We don’t want to admit it but walking out onto the gym floor when you’re new to lifting can be very intimidating. Everyone seems to know what they’re doing. All the machines look complicated to operate. We don’t want to make a mistake and look like the novice we are, so we avoid this section all together. Sticking to the mats, the cardio machines or maybe we just pack up and go home.
It shouldn’t be like this. The gym floor is for everyone. You shouldn’t have to be a fitness fanatic or a body builder to try it out. It doesn’t matter how much you lift or how often you lift it, strength training has a whole host of advantages that we should all be able to benefit from.
So, if you’re looking for some motivation and the courage to start navigating the weights section, look no further.
Know your muscles
A helpful starting point is to understand the major muscle groups. There are thousands of muscles in the body, and you definitely don’t need to know all of them. But getting a grip on the major muscle groups in the body will help you to understand which ones you want to target for growth and how to target them. Read our article all about the major muscle groups for a quick rundown.
Get comfortable with compound exercises
Compound exercises are your best friend. These are exercises that target more than one muscle at one time. The truth is, you can get an efficient full body workout with quite a small number of exercises.
Forget shrugs, calf raises and even bicep curls. These are isolation exercises which attempt to focus on only one muscle at a time. And although they have their place in fitness for helping with injury recovery and muscle imbalance, compound exercises are a much more efficient way of growing and strengthening your muscles.
A good place to start is to choose a selection of around 10-12 compound exercises that you feel comfortable with. Try 6 for your upper body and 5 for your lower body.
This is plenty to give you enough variation to start out with. You’ll be able to structure a number of workout combinations from here and target each of the muscle groups in the most efficient way.
Start off simple
There’s no need to make things complex. Double dumbbell overhead raises with Bulgarian split squats and a plate rotation. Leave it out. Simple compound exercises are straight forward to do, easy to track progress and very efficient.
Once you gain confidence in your skill and ability, maybe you’ll want to introduce different variations of exercise. But for now, keeping it simple is the best way to get started.
Split your week into workouts
This will all depend on your fitness goals. Find out what it is you want to achieve. It could be growth in a particular area, or a general full body strength improvement.
From here you can split your week into workout days. Start out by aiming for x3 strength training sessions a week. This might be x2 lower body and x1 upper body. Or it might be x1 lower body, x1 shoulders and back, x1 chest and arms. It all depends on your goals.
Lots of men want to focus more on upper body strength and find separating the major muscle groups across a couple of days lets them maximise training them. Lots of women want to focus on their lower body strength and are happy to follow an even lower/upper split across their training days. But there’s no set rule. Male, female, non-binary. However you choose to set your goals and segment your workout is totally up to you.
Get to know the equipment
Nowadays, there’s much more than just dumbbells on the gym floor. It’s a good thing. But it can also be overwhelming to walk out to.
You can broadly segment the gym floor into key areas:
- Cardio central: where you’ll find the treadmills, bikes, rowing machines, cross trainer, stair master, assault bikes and anything that will make your heart rate go through the roof.
- Free weights section: endless rows of different dumbbell weights and benches to go alongside. Often set in front of a wall mirror so you can see exact how terrible your shoulder press face is.
- Machine land: taking up the majority of the space, many gyms now invest in machines that you can go on and target particular muscle groups. Don’t underestimate the usefulness of these. If you’re struggling for inspiration or not sure you have the correct form, the machines are great for a structured workout that lets you practice the motions of each exercise.
- The barbells and racks: the place where PBs happen. Smaller barbells can be seen as a free weight and can be used in a similar way to dumbbells with lots of variety. The larger ones will require you to load the plates onto the bar themselves and may be placed on a rack. There aren’t as many exercises you can do in this section but most of it will be focused around lifting heavier weights for key compound exercises. Think squats, deadlifts, and chest presses.
You might prefer to do a dumbbell or kettlebell focused workout. Or keep it to the machines. Or only tackle the barbells. But there’s no unwritten rule that says you can’t make a mix out of these sections. You might prefer to do your deadlifts with a barbell, lunge with dumbbells and finish with the leg press machine. No judgement. You do you.