Choose the right gym. Before you sign on the membership contract dotted line, do a little homework. Most gyms offer free trials or buddy passes, which allow you to test drive the facility, meet the staff and get a tour of the place. Be sure it’s in a convenient location, has classes that appeal to you, updated equipment, features that you like and hours that fit your schedule.
Capitalize on freebies. “If your gym offers a free workout with a personal trainer, do it,” says Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “It’s a great way to become familiar with often-intimidating parts of the gym, like the weight room, and it helps you learn to exercise both safely and effectively.”
Don’t be a copy cat. Mesmerized by Mr. or Ms. Muscle’s chiseled triceps? While their body parts may inspire envy, don’t assume their technique can be trusted. “Just because you see someone doing a certain exercise, even if they look good and like they know what they’re doing, it does not mean it’s safe, effective or being executed properly,” Matthews says. Stick to moves from certified trainers and instructors, or consult ACE’s Exercise Library for trustworthy how-tos.
Be a machine snob. When it comes to cardio, the effectiveness of your workout boils down to how hard you work, not the machine you choose, Matthews says. However, grabbing the elliptical with the built-in fan, the cushy treadmill with the iPod dock, or the bike with the Tour de France computer simulation, will help your workout feel less like work, and more like fun.
Ease into it. “The biggest beginner mistake is trying to make up for 10 years of sloth in 90 minutes,” says Liz Neporent, co-author of the recently released Fitness for Dummies 4th Edition. “Hitting it too hard the first day can lead to severe soreness and chances that you won’t be back for another workout.” So start small, listen to your body, and be sure to stretch.
Nix self-consciousness. Worrying about other gym goers’ judgments can only hurt your workout. “You’ll learn that rarely is anyone paying attention to you,” Neporent says. “Most people are too busy trying to figure out what they’re doing, looking in the mirror, or feeling self conscious themselves to focus on you.”