The “first-day-at-the-gym” experience

by | January 15, 2019 | Fitness

I first worked out back in 2000.

I would use my dad’s Weider dumbbells and lift weights in the basement, 

Then I would go out for a run.

I loved it! 

And although I decided to become a trainer at that point in my life…
I didn’t want to step foot in a gym.  
I think much of this stemmed from a fear of failure, 
And the presumption that if I went to the gym then people would expect me to be fit and in shape. 
Since I could hide in my basement and workout without others knowing, I could just set the bar low. 
This has its own set of obvious issues…
But I digress.
Back in August 2002, my friend, Scott dragged me to the gym. 
He had been going for a while, 
He was getting some results, 
And he figured I would be into it. 
But, I wasn’t. 
With Scott being the master persuader that he was, I eventually caved. 
As we walked into the doors of Fitness Solutions in Stonewall, all I wanted to do was go back to the safety of my basement. 
The place looked so foreign to me. 
Big machines.
Lots of weights. 
Guys with big guns looking at themselves in the mirror. 
It was a far cry from the set-up at my parents’ house. 
But, I stepped a little further. 
Paid for my drop in, 
Hit the change room, 
Got dressed, 
and then head out to the gym floor. 
The owner of the gym was actually super awesome. 
She showed me how to use some of the machines. 
How much weight to put on. 
What muscles were being worked by each machine, 
And generally how to navigate the space. 
My resistance lowered. 
I started getting into it. 
I then wanted to learn all of the machines. 
I was getting hooked. 
So, what began as a flat-out refusal to go to the gym quickly turned into a love and adoration for the variety of things you could do and the feeling it gave you. 
That feeling of strength, 
That feeling of empowerment, 
That feeling of growth and evolution, 
That feeling of stress relief, 
That feeling of making yourself better…one rep at a time. 

The gym owners 

As mentioned above, a huge factor in my positive gym experience was the gym owner. 
Not only did she show me the ropes. 
Not only did she make me feel warm and welcome, 
But she made the whole experience memorable and fun. 
She was awesome! 
And after a year or so of attending the gym, she actually gave me a job there. 
Now I could do the same for others that she did for me. 
And I loved it. 
A lot. 
I took such pride in that job. 
I would help people work out, 
Teach them how to use the equipment, 
Spot them on various exercises, 
Take payment on memberships, 
Clean the gym, 
And even meticulously arrange the weights to my liking. 
I took pride in my job and the work I did there. 
But, my initial experience with the gym was quite rare. 
Not everyone walks into a gym, 
Hits it off with everyone, 
Falls in love with the equipment,
And wants to come back every single day. 
I was a 15-year old athlete. 
Things change a little when your a 45-year old guy who has spent the better part of two decades glued to a couch, 
A desk chair,
And a car seat. 
Plus, having a little extra around the middle can make the process that much more intimidating. 
So, how do you survive your first day at the gym? 

1. Acknowledge

First off, let’s just take a moment and congratulate yourself for coming to this realization and deciding to make a change. 
The first step in all change is awareness, 
And you, my friend, have demonstrated, practiced and acted upon that awareness. 
Nice job, mate!

2. Prepare 

There is a strategy proposed by Chip and Dan Heath in their amazing book, Switch, called “action triggers”. 
Action triggers are basically a pre-decision to partake in a particular activity. 
So, in the case of going to the gym, pre-decide the night before by laying out your gym clothes and packing up a gym bag with everything you might need. 
This could include your water bottle, 
Your shoes, 
And your shower gear. 
That way when you wake up, you’ll see your clothes and your bag and that will set the next step (going to the gym) into action. 

3. Have a plan

Fail to plan, 
Plan to fail.
Having an idea of what you’re going to do at the gym also pre-decides your actions for you.  
Wandering around aimlessly won’t work. 
You’ll waste time, 
You’ll look dumb, 
And you’ll get in the way of other members. 
Here is a simple workout to do on your first day: 
Pick a squat movement and do 2 x 6-8 reps
Pick a hinge movement and do 2 x 6-8 reps
Pick an upper-body pushing movement and do 2 x 6-8 reps
Pick an upper body pulling movement and do 2 x 6-8 reps
Then get out! 
It doesn’t have to be complicated at all. 
The next time you come back, you can add some more stuff, like maybe…
A dead bug variation for  2 x 6-8 reps
A carry variation for  2 x 30s
Then, the time after that, maybe add a 5-10 minute booster to the end of your workout. 
This could be as simple as 30s hard:30s easy on a spin bike. 
Oh, and you can add a warm-up in there too. 
Overtime, you’ll build up to where you’re doing a pretty rock-solid workout. 

4. Take a friend

One of the best things to do when you first hit the gym is take a friend who knows that gym and knows how to navigate their way through it. 
Or someone new, like you, that you can lean on for support. 
If you want to do something great in your life, don’t expect to do it alone. 
People are your greatest asset when making change. 
Surrounding yourself in an environment with people that want what you want or have already achieved what you want is a sure-fire way to your goals. 

5. Get a coach

Big surprise here. 
A coach telling you to get a coach. 
But hear me out. 
You don’t have to sign up for a year’s worth of training. 
You can find everything you need regarding training on this site, 
But having a coach show you the techniques,
And help you navigate the gym for a couple of sessions
Takes a huge weight off your shoulders, 
And makes sure you aren’t wasting time, 
Or getting injured. 
Commission the services of a good coach for your first-day experience. 

5. Oh, hey, good-looking

I totally understand the apprehension and reservations you have about others looking at you in the gym, 
Judging you, 
Dissecting you, 
Making you feel like you shouldn’t be there. 
But honestly, most people are more concerned about themselves than you. 
They’re so deep looking at themselves in the mirror that they don’t even notice what’s going on around them. 
Again, I am not trying to minimize your feelings, 
Or even tell you that you should immediately change your thoughts on this matter, 
But just understand that many of the people in the gym are just as concerned with themselves as they are with you. 
So, try not to sweat it too much! 

6. Easy there, Arnold

If you’re new to the gym, you don’t have to load up the weight! 
Here’s why…
30% loading vs 85% loading produces the same strength gains for new gym-goers. 
Crazy…I know. 
So, you might as well just keep the weight light, 
Work on form, 
And gradually increase loads over time. 
You’ll develop a base level of both strength and technique that you can use in your gym endeavors for years to come 🙂


This post is pretty timely as we’re finally at a point in our business where we are getting our own space. 
So, ensuring people have a positive “first-day-at-the-gym” experience is top of mind for us. 
We wanted to create a place where coming to the gym is not issue,
Where people feel safe and welcome, 
And they get results. 
A place where they don’t have to worry about doing something wrong, 
Or people judging them. 
Just a space full of great people, 
Great coaches, 
And a great environment. 
So, whether you join us at our new spot or hit up a gym of your own choosing, 
Use the suggestions in this article to get the most out of your “first-day-at-the-gym” experience. 

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