Today, at the gym, I overheard a couple of women talking about it being their first visit to a gym. I still remember the first time I went a gym, properly, as in to exercise, not just in a hotel where it’s included in the price so you just lounge about the plunge pool for half an hour.
I got to thinking, what tips would I give someone about going to the gym. Most of them are really obvious but some you don’t realise until you actually start going.
Feel free to add your own tips, in the comments, below.
- Flip-flops. Wear them around the changing rooms, and in the shower area, at the very least. Fungal infections are rife in gyms and shower areas and can take months to clear up (trust me, I know!). A cheap pair of flip-flops and good foot hygiene (washing and drying thoroughly after exercise) can help keep you fungus free.
- Showers. Always take one after exercise, even if you’ve just been doing some gentle walking or weights. A spray of deodorant just won’t cut it. If you’ve got a limited amount of time, make your exercise regime more efficient to allow you at least a quick rinse under the shower. You can always have a more thorough scrub / hair wash / leg shave when you get home. Sweat and bacteria can lead not only to vile smells but also spotty skin, especially on your chest, back, and backs of legs. This is because the hair follicles get blocked and then bacteria does it’s thing. Your skin and your fellow passengers on the bus home will thank you for it.
- Minimise. Have travel bottles with any toiletries you might need ( I’ve whittled it down to shower gel, moisturiser and deodorant but depending on your routine and where you’re going afterwards, your needs will be different). I also have a microfibre towel which is full sized, to cover my modesty, but rolls up really small so it takes up hardly any room in my bag. My gym kit consists of just underwear, socks, shorts, t-shirt and trainers. I also have a refillable drinking water bottle, headphones, hairbrush and hair bobble. You can have more if you like but I’m a minimalist at heart and always try to get away with just the basics.
- Trainers. Which make and style will depend on you (budget, type of exercise, shape of your for feet etc) but I really would recommend having two pairs, if you’re ever planning on going to the gym two days running. This will help prevent the dreaded fungus (athletes foot being the obvious one) and will also give your shoes at least 24 hrs to air, reducing moisture and smells. Shoe sprays can be helpful too. There are loads you can buy or if you’ve already got the stuff in, you can make your own using 2 fl oz water, 2 fl oz of clear alcohol (vodka) and 1 tsp tea tree oil. Mix it up and pour in to a refillable spray bottle. Make sure you use it as soon as you can, after taking off your trainers, and leave them out to dry / air for 24 hours, before putting them back in your bag.
- Ask! If you can’t work the lockers or showers, ask someone in there or ask a member of staff. More importantly, if you’re not sure how to use a machine of piece of equipment, always ask a member of staff. You could seriously injure yourself if you use something incorrectly. The staff are there to help so utilise them, before you do more harm than good. Everyone in a gym was once there for their first visit and people are usually really happy to offer help. Your gym should always offer a free induction, to new members, so utilise this too. Even after you’ve been a member for a while, you might to mix things up a bit so ask staff if you’re looking for new challenges in your workout.
- Have a Plan B. Once you’ve been going to the gym for a while, you’ll probably enjoy the routine of your regime, as you become familiar and more comfortable with your workout, then, one day, all your favourite machines, weights and mats are busy! Don’t panic. No visit to the gym will ever be a waste of time. All you have to do is have a back-up for each thing you use. Treadmills full? Try a cross trainer. Leg press machine in use? Do some squats. All the stretching mats are taken? Find a quiet corner and do some standing stretches against the wall. This is great for mixing things up and I’ve often discovered new exercises and routines through this necessity.
- Don’t be disheartened. There will be gym sessions that feel great and gym sessions that are truly awful and sometimes there really is no rhyme or reason to it. Yes you can get enough sleep, eat well, pace yourself but sometimes the gym gods just aren’t smiling down on you. Please do not let this discourage you. I’ve had whole weeks where it’s been really tough going but it’s by pushing through these weeks that I’ve increased my fitness and felt a real sense of achievement. Whether your goals are weight-loss, fitness, toning up, improved mental health, getting in touch with your body or just starting a new hobby, the only person you need to answer to is yourself.
- Listen to your body. It always knows best. Learn to know the difference between a worked muscle, an over-worked muscle, and an injury. A worked muscle will often come on after a few hours or by the next day. Muscles feel tight and can be slightly painful when you do certain movements but a days recovery ( you can still work other muscle groups), some good stretching and a hot shower and / or cold compresses should help. It shouldn’t stop you from exercising, as normal. An over-worked muscle will be more painful, often presenting as a twinge or sudden discomfort upon moving. This will usually only require a few more days rest and alternating heat and cold packs. If it’s safe for you to do so, an anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen, will help but only ever take them if you’ve taken them before and you have medical conditions that could mean they are unsuitable for you, Always follow the instructions on the packet. You should reduce the reps , weight, or length of time for that particular exercise and if things don’t improve after a week, it might be worth seeing your GP or physio, if you have one you visit regularly. An injury will usually come on straight away. If you think you have an injury, please seek medical advice as soon as possible as improper or inadequate treatment can make things much much worse. Most GPs now have a telephone advice or appointment system so you might not even have to actually go to the surgery. It’s always best to be safe than sorry and you will never be wasting anyone’s time.
- Don’t work out when you’re ill. There are days when you’re just tired and a gym session can actually pep you up but then there are days when you’re actually ill and on those days, the best thing you can do for your body, and your mind, is to rest. The general rule with colds is that if it’s a head cold and you feel otherwise OK, it’s fine for you to exercise, but if it’s gone on to your chest, you’re best to rest up. You can reduce your exercise regime for up to two weeks before your fitness will suffer and if you’re worried about your mental well-being, maybe try a bit of meditation, instead, to help clear your thoughts. It won’t give you the endorphin rush but it might just be enough to tide you over, until you’re feeling better. Eat well, drink lots of fluids and don’t push yourself. Having said that, it’s important to get back on the exercise horse as soon as you feel able, just so that you don’t lose momentum and find too many excuses not to get off your bum! This might mean going back at a reduced intensity but this will still be beneficial and will help your body re-adjust without risk of injury or over-working yourself.
- Enjoy it! I know this feels impossible at times but if you’ve already joined a gym, you’ve already made a commitment to yourself. You’re doing this because you’ve chosen to and each time you go, you’re making a good decision for yourself and your well-being. Don’t focus too much on an end goal (although you should certainly have one, even if the goal posts change from time to time). You only have to deal with one session at a time, one exercise at a time, one set of reps at a time and don’t let yourself be overwhelmed. If somethings not working for you, change it. If you’re getting bored, change it. If you’ve given it a few weeks and you’re just not getting the endorphine rush, or feeling any better or you’re still dreading every visit to the gym, it just might not be for you. Gyms can be sterile, uninspiring, and sometimes intimidating places. Maybe you’re just more suited to group activities, sports, dance classes, hula-hooping, roller-blading, yoga, pilates or any other number of activities. Don’t think that if you’re not cut out for gym life you’re not cut out for physical activity. It just might not be the right time, the right gym or the right exercise for you. Cut your losses and find one that is. GOOD LUCK!