Your First Gym Session with Weights

Make the Best Start at Gym

Concentration Curl
Concentration Curl. (c) Paul Rogers / Cooloola Fitness

Going to the gym for the first time can be daunting, especially if you’ve never been particularly active or fitness motivated and the environment is unfamiliar to you. All that machinery and other trainers looking like they know it all! 

Here's where you start, and rest assured that after a few sessions you will feel more comfortable with equipment and procedures. First, read these beginner articles on weight training.

This will help to clarify basic terminology and fundamental principles even though you won’t remember it all immediately.

Research a Gym

Select a gym that has a decent reputation, preferably is convenient and suits your experience and requirements. Getting a medical clearance to train , from your doctor, is always a sensible idea if you have not been active for a while or if you have known illness issues.

Here's what you can expect to find in a typical all-purpose fitness gym:

  • Machine equipment – cable and pulley equipment with easily adjustable weights.
  • A weight room or area where you can train with free weights, such as dumbbells and barbells.
  • Aerobic and cardio machines – treadmills, stationary bicycles, steppers, rowers and cross trainers.
  • A floor exercise and, or, cycle class room where you can do aerobic exercise with an instructor.
  • A free session? Ask for a free session and tour of facilities while letting the gym staff know that you are intending to sign up for a membership soon.
  • Try not to choose a professional bodybuilding, powerlifting or Olympic lifting gym. Their range of facilities is often not ideal for beginners.

Your First Independent Weight Training Session

Let’s assume you’ve signed up for a membership and you just walked in the door for your first weight training session under your own guidance.

Here’s what you might do in that first-ever session.

  1. Warm up at low to moderate intensity with at least 15 minutes on a treadmill, stationary cycle or cross trainer. Ask a gym attendant to show you the adjustments if you need to. You should be breathing lightly and you should be able to chat comfortably -- in other words, moderate exertion.
  2. Do some dynamic stretches. Ideally, you will be sweating lightly. 
  3. For this session, you won’t work out with heavy free weights unless you are already familiar with this equipment, but feel free to dabble. You will see racks of dumbbells and barbells, benches and weight frames and round weight plates in this area. You will tackle this equipment more seriously in a future session.
  4. In this first session, you will check out the weight training machine stations with adjustable weights that most reasonably equipped gyms will have available. You will do some “crunches,” which can be done with a machine, fitness ball or on a mat.

Adjustable machine weights are fundamental to the gym weight training experience for beginners.

Being able to use the weight machines will also give you confidence in the general gym environment. You can move on to more complex free weight exercises when you get used to the gym, perhaps in only a few sessions. Don’t hesitate to ask an instructor how something works. That’s what they are there for, yet some need prompting.

Get Confident With the Equipment

  • This first session is to build familiarity and comfort with the gym environment. It's best not to overburden your body with extreme exercise and effort.
  • In your first session, after your warm-up, try a range of machine-based exercises and light free weights, cool down, then check out other facilities in the gym, such as the floor exercise room, stretch stations, cycle spin room, pool and so on. 
  • Take your time, investigate how each piece of equipment works and feels, ask questions of the trainers and take a look around in the free weights room to get a feel for the etiquette and fundamental procedures.
  • You need to understand the equipment adjustments for seat height, leg length and how to select heavier or lighter weights. Spend some time learning these mechanisms. It's not difficult. 
  • Most gyms will have machine equipment that works essentially the same way for adjustment and weight selection. Occasionally you will come across an equipment station that has a different mechanism. Find out about it by asking an instructor. Adjustment mechanisms are usually pins, levers, and screw type and spring loaded knobs. 
  • Treadmills, cycles and other cardio equipment usually have digital press button menus. Again, make instructors earn their pay by getting them to explain the options to you. 
  • Once you understand the general setup and movement of a particular machine, choose a weight that is light enough for you to concentrate on the functioning of the equipment rather than the effort of moving a heavy weight. You can adjust the weight upward once you're comfortable with operation of the equipment.

See these examples of exercises you can do.

  1. Lat pulldown
  2. Triceps pushdown
  3. Cable row
  4. Leg press
  5. Concentration curl
  6. Crunch – mat or fitness ball

Warm down. To finish, do some light cardio and stretching then check out the locker room, showers, sauna, and any other ancillary equipment and facilities before you leave.

Be consistent. Try to do at least two workouts each week starting out. At some stage, you may wish to employ a personal trainer or gym instructor to design a program specifically for you. Chances are, gradually you will see results and the weight training experience will be useful and rewarding.

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