January is the time when a lot of people finally take up fitness, and that can be super intimidating.
We’ve all been there — even the veteran lifters who resemble Greek gods and the 9-foot-tall hunk killing it on the rowing machine had to start somewhere. “Everyone is always pretending they know what’s up and trying to play it cool, but it’s totally OK not to know something,” fitness expert Jessi Kneeland, NASM-certified personal trainer, tells BuzzFeed Life.
So we asked members of the BuzzFeed Community and fitness experts for tips on how beginners can master workouts, learn proper form, navigate the equipment, and feel confident while making gains.
Keep in mind that everyone’s fitness needs and abilities will vary, and this is by no means a complete fitness guide for everyone. You should always check with a doctor before starting a new fitness routine. OK let’s get into it.
1. Find a beginner-friendly gym or one that fits your individual needs, whatever those may be.
Planet Fitness has a bit of a mixed reputation but Kneeland believes they’re great for beginners: “Planet Fitness … makes it easy to get started, and they keep the intimidation levels way down,” Kneeland says. Or you might feel more comfortable in a gym geared towards women, a group-training gym, or something with a specific focus — like dance or boxing.
2. Get familiar with the layout of the gym so you aren’t wandering around confused and searching for equipment.
“Take time to learn where everything is in the gym so you’re not constantly walking around looking confused.”
—Jillian Clayton, Facebook
3. Try starting with low or no impact cardio for ~20 minutes a few times per week.
If you’re starting cardio, Kneeland suggests doing exercises with the lowest possible impact that still gets your heart rate up. “Try doing 20 minutes a few days each week and using a low impact form of cardio like speed walking, incline walking, biking, elliptical, rower, or whatever floats your boat without hurting your joints.”
4. Be super careful on the treadmill if you’re new to the machine or running.
FOX / Global HD / Via giphy.com
“The impact on your joints from running without good mechanics and strength is almost guaranteed to give you aches or even an injury,” Kneeland says. Instead, try to build up speed slowly and make sure your running form is good.
5. Ease into a weekly routine; don’t go from once a month to every single day.
NBC / Via rnb-an.tumblr.com
“Start slow! Going from once a month to six times a week will burn you out and lead to injury and exhaustion — which will make you feel defeated, so it’s counterproductive.”
6. If you can afford it, splurge on a few sessions with a trainer and repeat what you learned on your own.
“A session with a personal trainer works wonders. They can really help customize your plan and goals, and familiarize you with machines or exercises — all within one session! Then it’s just consistency!”
—Carla Paola Martinez, Facebook
7. If a trainer isn’t in your budget, watch other trainers and clients closely for ideas.
FOX / Via hubrishelps.tumblr.com
“I would pay really close attention to trainers and their clients, since they definitely know what they are doing. It’s great to spring for your own trainer, of course, but being observant doesn’t hurt as long as you don’t be a hero and add too much weight.”
—Kat Slawik, Facebook
8. Do some research and educate yourself before you start.
Bravo / Via realitytvgifs.tumblr.com
There are two parts to getting educated about lifting weights, Kneeland says. There’s external research like watching videos, reading books and blogs, or asking a trainer for help. Then there’s internal research, like paying attention to what the move feels like, where in your body you feel it working, if any of your joints hurt, checking out your form in a mirror, how sore you get after, etc. “Do both. Let them play off of each other,” she says.
Here’s an awesome resource to get you started.
9. Master bodyweight movement before adding weight.
And once you have the movements down, don’t be scared to start adding modest amounts of weight. “You move all the time — this is just adding resistance to those movements so your body becomes stronger at moving,” Kneeland says. “It’s simple when you look at it that way, and it doesn’t need to be scary.”
10. Use tutorials on BodyBuidling.com for specific muscle groups and practice with a prop (like a broomstick) at home.
“If I see someone doing a lift at the gym that I’m interested in learning, I’ll come home and try to find it on bodybuilding.com. They have super awesome little videos of pretty much every lift you could ever want to do. You can practice at home with a soup can or a broomhandle to get the motion right.”
—Crystal Wynne, Facebook
11. Walk into the weight room having planned out your weight exercises, rep schemes, and sets so you’re prepared.
Kneeland suggests having a plan before you start lifting by looking up basic exercises and reading or watching video about form. “Walk into the weight room with 3-6 exercises you’ve already decided to do, and a rep scheme you’re planning on using, like 3 sets of 12 or 4 sets of 8 — then choose the weights appropriate to your plan through trial and error,” Kneeland says.
12. Track your progress and make to-do lists
Write down all the exercises you accomplish, so you can track your progress week to week. “It’s hugely motivating and it makes it all feel much more doable and clear,” Kneeland says. “You’re just following a checklist: ‘do everything I did last week, but heavier.’”
13. Do some dynamic stretches before your workout.
Before you begin your workout, it’s always good to do some dynamic stretches. “Dynamic” means you move through the pose instead of holding it, which is called static stretching. “I like moving through a whole range of motion with hip and ankle mobilizations, a well as some rotation stuff for the spine and something called ‘World’s Greatest Stretch,’” Kneeland says.
Click here to find more information about why static stretching is best for after a workout.
14. Use Pinterest to find different workout plans that you can print and bring to the gym with you.
Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed / Via pinterest.com
“Go to the gym with a plan! I hit the gym with a predetermined interval run, weight routine, or bike workout written down. Don’t have one? Pinterest is a great resource for finding good routines for any fitness level.”
Check out the BuzzFeed health fitness Pinterest board for ideas!
15. Or watch fitness channels on YouTube that demonstrate lifting, bodyweight exercises, stretching, and more.
“Watch tutorials on YouTube on how to use machines in the very beginning. Grab a routine and write it in a small piece of paper, you’ll get the hang of it after a while.”
—Lola Kraan, Facebook
16. It’s OK to ask someone if you can use a weight machine in between their sets if you’re sitting around waiting. Just try to follow proper gym etiquette when you do.
If someone is using equipment, you can ask to “work in,” which means that one person uses a piece of equipment or machine while the other person is taking their rest. However, Kneeland says you should probably only do this if you’re lifting the same weight as the other person so you don’t change their adjustments.
17. Never feel bad about asking for help if you need it.
“There’s NO shame in asking, and you’ll speed up your learning process much faster if you ask right away instead of spending months avoiding something and pretending you know what it is,” Kneeland says. Ask a trainer or manager if they’re free, or just approach a confident-looking gym goer without headphones in.
18. Practice your bodyweight and mat exercises at home before you tackle them on the gym floor.
Photos by Lauren Zaser for BuzzFeed / Design by Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed / Via buzzfeed.com
“Start out on your own doing some sit ups, pull ups, push ups, jogging and lunges in the privacy of your own space. Develop a relationship with your sweaty-self before signing a yearlong contract to a gym.”
—Ryan Bok, Facebook
19. Take any free training sessions or instructional classes if your gym offers them.
“Take advantage of any of the ‘free’ personal training sessions that may be offered to you when you sign up for a membership. They’ll show you the equipment and how to use it.”
20. Wear headphones and go into your own little world.
“Headphones in, world out. Pretend you’re the only one in the gym — I know it sounds cliche, but it really works!”
—Anna Stathopoulos, Facebook
21. Just try to move with confidence, even if you don’t have any.
Columbia Pictures / Via gifmyass.com
“Moving apologetically and without confidence is often a recipe for getting hurt,” Kneeland says. “Move with confidence, own your space, and do your exercises like you know exactly what you’re doing. It will literally improve your posture, form, and whole experience.”
22. Hold a “power pose” in the mirror before your workout.
“Check out the Ted Talk on power posing,” Kneeland says. “If you’re really intimidated about the gym, power pose for 2 minutes in the locker room before stepping on the floor. I swear this really helps.”
23. Wear whatever makes you feel amazing.
“Seriously — it’s so motivating to wear whatever makes you feel awesome, sexy, playful, or excited when you walk in the door of the gym,” says Kneeland.
24. Always re-rack your weights.
25. And wipe down any cardio or weight machine after you’re done using it.
“Bring a towel to cover the machines and wipe after using.”
—Gino Hadiutomo, Facebook
26. Listen tp a playlist of songs that make you want to ~werk~.
“You know those songs that make you want to strut when you listen to them walking down the street? A playlist full of them.”
—Francesca Lane, Facebook
Here are some playlists to get you started.
27. Imagine you’re an actor training for a fit role.
Warner Bros. / Via youtube.com
“Sometimes when I go in the gym, I imagine that I’m an actor in training for a role where I have to be super fit. It sounds dumb but it makes me feel much more motivated.”
28. Go to the gym at a time when it’s empty if you’re nervous about the crowds.
“I try to go when there aren’t a lot of people, so early in the morning or around 8 at night.”
—Mackenzi Laine, Facebook
29. Find exercises you actually enjoy instead of forcing yourself to do things you hate.
“Personally, I never do anythin