Walking into a gym full of strangers can be intimidating, even for experts who know exactly what they are doing. For those who are a little uncertain about how to get started, it can be even more stressful.
Don't let nerves stop you from transforming into your best self. Soon you will look back on those first days of gym-going and marvel at how far you've come.
Most people at the gym are there for the same, simple reason as you – to better themselves. Just like you are not there to judge them, they are not going to be too concerned with what you're doing.
To make your gym experience a little less daunting, we've put together a list of helpful tips. Maybe you want to try out that new machine you've been eyeing, or have some questions about typical gym etiquette.
Find your answers in our list of gym tips now, and then walk fearlessly into your next gym session.
Best gym tips
- Listen to your body. You’ll enjoy faster, safer gains because you’ll know when to fine-tune or tweak your training (eg. different routines, lighter weight). There’s something to be said about taking one step back to take two forward.
- Before you worry about hulking out, build a solid foundation of strength so you can progress up to the most advanced exercises. Get stronger session by session, aiming for slightly more reps or increasing the load gradually.
- Go in with a plan! Having a plan of action before you step foot in the gym can help you avoid wandering aimlessly around while you decide what to do next. This indecisiveness not only adds time to your workout, it also makes it less efficient, since you’re letting your heart rate drop.
- When it comes to building muscle, it’s the time you spend outside the gym when the magic really happens. It’s when your body rebuilds those damaged muscle fibres stronger than before. So make sure you take a break from the gym and recover properly.
- Do not limit yourself to cardio. After 30, we start losing weight at approximately 5% per decade (not just in our muscles but also our organs) so building muscle through resistance training is a must!
- If the piece of gym equipment you need is taken, don’t stand around waiting for it. Always have alternative options in the back of your mind, so that you can change to something that’s available.
- Never ever skip the warm-up! Have a dedicated warmup that involves bodyweight exercises like lunges, squats, and jumping jacks to elevate your heart rate before you attack the weights head on.
- Don’t do cardio before your lifting session! It may increase your heart rate, but by the time you get to the weights, you’ll be fatigued, which can lead to poor form. Instead, get your form-intensive lifting session done first, and then hit the cardio area.
- Mix up your workouts in the gym. Going through the same repetitive routine every time is a quick way to get bored and stall any and all results. Change it up every few weeks either by alternating the exercises or the acute variables like sets, reps, and rest times.
- Don’t waste time in the gym. Time your rest periods so that you make sure they are under a minute. That way, you can get your workout over and done with and get on with your day.
Gym tips for beginners
- One of the biggest questions that beginners have in the gym is, “Which weight should I use?” In general, you want a weight where you can finish all of the reps in your final set of exercises, but feel like you're really struggling on the last two or three reps.
- Make sure you make the most of the induction that most gyms offer. It is basically an explanation and demonstration of the equipment and how to use it in the gym, but it also sets you a basic program to get you going.
- Feeling lost in the gym? Invest in one personal training session every 6 weeks, they will give you a specific program that you can work on. Then, if you get stuck with the program you have the reassurance that you have a trainer to ask for advice.
- NEVER feel that you shouldn't be in the weights area if you are working on a program or feel intimidated by anyone in the gym, you have every right to be there as much as anyone else.
- Don't start lifting super heavy weights. If you haven't done weights before start light so you and your muscles get used to lifting weights, there will be less chance of injury and it will make you feel comfortable with the weights you are using.
- Don’t worry about what anyone around you is thinking! And don’t let it influence your workout. There are too many people out there who want to give advice who don’t have the experience to back it up.
- Take advantage of the free classes that your gym offers. You may make friends, they can be fun, and there’s usually something for everyone J
- If you don't feel sure of anything never be afraid to ask in classes or the gym. Remember, no question is stupid.
- New to the gym? Start off slowly but surely. Start with working out for 30 minutes, focusing mainly on strength training with some interval training at the end.
- Just starting out at the gym? If you’re not working with a personal trainer, go in with a written plan rather than trying to wing it once you get there.
Gym tips for men
- Don’t leave your dedicated abdominal work till the end of your workout, because you’re likely to cut it short or do it sloppily. Instead get the core training out of the way early by incorporating the moves into your normal exercise routine.
- Vary your workouts to stay motivated – don’t just go into the gym and do the same old weightlifting routine you always do. Try a new strength training class, do some interval training, or be brave and have a go at yoga or Pilates.
- Do you need extra motivation to stick with your fitness plan? Don't go it alone — enlist the help of a buddy. Not only does working out with a friend keep you both focused on fitness, it also adds an edge of competition.
- Strength training is a key part of any fitness plan, both for variety and to build calorie-burning muscle. But you don’t have to use the weights at the gym. Find a space on the mats and use your body weight with exercises such as push-ups, squats and lunges.
- Don’t be in a hurry! The harder you worker, the faster the results will come. But you have to go at a pace that you can physically and mentally tolerate. If you go so hard you hate the journey, you’ll never reach your desired destination.
- It doesn’t matter what the workout is, don’t push yourself to the point of injury. Check your ego at the door, and go hard enough to get results, but not enough to get damaged.
- Go to the gym when you’re at your most energetic. If you’re a morning person, then you probably don’t want to work out late in the evening and vice versa. Cater to your strengths.
- Make sure you keep your muscles limber. As men, you’re prone to be having tight muscles. If you’re under 40, hold your stretches for 30 seconds. If you’re over 40, hold them for 60 seconds.
- Keep your weight workouts under an hour. After 60 minutes, your body starts producing more of the stress hormone cortisol, which can have a testosterone-blocking, muscle-wasting effect.
- Test the bench! Press your thumb into the bench before lifting. If you can feel the wood, find another bench. Hard benches can cause T4 syndrome – a misalignment of your thoracic spine that affects the nerve functioning of your arm, weakening it.
Gym tips for women
- Don’t work the same muscle every day, otherwise it will never have the chance to recover and therefore it will never get any stronger or any more toned. Give each muscle group a rest of at least 48 hours between workouts.
- Don’t be afraid of the weights! A lot of women still hold the old common misconception that they will get too big if they lift weights. It’s just not true. Weight training is what gives women toned arms, a flat stomach, and strong legs. So if that is what you’re after, go grab some dumbbells and get lifting!
- Train your abs 2-3 times per week. That is enough to ensure you’ll have something sexy to look at once the fat has been reduced through cardio and healthy eating.
- Sweating is good! Don’t worry about how you look while you’re exercising. Sweating is healthy, and it shows you’re working hard!
- Use the mirrors in the gym for checking your posture and form whilst exercising, ensuring that you’re doing a workout correctly, and not hurting yourself. No need to criticize your own messy hair and lack of make-up!
- The great thing about going to the gym is that no one cares what you look like. If they do, they’re clearly not training hard enough. Just be yourself, wear whatever you’re comfortable in. The gym can often become your own fortress of solitude, and it doesn’t matter what you look like.
- There is such a thing as too much aerobic exercise! You want muscle, and excessive aerobic muscle is death to muscle. Instead, do brief bouts of high-intensity exercise in the form of sprinting or Tabata-style exercise build muscle and burn fat simultaneously.
- The body adapts to workouts, whether they are weight workouts or aerobic workouts. Cycle your workouts every 4-6 weeks, and you’ll see results faster.
- Work your glutes! They’re our best friend – the biggest calorie burners in the body. So try exercises like the barbell glute bridges, glute bridge hamstring walkouts, clamshells, and hip extension with resistance bands.
- Hit the compound moves, ladies! They’ll burn loads of calories, torch excess fat and create curvy lean muscle. Squats, deadlifts, lunges, press-ups and pull ups should be your new go-to moves.
Gym tips for weight loss
- To lose weight in the gym, give high-intensity interval training a try. A HIIT workout is incredibly efficient and you’re keeping your heart rate so you’re improving your aerobic fitness as well as your muscle strength and endurance.
- Does your typical cardio session always involve the treadmill, stationary bike, or stair stepper? You may not be burning as many calories as you could be. Instead, use machines with an upper body component, like a total-body elliptical machine.
- Make sure your weights are heavy enough. Strength training builds muscle, and muscle increases your metabolic rate, which translates to calories burned…and potential weight loss!
- Going through the motions won’t help you lose weight. You have to put in the effort. If you don’t feel winded and you have the capacity to step it up, you should be moving faster.
- Want to lose weight? Exhaust whatever muscle you’re working. That burning sensation you get in your thighs after doing lots of lunges? That's means you've reached your anaerobic threshold — you've worked as hard as you possibly can, and you've burned more calories because of it.
- Alternate between working different muscle groups. Cross-training helps you sustain a higher level of intensity for longer than you would if you'd simply stuck with working one area. Which means…more fat torched and more calories burned!
- Stop wasting time between exercises. Long breaks give your heart rate a chance to return to normal. But the longer you keep it elevated, the harder your body will have to work and the more calories you'll burn.
- Engage your core during every exercise. You burn more calories when you work larger muscle groups (ie the core) than smaller muscles (like biceps), and so the potential for weight loss is greater.
- Looking to boost your weight loss? Stand on something unstable, such as a Bosu ball or balance beam, and your body needs to adapt by calling on extra muscles to promote stability or resist gravity. All of this results in a greater calorie burn.
- Trying to lose weight? Shock your body and try a different cardio machine. If you always use the elliptical, try the treadmill, or the bike, or the stair climber. You get the picture. Your muscles won’t know what hit them.
Gym and health tips
- If you’re driven by data, invest in a heart rate monitor. That way you can make sure that you’re not overdoing it on the intensity every day, and show you where you can push a little harder.
- Do workouts you actually enjoy! Finding a workout, you actually like is key to staying consistent with your fitness routine. It’ll mean that you will keep going, will have fun, will be less stressed, and overall be healthier!
- Never forget your water bottle! Not only does it mean you waste time going to the water fountain, you also risk becoming dehydrated, which can be potentially dangerous.
- Never underestimate the importance of rest. Remember, muscle tissue grows outside of the gym when you’re giving your body time to relax and recover following your workouts. There’s also the risk for injury if you over train.
- Get strong, not skinny! Our bodies can't recover as well if we're not strong, which is why you need a balanced workout plan that includes strength, cardio, and flexibility training at the gym.
- Before getting onto any machines at the gym, make sure you include a warm up session as part of your training. A warm up will prevent gym injuries and prepare your body for rigorous training.
- Empower yourself with exercise! It’s one of the best ways to elevate your mood and alleviate stress. So get to the gym and improve your mental health.
- Don’t chase perfect, chase perfectly healthy! Go to the gym and eat right because you’re focusing on your health and its benefit: a healthier body, increased energy, boosted immunity, and an enhanced mood.
- Set a short-term goal for the gym. Although long-term goals are great inspiration, until you’ve reached the results you want, you might get discouraged. Keep your motivation up by setting daily goals for yourself.
- Think positively! It may sound silly but if you practice positive thinking while in the gym, you’re more likely to stay active and be healthy. Don’t let your own negative thoughts hold you back.
Gym exercise tips
- Get motivated with a solid workout playlist! Choose songs that make you feel strong, powerful, and like you can anything.
- Put your phone on airplane mode! That way you won’t be tempted to reply to messages, and you can avoid unnecessary distraction. This is your time to focus on you and your workout and to enhance that mind-muscle connection.
- Start your gym workout with some dynamic stretches. This will gradually raise your body temperature and heart rate and start to warm-up your muscles, priming your body for activity.
- Foam rolling is an excellent way to improve your range of motion and should be incorporated into every gym workout, so that you can get more out of every squat, lunge, and push-up. Give it a go!
- Embrace strength training! Having strong muscles can help prevent injury and help you move better in day-to-day life. It also improves bone density, lowers your blood pressures, and prevents against age-related muscle loss.
- Maximize your gym time by minimizing rest between exercises. That way, you’re automatically upping the intensity of your workout and keeping your heart rate elevated throughout your session.
- Incorporate compound movements to hit more muscles at once. Because they help you get more done in less time, they’re great for increasing overall muscle mass, and they also burn more calories because they require more energy output.
- Take your exercises to the next level by adding weights. While you can get a heart-pumping workout using only bodyweight exercises, adding in weights gives your muscles an extra challenge.
- Make a mental connection to your workout by thinking about the muscles you’re targeting during each exercise. That way you’re getting the most out of each and every rep.
- Log the details of each workout and routine you do so that you can track your progress, and know what changes and improvements to make next time you hit the gym.
Gym tips for biceps
- Wanting to build bigger biceps and struggling to see change? Do 100 reps of empty barbell curls, twice a week and you’re guaranteed to see bicep muscle growth within a couple of months.
- To tap into different muscle fibres and trigger new muscle growth in your biceps, try extending your curls sets to at least 60 seconds. You’ll feel the burn in a whole new way!
- The grip-width you use on barbell curls can make all the difference on your biceps growth. Using a standard, shoulder-width grip uses both the long (outer) head and short (inner) head of the biceps fairly evenly. So do curls with normal, wide and narrow grips to maximize the results.
- Do seated barbell curls. That way, you focus more stress on the biceps and you can place a greater overload on the biceps, since you are strongest in the top half of the ROM.
- Seated incline dumbbell curls are one of the only ways to stretch the long head of the biceps out. This means that greater emphasis is placed on the biceps long head, which is what gives your arms better shape.
- Looking for a different biceps exercise? Try Hammer Curls. They place the greatest amount of emphasis on the biceps long head. Cross-body hammer curls add a different dimension to the exercise.
- Although they look wimpy, bands provide a unique type of resistance. This means that you can get your biceps to work in a whole different way when doing bicep curls with a band instead of weights. Go on…give them a chance!
- Whatever exercise you do, you’re only going to be able to get bigger muscles if you can get a good mind-muscle connection when doing them. Otherwise, you’re just going through the motion without actually achieving anything.
- To increase intensity during biceps training, do supersets, where you pair a biceps exercise with a triceps exercise, which reduces the rest time between sets.
- If you’re hoping to lift super heavy weights to get massive biceps, make sure you are using proper form and technique; otherwise you are more prone to injury. Ask a professional to check your form and make any adjustments necessary before moving on to heavier weights.
Gym tips for weight gain
- On a journey to increase your body weight? The basic tools are calories, supplements, and weight lifting.
- Gaining weight in the gym is all about adding “good weight”, i.e. muscle, and not “bad weight”, i.e. excess fat. To make sure you’re gaining more muscle than fat, talk to a professional about the right exercise plan for you and your goals.
- Never train while hungry. Going into a workout without fuelling your body beforehand forces your body to get energy by burning stored body fat and muscle tissue. You won't gain much weight when that's going on.
- Don’t forget to consume a huge dose of carbs and protein immediately after your workout. This is when your body builds new muscle tissue, so if there is one time of day you want to throw back a higher calorie shake, this is it!
- The great thing about eating lots of extra calories to gain weight is that it can make you feel great in the gym. Use the extra energy to put up some bigger weight and train more days during the week.
- To put on noticeable muscle mass and gain weight, do workouts that are based on strength and hypertrophy protocols. Hypertrophy-based protocols require 3-4 sets using a moderate weight, and this training increases your muscle-building hormones.
- Remember! Train hard, but give yourself enough rest in between sets—around 1-2 minutes. This will help get your heart rate down before you begin your next set. Keeping your heart rate lowered will help you protect those extra calories you're eating so you don't use them up while training.
- Looking to gain weight in the gym? Choose exercises such as squat, bench press, deadlift, row, and shoulder press, as these are the best for packing on the most mass.
- To ensure you gain more muscle mass, if you do both compound and isolation exercises in your routine, do the movements that target the largest muscle groups first, and save the isolation exercises for later in your workout.
- Need a boost to your weight gain mission? Try supplements such as weight-gainer supplements, dextrose, or even creatine. Creatine helps increase your performance in the gym, making you feel stronger and able to lift more weight, which translates into more muscle.
Gym tips for chest
- Working on your chest? When doing bench presses, concentrate on your form to maximize the effects. Make sure you retract your shoulders blades to open your chest, placing a heavier load on the front delts.
- Use multiple bench angles to target the pecs more thoroughly. Use all the available angles on your bench to maximize muscle growth in your chest.
- Want to target your chest? It takes consistency and commitment. Building a bigger chest starts with substantially strengthening it. The best approach is a periodized one that manipulates volume and intensity (load) over time.
- To develop your chest muscles, you want to fatigue your pecs without any jerking or extreme movements. Choose a weight that allows you to work through a full range of motion while staying in control of both phases of the movement.
- Switching up your grip will place a slightly different stress on your muscles, hitting different points on your chest for more three-dimensional growth. Try the same movement first with neutral grips, and then with pronated grips.
- Focus on your form! Keep your elbows tucked in at all times so that your lats help drive the weight up and stabilize your shoulder joints. This will make your pecs work harder and you will see faster results.
- Slow down your reps to maximize muscle gains in your chest. Lower the weights on presses and fly’s with a slower cadence, and perform the lifting motion with power.
- Not sure whether to go heavy or light? Do both! Develop a bigger chest by lifting heavy weights, which work the type II muscle fibres, and light weights, which hit type I fibres.
- If you're looking to build bigger pecs, one place to check is your delts, specifically the front heads. That means addressing your shoulder workout. Consider doing overhead shoulder presses that are more front delt-oriented.
- Struggling with chest gains? Triceps may be a rate-limiting factor. They are a primary mover, which means that if they’re weak by comparison, most chest exercises you do are going to suffer. So make sure you don’t neglect your triceps.