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An Introduction to Gym Fitness: How to Work Out at the Gym For the First Time

first time at the gym

Perhaps you’ve made a New Year’s resolution—or maybe your friend posted a picture on social media that made you cringe—and you’ve decided it’s time to hit the gym and get that body into shape.

This can be intimidating, especially for first-timers.

You find yourself surrounded by unfamiliar equipment, sounds, and smells, (yes, the gym has a smell), and wonder, “what should I do?”

Your first time at the gym can be scary, and many people end up overthinking it and quit before they really ever get started.

We don’t want you to do that.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know from what you should wear, to the end of your first—and oh-so-satisfying—workout.


First Time at the Gym? Focus on Natural Movement

When stepping into the gym for the first time, some people expect to crush it right off the bat.

This isn’t realistic.

Our advice is to focus on some natural movements to start. We know, we know… you do natural movements every day and you’re not getting ripped, so why would you want to do this in the gym?

But, if you want to actually enjoy the experience, and come back the next day ready for more, then focus on what your body can already do.

The absolute best way to gain confidence and knowledge in the gym is to work with one of our fitness coaches.

A fitness coach will not only show you how everything in the gym works—they’ll show you how your body works.

Not ready for a trainer? That’s okay too.

Let’s look at how you can get started on your own:

Try getting onto a bike, or treadmill for the first 10 minutes to warm-up. Take this time to look around and remember what you learned during your gym tour.

Once you feel a little warm, and the sweat is starting to make its way to the surface of your skin, you’re ready to try a few beginner moves.

Machines for Beginners

Machines are a great place for beginners to start.

While we don’t LOVE machines, they do have their purpose. And one of those is to guide beginners through a safe workout.

Each machine will be labeled with a diagram indicating how the machine should be used, and which muscles you will be targeting.

For your first day, choose 3-4 machines, then follow it up with another 10-20 minutes on a cardio machine.

We’ll give you a more in-depth first-time workout to try a little later in this guide. For now, let’s start with the basics.


How to Start at the Gym For the First Time

Signing up for your first gym membership is both an exciting, and unnerving, experience.

To make this life event less terrifying, you should prepare yourself in advance, and consider joining with a buddy.

Let’s face it, no one wants to walk into a gym alone for the first time and LOOK like a first-timer.

Arrive Prepared

You don’t need to spend a whole lot of money to be ready for a workout.

To cover the basics, you’ll need:

  • Comfortable attire – think stretchy and breathable. Of course, if you want to deck out in the latest gear then go for it! Some people feel better when they’re dressed their best for any occasion.
  • A water bottle – squirt bottles work really well if you’re running on the treadmill, or in an aerobics class. Or you can go for an insulated bottle if you want your water to stay icy cold.
  • A towel – a simple white gym towel, or hand towel will do. Nothing fancy here.
  • A lock – if you plan to bring any valuables or personal effects into the gym the best thing to do is lock them up. You won’t want to be bothered lugging your purse, wallet, keys, or cell phone all over the gym floor with you.

Ask For A Tour

If it’s your first time at the gym, one of the most important steps is to become oriented with your surroundings.

Gym staff members are there to make you feel comfortable.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, our coaches and staff love to impart their wisdom on our members.

The last thing any of us want to see is a member who gets discouraged and gives up on their fitness journey simply because they feel overwhelmed.

We are here to help!

Focus on Your Body—Not Your Head

No matter how “green” you feel in the gym, know that even the most in-shape people in the gym feel self-conscious at times.

The best thing you can do is really focus on feeling each movement and exercise. Learn to listen to your body so you can target the right muscles and get the most out of your exercise.

Trust us, most people are too busy worrying about being judged to think about judging you.

The gym is a safe space.

Incorporate a Warm-up

Never skip a warm-up. Working out with “cold” muscles can result in fatigue injury.

Take the first 10 minutes to get your body moving.

Cardio machines are a great place to start
. Try taking a walk, or light jog, on the treadmill, or give the bike a spin.

Whatever you choose, you should be working hard enough to get your heart rate up and break out in a slight sweat before moving on.

Incorporating a few mobility stretches after your warm-up will reduce the risk of injury, and keep your body flexible for your workout.

Do Not Overwork Your Body

Imagine this…

It’s your first time at the gym, you walk in and head over to the weight-training area where you see some pretty shredded dudes doing their thing.

Follow those guys, right?

Wrong. A big mistake people make when first starting out is to overdo it.

They think they can do a killer workout—and possibly leave a little buffer than before—and even come back to the gym for more the next day.

But it just doesn’t work that way.

Overworking your muscles can make you sore for days. No one wants to struggle to get up and down the stairs, or in and out of the car.

Not sure where to start?

Our fitness coaches will design a workout plan that will effectively allow you to recover for your next workout while keeping your overall fitness and health goals in mind.

Book your free consultation with In Motion O.C. Fitness and get started the right way.

Allow Your Body to Recover

Recovery is the key to success.

You’ll likely feel sore for a day or two after your workout. That’s okay!

You can still work out when you’re sore—it may feel uncomfortable—but the best thing you can do is to keep going.

Allow your body to get used to the workouts, and as your body becomes better-conditioned, things will get easier.

First Time Workouts at the Gym: Etiquette to Remember

It’s your first time at the gym, and you already have a lot to think about. But, gym etiquette is important and should not be overlooked.

We’ve listed some of the unwritten—and written—rules of the gym.

Cell Phones

Unless your cell phone is your source for tunes while you work out, leave it in your locker with the ringer off.

It’s impolite to interrupt gym-goers by taking phone calls.

So if it’s an absolute must that you stay connected, relocate to the locker room before chatting on the gym floor—or worse—while hanging out on one of the machines.

Machine Sharing

Your first time at the gym you may be surprised by another member asking to “work in” with you on whatever machine you’re using. This is normal!

You need to take a rest between sets anyway, so wipe down the machine, smile, and let the other member have their turn.

Then the next time, you’ll have the confidence to “work in” with another member and optimize your time at the gym.

Cardio Machines

Get to know the peak hours at your gym.

Oftentimes, the evenings are quite busy and the machines can be limited, especially on the cardio deck.

If you plan to do more than 20-30 minutes of cardio, consider breaking it into two parts so that everyone gets a chance to use their favorite machine.

Wiping Down Machines

You’ll notice that there are sanitation stations set up around the gym.

These are for you, and the other members, to use when you’re done with a machine.

This is important…

You don’t want to work out on someone else’s sweaty machine, so do everyone (and yourself) a favor and keep the machines sanitary.

First Time at the Gym: Where do I Start? – A Sample Workout

Earlier we mentioned “natural movements” because these exercises will create a foundation that you can build on as your body adjusts to your new fitness routine.

Think about some of the things you do every day, such as:

  • Going from standing to sitting and back to standing again (squats)
  • Lifting your baby out of his or her crib (rows)
  • Lying stomach-down on the ground searching for a lost contact lens (push-ups)

You get the picture.

After a 10-minute cardio warm-up, plan to do three different exercises in sets of 12-15 repetitions each. Three to five sets will be enough for your first day.

Your workout:


  • Bodyweight squats (12 to 15 reps)


    • Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart and extend your arms in front of your chest.
    • Bend at the knees and stick your butt out behind you (like sitting in a chair) and bend as low as you can comfortably go (don’t let your knees stick out past your toes).
    • Keep your chest high, your spine neutral, and your core tight as you lift yourself back up, driving through the heels of your feet, to standing position.
    • This is one rep.


  • Seated row on the machine (12 to 15 reps)


    • Follow the instructions as laid out on the diagram on the machine. If you have trouble, don’t hesitate to ask gym staff or a fitness coach to show you how to use any of the machines.


  • Push-ups (12 to 15 reps)


    • Lie face down on a mat and tuck your toes under your feet.
    • Place your hands palms-down on either side of your chest.
    • With your back, neck, and legs straight, keep your core tight and lift yourself off the ground using the force of your chest and arms.
    • Slowly, and in the same form, lower yourself back to the ground (don’t let your back or butt sag).
    • This is one rep.
    • Modification: push up your upper body from the knees up, keeping your back and neck straight and your core tight.

Finish your workout with another 10-20 minutes of cardio, and 5 minutes of gentle stretching to avoid soreness.

Make Your First Time at the Gym Count: Try a Free Consultation With In Motion O.C.


If you’re still feeling unsure about what you should be doing for your first time at the gym, why not let one of our fitness coaches give you a hand?
At In Motion O.C. you’re more than just a number.
Our fitness coaches work hand in hand with our physical therapists and postural experts to design individualized workouts that are focused on improving your health and well-being, not just your abs.
On top of looking and feeling your best, we want you to experience results like:

  • Improved posture
  • Toned and strengthened muscles
  • Weight loss
  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Self-confidence

We’re confident in what we do at In Motion O.C., which is why we offer your first consultation free.
Call today, and meet with one of our fitness coaches tomorrow.

In Motion O.C.