Pete McCall by Pete McCall

Woman in gymIf you’ve made a commitment to your health and well-being and have invested in a health club or gym membership to begin an exercise program, congratulations on taking an important first step on your fitness journey! Joining a health club means that you’ll have access to a variety of different of fitness resources such as group exercise classes, free weights, workout machines and ACE-certified Fitness Professionals. While it is the most effective environment for starting a fitness program, joining a new health club can also be an intimidating process. You may feel as if everyone knows exactly what to do, while you wander around aimlessly trying not to look like you don’t belong there. As you begin your new fitness program, here are a few simple suggestions to avoid sticking out as the newest person in the gym and ease your transition into the club environment.

1. Update your apparel. Rather than wearing that tired old Black Eyed Peas concert t-shirt, invest in some new workout clothes. Cotton can absorb sweat and odor, while most modern exercise clothing uses material that can move moisture away from the skin and prevent accumulation of the bacteria that can lead to offensive smells. You don’t need to overspend on expensive brands—most discount stores carry clothing lines featuring materials specifically designed for exercise. And, in case you need a reminder, steer clear of leotards, thongs, string tank tops, leg warmers or cut-off sweatshirts. These articles of clothing are best left in the ragbag or the back of the closet for the occasional ‘80s-themed party.

2. Invest in a pair of workout or training shoes. If you’re going to be lifting weights or taking group fitness classes, training shoes (formerly called cross-trainers) are a better option because they have a wider, flatter foot-bed, as well as a tread pattern designed for multi-directional movements. Most running shoes have an elevated heel, which can create instability during lateral movements, and have tread patterns designed for forward running rather than for rapid changes of direction. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but wearing proper footwear will go a long way in helping you have an enjoyable workout experience.

3. Take a group fitness class. Your monthly membership fee should provide access to classes on the club’s group exercise schedule, so if you’re not using it you might as well be throwing money away. Group fitness classes are a great way to learn how to exercise and meet other members of the health club. Plus, having a scheduled time to attend a class will help ensure that you show up. However, when you go for the first time, don’t slink in the back right as class begins. Instead, show up early, introduce yourself to the instructor as a new member, and let him or her know if you have any existing injuries or medical conditions. A good instructor will make sure that you feel comfortable and will keep an eye on you for your first few classes to ensure that you’re “getting it.” Group instructors are evaluated on their class numbers, so it is in their best interest to see that everyone is having a good time, especially the newest members.

4. Step away from your cellphone. Unless your wife is the final stages of her pregnancy or you’re an ER doctor on call, PLEASE leave your phone in your locker or car. It’s fine if you use your phone to listen to music, but avoid the temptation to text, e-mail or make phone calls while at the gym. Absolutely nothing is more annoying than the member who is loudly yacking away on the phone, oblivious to others, or someone who is sitting on a piece of equipment while typing out an “urgent” message. Think of your workout session as your time to be disconnected from your device and to focus on your well-being. All that said, if you must make a call while working out, look for a designated cellphone area (most clubs have them) so you won't interrupt your fellow exercisers. Do we even need to mention the fact that you should never, ever, ever answer your phone while taking a group class? That is the quickest way to become a pariah at your new health club.

5. Resist doing too much too soon. Start slow and allow time for your fitness level to improve before increasing intensity or trying that really hard class. Even if you were once very active and are getting back to a regular exercise routine, take it easy for the first few workouts to allow your body to adapt and adjust. Pushing too hard too quickly is an almost sure-fire way to have an injury or aggravate an existing one. Yes, you want to lose weight, but keep in mind that you didn’t gain the weight overnight so it won't come off in that timeframe. Start with a goal of two to four 30-minute workouts per week. As exercise starts to become a regular habit, you can easily increase the duration and frequency of your visits to the club.

6. Don’t forget your towel. Always carry a towel to remove excess sweat from equipment and machines. If the club provides wipes for the equipment, use them to clean up when you’ve finished. This will go a long way toward establishing a good gym presence. If the club doesn’t provide towels, bring one from home—your fellow members will appreciate it.

7. Enlist the expertise of a personal trainer. To get the most out of your workouts, invest in a few sessions with an ACE-certified personal trainer. One of the most common ways typical gym members learn how to exercise is the “monkey-see, monkey-do” technique of copying what other “fit” members are doing. Keep in mind that not every exercise is appropriate for every individual. Working with an ACE-certified Personal Trainer can help ensure that you are doing the right exercise for your specific needs and goals. Most clubs offer one or two complimentary sessions with a membership, so take advantage of these sessions to learn a few exercises and get to know one of the members of the fitness staff. Many clubs offer a special price for personal-training packages at the point of sale when signing up a new member. While it might seem expensive, these point-of-sale offers are usually a good way to save money on working with a professional who can help you meet your goals more efficiently than if you attempted to go at it alone. When speaking with a trainer, let him or her know that you’re interested in learning a routine that you can do on your own. A good trainer will respect this and will work to meet your needs.

There you have it—it’s not an exhaustive list, but following these seven suggestions will help you to establish yourself as a regular in the gym and make your transition to a new health club smooth and pain-free.

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