The gym can be an intimidating place if you’ve not got a POA – but it doesn’t have to be…
If you’re brand new to working out, have ever spontaneously rocked up to the gym or randomly popped into a hotel weights room while on holiday, you might understand the creeping sense of anxiety that turning up to the gym without a plan can elicit.
Arriving in a room full of machines, dumbbells and sweaty humans, the idea of moving with complete purpose can feel daunting. But going from no-plan panic to post-sweat-sesh endorphin rush is easier than you might think.
We’ve roped in three personal trainers to share their top tips on figuring out what to do for your impromptu workout.
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Acknowledge that the hardest part is getting started
If you are new to resistance training, PT and yoga teacher Shona Denovan says there are two things you should bear in mind: “Firstly, everyone has to start somewhere. Even the fittest people you know had their first day and no doubt felt as ingymidated as you.
“The second is that, in the nicest way possible, no one cares! Everyone else is absorbed in their own session and too busy to be looking at what you are doing.”
Even if you are no stranger to the gym floor, remembering that doing something is always better than nothing is the best way to beat the intimidating feelings that can arise on an unplanned gym outing. As Emma Storey Gordon, personal trainer and health and fitness mentor, explains: “A lot of people worry so much about doing the wrong thing at the gym, they end up not doing anything.”
Check the space you’re in
Next, CrossFitter, personal trainer and yoga teacher Yanar Alkayat, advises getting familiar with the gym you’re in.
“Make sure you know where everything is, and eye up any of the machines you are familiar with. Make a mental note of where they are, so you can go back and find them when you have figured out what you want to do,” she says.
Once you have found a spot that seems comfortable for you, position yourself there and prepare for your warm-up.
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Choose a goal to work towards
Your workout of choice will vary depending on your goals, how many times a week you usually visit the gym and your experience. “But for most people with a body composition goal, the main emphasis will be resistance training,” says Storey Gordon.
Alkayat adds that if you’re someone who finds skill-based goals more motivating, you can find a way to build a workout that supports this. If your goal is a headstand, for example, a quick online search of the muscles needed to make that goal happen will help you opt for relevant strengthening exercises, targeting the right body parts.
And if you’re totally goalless, Alkayat suggests thinking your options through as you warm up. Start activating your muscles by picking a cardio machine and using it for about 10 minutes. As your heart rate starts to quicken, consider what you want to achieve in the long and short-term, what you want to work on today, and what results you would ultimately like to see or feel.
“Make sure your goal is something viable, whether that’s lifting a certain weight or getting a certain number of reps in, so that there’s a very clear focus,” she says. “Prepping that focus and keeping it in your mind as you run through your warm-up will help you move from machine to machine, and help you figure out reps and the sequence of what you are going to do.”
How to build your workout on the spot
Start with steady-state cardio
“If you have no idea what you’re doing in the gym, you can still get great results by picking a piece of cardio equipment and doing 20 minutes of steady state cardio and then choosing two upper body and two lower body machines and using those,” says Storey Gordon.
Try fixed resistance machines
Denovan adds that for strength training, fixed resistance machines can be a great place to start, especially for beginners. “Most of these machines have instructions on them explaining how to use them and highlight the muscle groups they use.”
Focus on exercises that work the front and back muscles
For a full body strength training session, incorporate exercises that work your lower body — incorporating both the front and back of your legs — as well ‘push’ and ‘pull’ exercises for your upper body, finishing off with a core routine.
That might look like:
- Lower body: leg press, deadlifts, or squats (resistance machine, dumbbell or barbell)
- Push exercise: chest press (barbell or dumbbell)
- Pull exercise: lat pull down (on the machines)
- Core exercises: Russian twists, planks or leg raises (medicine ball, dumbbells or bodyweight)
You might also want to consider moving laterally to work on mobility, says Alkayat. “Find ways to move sideways and not just to the front and back. That might be with side lunges, for example, or a Cossack squat.”
The number of exercise repetitions and the sets you choose will depend on the goals you have in mind. Opt for heavy weights with a low number of reps for strength building, or a high number of reps with lower weights to improve endurance.
Struggling to come up with ideas? “Type ‘full body workout’ into Google and then go to ‘Images’ – Boom! There are literally thousands of guides to choose from with instructions and pictures on how to do the exercises,” says Denovan.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
At the start of Alkayat’s fitness journey, she was always speaking with instructors: “I’d ask for help on how to use machines or what move or machine I could use to achieve a certain goal – whether that was aesthetic or more about performance. I’d also ask about reps and sets. So, be curious, and don’t be afraid to ask.”
“Usually PTs are bored cleaning machines — I’ve been there myself — and would be buzzing to help you!” says Storey Gordon. She believes that the biggest mistake to avoid is doing nothing at all. You’ve taken the hardest step by turning up, now it’s time to just give something a try.
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