The only rule gym newbies need to follow

Most of my articles are written for intermediate-level trainees, but today I want to briefly address the question of what to focus on if you’re going to the gym for the first time.

Your first time at the gym can be scary.  How should you work out?  Are the other gymgoers watching you?  Are you going to break something? And what are the rules of gym etiquette? 

The answers are it doesn’t matter, no, no, and don’t worry about it, respectively.  That’s right, I said it doesn’t matter how you work out- for now, at least.  In fact, if you’re totally new at this gym thing, there’s only one rules you need to follow.

Have fun.

Seriously, that’s it.  Just enjoy your time at the gym. 

But what about safety, you ask?  As long as you avoid olympic-style lifting, high-speed free weight stuff like kettlebell swings, and super-heavy barbell exercises- I’m talking weights you can’t lift for at least five repetitions- you’ll be fine. 

In fact, if you’re feeling nervous and intimidated at the thought of working out in a gym, you’re probably erring on the side of safety already.  It’s the bros who have just enough experience to be overconfident who usually end up hurting themselves.

Your only goal is to enjoy your time in the gym.  Make the gym a happy place for you.

And just to be totally clear, when I say enjoy yourself, I don’t mean follow a good weight training program and force yourself to enjoy it.  I mean do things you enjoy, and don’t try to force anything.

Try out whatever machine looks interesting.  Take a group exercise class if that sounds fun- or if you’re not the social type, lift weights alone while listening to music.  Relax in the hot tub after your workout.  Bring your favorite magazine to the gym and read it there.  Bring a Diet Coke and drink it during your workout.

Don’t force yourself to do anything more than show up and perform one set- yes, just one set- of some kind of weightlifting.  Beyond that, do whatever is fun for you, as long as you’re doing it in the gym. 

If you enjoy your time at the gym, you’ll keep coming back.  In fact, you’ll look forward to it.  That’s all that matters at this point- building your “gym habit” by making it something you want to do.

Eventually, of course, you’ll want to start a “serious” weight training program.  You’ll know it’s time to do that when just going to the gym and doing whatever starts to get boring, and the thought of pushing yourself to do more starts to feel exciting rather than intimidating.

That’s how people become hardcore- not by forcing themselves to do things they don’t enjoy, but by coming to enjoy things that used to scare them.  Having fun never stops mattering.  Instead, going to the gym and setting a new personal record becomes fun.

But don’t worry about that for now.  It will happen, as long as you keep going to the gym.  For now, just go to the gym and enjoy yourself.