Five gym rules every fitness rookie needs to know

I still remember my first day in the gym: I was 19, weighed slightly more than a broomstick, and had the athletic ability of a newborn giraffe. I was so terrified I had to go with a friend — so I've never forgotten how intimidating gyms are to newcomers.

If you made a New Year's resolution to start working out but haven't yet plucked up the courage, here's what you need to know.

Nobody's judging you

Here's advice I've given countless friends who lament they're too fat/scrawny/unco to go to the gym, convinced that puffed-up gym rats are silently judging their every move.

Trust me: they are not. Seriously! I don't pay much attention to anyone during my workouts, unless they're hogging equipment I want to use for an uncommonly long time... or they're really ridiculously good-looking, or doing something absurd. 

If you're drowning in self-consciousness at the gym, try to remember that you are basically invisible there. Those gym rats are way more likely to be looking at themselves in the mirror than looking at you.

Put your equipment back in the right place

A gym should be like a national park: leave no trace you were ever there. Yet most gyms make a teenagers' bedrooms look tidy, because just about everyone is highly allergic to putting away their weights. (This isn't a newbie thing: those grunting veteran powerlifters who press 40kg-plus dumbbells seem especially stricken by this terrible allergy.)

Set good habits early in your gym career by putting equipment back where you found it — or at least near where you found it, off the gym floor.

Don't go too heavy

It's true that lifting heavy weights equals gains in muscle and strength. But many rookies overlook a key part of that formula: lifting heavy weights with the best possible form. Bad form plus too much weight is a dangerous combo.

Start light. Make sure you can do an exercise through a safe range of motion before adding weight. And learn the right technique — either from a personal trainer, or from free YouTube tutorials. (Athlean-X and Fitness FAQs are two channels to get started on.)


Oh, and while we're talking about injury prevention: stretching and mobility work are like brushing your teeth. A bit tedious, but avoiding will cost you down the track.

Beware of bro science

I have picked up a lot of terrific workout advice at the gym, from people who've spent years honing their workout techniques, avoiding injuries, and studying anatomy.

I've also been exposed to a lot of total B.S. 

If you hear something that sounds unnecessarily complicated ("consume extra sodium before high-intensity supersets to balance your protein intake per kilo of bodyweight") or too-good-to-be-true ("buy this supplement and you'll gain 10kg of muscle overnight"), exercise caution.

Even well-meaning people can lead you astray: the workout and nutrition program that suits them might be a terrible fit for your goals and lifestyle. Find a plan that works for you — then stick to it long-term. That's really all there is to it.

Take a towel

The most important rule of all. Wipe off your sweat, you monster.

According to Sam Downing, the secret to wellbeing is just to keep it simple. A qualified personal trainer, fitness instructor and nutrition coach, Sam is also a writer focusing on everyday health.

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