This is another guest post from our fabulous intern, Nicki. While she is currently a certified personal trainer, she had to start somewhere, too, and she knows what it’s like that first time you step into the gym and contemplate picking up a pair of weights. Here is some of the advice she wishes had been shared with her back then.
I started seriously lifting when I was just a sophomore in high school, which puts me at about 6 years now. When I started, I had no idea what the heck I was doing. I’ve been through many phases in my endeavors: sport-specific training, powerlifting, body-building, swimming, physical therapy, and more.
Now, I am a Certified Personal Trainer and an (almost) graduate with a degree in Exercise Science. Through my education and a lot of trial and error, I have learned a lot, and there’s still plenty more to learn. I want to pass along some information to the beginners out there who are just now starting their fitness journey. Here are a few bits of advice that I wish I had been given when I first started.
1. No one is looking at or judging you
I know one of the main concerns that most people have when starting to go to the gym is that they are afraid of being judged. As an anxious person, I 100% understand this fear. But take it from a veteran lifter, we all know that everyone starts somewhere. Most of the individuals you encounter in the gym are too focused on their own goals to worry about yours. Take your time, challenge yourself, educate yourself. It gets easier!
2. Not every exercise has to be 3×10 or 4×12 to be effective
I feel like the most common training parameters I hear about are 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Those are fine, don’t get me wrong. Those are the parameters that are typically used to achieve gains in muscle size. If those are your goals, then great! But I often see people who are training for strength using these parameters and seeing little results. So if your goals are more strength oriented, I would recommend switching it up every now and then. The parameters for strength are sets of 2-6 of 6 or fewer reps. Keep in mind, you should be using a weight that challenges you, so you should be using a heavier weight for 6 reps than you do for 12.
3. Start at a light weight while learning proper form
This kind of coincides with number 1: no one cares what weight you are using. It’s much more important to be using proper form than using heavier weights. If you cannot perform the weight with proper form, reduce the weight. Once you get the hang of the form, then definitely challenge yourself. But don’t hurt yourself trying to look like the strongest person in the gym. It’s not worth it. It can be helpful to watch YouTube videos or talk to a trainer if you are unsure about the form. If you are comfortable with it, try filming yourself as you perform the exercise so you can watch it back and see what you need to work on.
4. You will notice things getting easier before you notice your muscles growing
In the first couple of weeks of training, you will notice that you are moving weights easier, without noticing a huge difference in your body composition. This is because your muscles “learn” to move heavier things faster than they can grow in size. Be patient, it takes several weeks to notice serious changes in muscular hypertrophy.
5. You will most likely see a lot of change right away, and then not so much.
If you are a real beginner to the gym and getting proper nutrition, you are probably suddenly burning a lot more calories than you used to. If one of your goals is weight loss, you will probably experience a lot of success in your first few weeks. Eventually, your body will adapt, and it will be more challenging to continue seeing big results. Continue to challenge yourself by gradually increasing the load and/or repetitions.
6. No amount of donkey kicks or bodyweight squats will get you a bigger butt. I’m sorry.
I know I’m spilling some major tea here on some popular fitness accounts, but the best way to grow your glutes is by resistance training and eating plenty of protein and carbs. So don’t waste your time doing a million of the exercises that are actually made to be warm-ups. Some of the best exercises for growing your glutes are compound movements, such as hip thrusts and split squats. If you perform these at a weight that will safely challenge you and fuel your body properly, you should see some changes.
7. You cannot get bulky by accident
I hear a lot of people ask how they can get in good shape without getting “too bulky”. They see pictures of bodybuilders and are afraid that by following a standard training program, they will look like that too. I’m here to tell you that getting ripped biceps and shoulders takes some serious hard work, is not sustainable for a normal lifestyle, and certainly doesn’t happen by accident. Please, train your upper bodies, it is super important for functional fitness, injury prevention, and posture.
8. You CANNOT spot reduce fat
More tea to be spilt here. I don’t care how many fitness influencers try to sell their “arm fat burning” or “stomach toning” exercise programs. Say it with me: you cannot spot reduce fat. Which means, no matter how many curls you do, you cannot train away the adipose tissue in your upper arms. No matter how many crunches you do, you cannot immediately get abs. Only by training under a caloric deficit (eating fewer calories than you burn) can you lose fat. And when you do lose fat, you cannot pick and choose where it goes first.
Being a newbie in the gym can definitely be intimidating. Just remember that everyone is there to better themselves, and they were all beginners once, too. You may be surprised that most people in the gym are actually very respectful and supportive.
If you are unsure how to start, talk to a professional. A CPT can help you to shape your workouts to best achieve your goals. A health/nutrition coach can work with you on your dietary habits to best fuel your body for energy and recovery. Take your own experience and learn what works for you, and soon you will be an seasoned gym-goer too!