Call it a resolution or a reassertion, getting into the gym—or back to it—isn’t always easy. There’s figuring out what to do, how to do it, and how not to be that guy while you do. And, ya know, there’s also that real potential for injury if you don’t go about doing it safely. These tips from top trainers will get you mentally and physically ready for the strength-training, cardio-boosting rigors housed within those four concrete walls.
Mistake #1: Having tunnel vision
If the gym is new to you or even if it’s just been a while, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t take a minute to look around and see what your options are. Take the membership advisor up on her offer for a guided tour, or ask a trainer to show you around. Oftentimes, people will beeline for whatever equipment or weight machines they’re used to, ignoring everything else—including lots of things that offer a real benefit. Plus, once you know where everything is, you can get down to business more efficiently. “Do a bit of a ‘walk through’ in your head of your workout,” says Michele Burmaster, personal trainer and owner of Surf City Fit Club in Huntington Beach, CA. “You’ll feel more confident by being prepared.”
Mistake #2: Being aimless
It’s pretty simple: no plan, no progress. “Simply saying, ‘I wanna lose this gut’ is not a plan,” says Rui Li, owner of CakeFit, a personal training service in NYC. If your aim is weight loss, you’ll need a good program designed to help you lose the weight. (Hint: We got a lot of those.) It’s probably better not to rely on YouTube as your trainer, says Michelle Collier, certified personal trainer and owner of Performance Fitness in Wynnewood, PA. “ YouTube is a great resource, but not everyone who posts a video is demonstrating exercises that are safe and effective.” And when you’re in the gym, feel free to ask a real-life trainer for some suggestions. “It’s ok to admit when you are clueless,” Li says. “I know it hurts the ego, but it’s better than hurting the knees, or shoulders, or back.”
Mistake #3: Dissing the trainers
Fact: When trainers talk to you, they are probably hoping to make a sale. Another fact: They also genuinely want to help you. So rather than blowing them off, make friends with them! “Many gyms offer a complimentary session with a new membership,” says Joseph Phillips, a personal trainer in Bethesda, MD, and the co-founder of the social competitive app HEAT Running. “Do it!” At the very least, you’ll learn a few new exercises. At the most you’ll make a (very knowledgeable) fitness pal.
Mistake #4: Being a copycat
Just because that dude looks how you want to look doesn’t mean that what he’s doing will get you there. Newsflash: Our bodies are all different, and your goals need to be based on the realities of your genetics. What’s more, “he could be doing things that may not fit in with your current fitness level, or even things that are dangerous,” Phillips says.
Mistake #5: Being a know-it-all
On the flip side, you may be one of those guys who’s been there and just hasn’t been doing it lately. You may truly have a breadth of knowledge on proper form and techniques, but it’s best to keep those opinions to yourself. “Spotting is different than preaching,” says Tommy Konefal, training manager at DavidBartonGym Astor Place in NYC. “You don’t want the weight of someone’s injury on your shoulders. Leave the tips to the professionals.”
Mistake #6: Overdoing it
“Your first day in the gym is all about one thing: Getting to your second day!” Philips says. We get it: You’re excited to be there and want results right away, but the result you’re gunning for with a too-heavy, too-intense first workout is some pretty serious soreness, or even an injury. “Go easy, stick with simple exercises, and use light weights that you can reasonably do 10 to 12 repetitions with,” suggests Li. In fact, you’ll need to build a base for at least the first month. “The first 4 to 6 weeks of working out are more about your body making the neural pathways to perform the correct movement,” says Melissa Fernandez, Ph.D., a personal trainer based in LA. “After those initial weeks, you can bump up the weights or the cardio level and see yourself excel.”
Mistake #7: Speed-lifting
Sure, it’s sometimes called “banging out a set” but that doesn’t actually mean a need for speed.
“You do not want to be on YouTube as ‘that guy using the machine wrong,’” says personal trainer Lori D’Alessandro in Fairfax, VA and owner of The Coach Approach. “Don’t use the machines as if they are jackhammers.” Count (in your head) to three for both halves of the movement.
Mistake #8: Not sharing
In several key ways, the gym is not unlike preschool. The first similarity: The equipment is for everyone, which means you can’t hog your favorite machine, particularly if you have long rest time between sets. “Get up and stand next to the machine to show you are in between sets, and allow someone to jump in for a set in between yours if they ask,” D’Alessandro says. That also goes for gym floor space: Keep yourself and your equipment contained and be aware of other people around you.
Mistake #9: Being a slob
Your second preschool lesson: Clean up after yourself! That means putting away your toys (any equipment you use). That also means mopping up any puddles you leave around the cardio machine. “Use a towel to sop it up, or borrow the sweat mop,” says Fernandez.
Mistake #10: Overlooking the germ factor
The gym is full of stuff that people touch. Their noses, mouths, and butts are also things they touch (yep, like preschoolers). Do yourself, your immune system, and your fellow gym-goers a favor and wipe equipment both before and after you use it, and wash your hands immediately after your workout. Also, “never go barefoot anywhere in a gym,” D’Alessandro says. “I’m serious when I say I have seen some nasty infections requiring doctor visits.”
Mistake #11: Making lots of noise
From the “be aware of yourself” files: The gym is a place to be seen and not heard. “A deep breath or a slight grunt here and there is fine, but this is not a lovemaking session,” Fernandez says. That also goes for taking phone calls—no one wants to hear your half of the conversation.
“Your favorite jam may pop up on your headphones, but sing along in your head, not out loud—it’s the gym, not The Voice,” says Konefal.
Mistake #12: Ignoring personal hygiene
You’re excited, you’re in a hurry, you just don’t know any better, so you grab those already-worn gym shorts and T off your bedroom floor and rush out the door. And then you wonder why everyone at the gym is giving you a 15-foot berth. “Workout clothes are to be worn and then immediately washed,” says Mat Leonard, a trainer at New York Health & Racquet Club. “Don’t be the guy with a smile on his face who smells like a pet store.” And don’t skip your morning tooth-brushing, either. “You’re breathing heavily while you work out, which causes the entire club to smell your stank,” Fernandez says.
Mistake #13: Being a creeper
It’s true: Hot girls generally work out. They also typically want to do so without being ogled, interrupted, or slobbered over. Or, they hit the gym with their equally hot boyfriends. “While you’re flirting, Adonis walks up behind you and in no time you are nursing a fat lip,” Phillips says. If you decide to approach, suss out the situation to gauge if she really wants that attention. And at least wait until your second day at the gym to make your move.
Mistake #14: Advertising your vanity
Some people seem to think that a workout isn’t real unless they post it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. While it’s fine to share your fitness triumphs with your followers, be discreet with your selfie-taking when you’re on the floor. “Earn the results of your workout and measure them afterwards,” says Konefal. “And never use a selfie stick at the gym!”