a lot of intimidating people in the gym, many of which who are stronger, bigger and more in shape than you. DON’T STRESS IT.
We absolutely should not compare our first day with someone’s 46346534th. We all are on different chapters in our journey, it’s not fair to yourself. There is work to be done, and it’s going to take time, so as cliche as it sounds, ENJOY THE PROCESS. Building a better body takes time!
Now that you have a better understanding of the gym and what’s inside, let’s take a look at what you should bring to the gym for a better experience. Here is a list I compiled of some of the necessities:
- Water – You need to stay hydrated while training of any sort. As you sweat, your body can become dehydrated and performance can decrease, even with a small amount of dehydration.
- iPod or phone with music on it – Unless you enjoy the sounds of others training next to you, and the typical gym music the front desk decides to put on, you’ll want to load some of your favorite music on your phone that gets you pumped up. Also, a recommended download of Spotify and/or Pandora is a good choice so you get an elaborate mix of music while working out.
- Wireless headphones – Invest in a good set of Bluetooth wireless headphones, no messy tangled wires, no having to roll it back up and stuff it in your bag. A pair I have been using for a while is the Avantree Sacool and Avantree Sacool Pro. These are cheap off of Amazon and provide good battery life and sound pretty good for the money.
- Deodorant – Now this may seem like a funny thing to bring, but trust me, there will be days you wish you had brought this during or after a badass training session!
- Notepad and pen – Now this is what I consider one of the most vital things you can bring to the gym. With this you can keep track of the training session you have by writing down the date, exercises performed, reps and sets done and weight used. You can also write down how you felt that day, as well as any other important notes for yourself later on.
- Gym bag and a lock – While not always necessary, these are a god thing to bring as you never know if you’re going to need to change at the gym and lock up your belongings. You can also pack a snack just in case you’re hungry before or during your training session.
Look for part two of this article in the coming months on The Physique Mechanic blog on approaching locker rooms and proper gym etiquette.