15 years ago, I was once a noob, a beginner who went to the gym every single day to only chest press; all sorts of chest presses, you name it. That was all I did until retired local bodybuilder, Andy Toh, gave me a book, 'Encyclopaedia Of Modern Bodybuilding' by Arnold Schwarzenegger, which was about 1500 pages. That book changed my life forever. Since then, I was truly grateful for what he had done for me. I am sure you got your story of how you started your fitness journey.
Below, I will share everything a new beginner needs to know when going to the gym(typical commercial gym with machines) for the first time.
1. What Is Gym Etiquette?
This is first thing I would like to mention in my article. A lot of unhappiness happened because people do not cultivate gym etiquette. No 1- Before you step out of your house for a workout, make sure you bring along your sweat towel. I will feel embarrassed if I am sweating all over and using the machine without a towel. No one would like to share your pool of sweat. Think again. No.2- Always put your weights back after usage. Doesn't matter if you squat 8 plates etc. After your sets are done, put those 8 plates back to its original place. Let's consider for the staffs working in the gym. They had a long day at work. Why make their night longer? No.3- Always smile. Do not give a face when someone wants to share the machine with you. Likewise, always ask politely if you would like to share the particular machine. Everyone pays for the gym and everyone is in a rush of time. Let's share and be friends. No.4- If you want to use the phone, do not sit on a vacant machine. Be considerate. Go to the stretching area or one corner. Quite common sense, right? No.5- Do not spit or wash your shaker bottle at the water dispenser(water cooler). The water dispenser'a sole purpose is for water consumption; inappropriate for other usages. I have heard so much stories which happened in a gym. Let's make it a place to unite all iron friends instead of a war zone. Singapore is too small for all these. Seriously, let us abolish these negative thoughts and start moving forward.
2. Read And Educate Yourself
As I didn't have the luxury of having internet connection, I went library to read books on fitness, bodybuilding etc. If I have enough money, I would buy magazines and read too. In the later stage of my life when I got access to internet, Google became my good buddy since then. However, be careful of what you read online. A lot of them are 'BroScience' and not supported by science or studies. Until now, I am still reading and learning new things everyday. As a beginner, another way to be good is to read. Knowledge is power. Every now and then, every night before I sleep, I would read the muscles which I will be training the next day. From there, I can visualise and plan my workout as well.
3. Do I Need Lifting Straps, Lifting Belt, Wrist Guard, Knee Straps?
I know it is very cool to be walking around gym with all these training accessories with you but what's the point if you are not using them correctly? Most people do not know how to use the straps the proper way. I would recommend you to try out from your friends and decide from there. Belt: there are 2 types of belts I've used before; Leather and Velcro. Leather is very good but to find the correct size is very difficult. It is very useful because it provides constant amount of Intra Abdominal Pressure even after years of usage. Velcro loses its velcro and tension overtime. Wrist wrap is unnecessary if you don't have any wrist injury. I believe the usage of wrist wrap will only make your wrist weaker. Unless you are lifting really heavy weights, then a wrist wrap is needed. As a beginner, I wouldn't recommend. As for knee wraps, in my opinion, no need for a beginner. You will not be squatting 200kg for a start. Basics and fundamentals is what you need now. All these accessories will come later to assist you for heavier weights. I got my first wrist strap after 6 years of training and lifting belt after 10 years of lifting. I would rather you spend those money on food. Eat and Grow!
4. To Bring A Friend Or Train Alone?
I still remember a lot of people always want to train with me back then and a lot of opinions on their training etc. I'm sure you started the way I did too; having a group of friends going to the gym together and hogged onto one machine for 10 sets. This is still commonly seen in the gym. Everyone got to start somewhere, right? I would recommend you to bring a friend along so you will not feel so intimidated and lost during your workout. It also helps to motivate you to hit the gym. Having a friend can also help to correct some of your movements while you are lifting. If you prefer to train alone, that is fine too but you got to watch a lot of youtube videos and experiment a lot to get a movement correct.
5. What Kind Of Program To Follow?
This is very tricky. You got training for bodybuilding, powerlifting, strength, hypertrophy etc. I know these are really big words and can be frustrating to understand. All of the above builds muscles, strength, endurance and a stronger you. Hence, it doesn't really matter. It really depends on what you want and what your goals are. For example, if you want to gain muscles, a mix of bodybuilding, hypertrophy, powerlifting can be beneficial. If you want to gain more strength, you can try to look up strength program online. I still remember I asked my gym friend, Donovan Chee, to plan a program for me for my 2012 National Bodybuilding contest back then. Of course, I will never forget that as I got 2nd place in welter weight division.
6. How Much Weight To Lift?
I'm sure all your friends will tell you to lift freaking heavy weights- go heavy or go home etc. I was just like you! This is not about lifting weights from point A to Point B. It is about building muscles. Building muscles requires time under tension. Without this engagement, hypertrophy cannot be achieved. Another thing is- lifting heavy weights cannot be applied if you don't even know the basics of lifting especially engagement of muscular activation for that particular lift. Hence, I would recommend you to do a weight which you can handle at least 3 sets of 10-15 reps to get the muscle activation and cardiovascular working as well. If you aim to do 12-15reps and you starts to struggle a little at the 12th rep, that weight will be ideal. However, you have to constantly listen to your body; If you can push more, go ahead. Increase your weight gradually. Remember- Lift heavy but pick a weight which you can control yet, just enough to fatigue you.
7. How Many Repetitions And Sets Should I Do?
As mentioned above, you should be aiming a weight which you can perform 12-15 repetitions. Set wise, stick to 3-4sets. Slowly, you can vary your tempo(Slow eccentric, fast concentric etc) during your training and adjust accordingly. There is no right or wrong in training methods. You just have to find the right one which your body responds well.
8. How Long Should I Rest Between Sets?
There are a few school of thoughts to this. One of it is to have minimal rest Eg. 45-60 seconds rest and go on the next set. Second school of thought is to have adequate rest(2-4 minutes) before the next set begins. The latter can enable you to perform better due sufficient rest before the next set. From my personal experience, I would recommend 1-2 minutes rest in between sets. In future, you can then experiment rest time and find your suitable rest time in accordance to what you wants to achieve.
9. Why Do I Wake Up The Next Morning Feeling So Sore All Over?
This is commonly known as the DOMS, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Please refer to my other article to read more about this: http://amirrudinong.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-muscle-soreness/
10. How Long Should I Work Out?
I'm sure you have read in magazine or from your gym buddy that working out more than 1 hour is bad and optimal is 45 minutes. This really depends on the individuals, lifestyle, amount of rest and what you are trying to achieve. If you are always staying up late and not sleeping enough, having a hectic lifestyle, it is impossible to train for 2 hours. I would recommend you to plan your warmup and workout to be 1 hour. In future, you can adjust your rest times so your total time taken in gym can be shortened.
11. What Kind Of Stretching, Warm Up and Cool Down Exercises Should I Do?
I usually do not go straight to a machine and start training. I have a set of warm-up exercises and stretches to do before I start my training. Going straight to training prior to any stretching and warmup invites injury and muscle tightness in the near future. For training upper body, I would do 12 repetitions, 2-3 sets of pull up, dips, side lateral raises and rear delt raises; All these actually work on the scapula and at the same time, pumping blood into the entire upper body, making it warm and escalating the heart rate gradually. For lower body, I do stretches like Hip Flexor stretch, Pigeon hold, sumo squat hold and hamstring stretches. I would do a lot of bodyweight squats for warm-up. I have no training injuries so far doing this warm-up routine over the past few years.
12. What Shoes Should I Wear?
Actually, there is no specific shoes to wear for going gym. Wear something comfortable according to your comfort level should do the trick. However, in my own opinion, I love wearing almost barefoot shoes which has zero drop while training especially squatting. Barefoot shoes allows me to control a squat much better and it actually activates feet muscles to a great extent. I would recommend you to check what kind of feet do you have- over-arched or flat feet. Alternatively, you can consult a Podiatrist for their professional advice. I always go to My FootDr podiatry centres Singapore Do pay them a visit because doctors lift too!
13. What Should I Eat When I Start Lifting?
There is no need for you to count calories at this point of time. Take it slow. If I advise you to count calories, I don't think you will want to continue reading on. It will be information overload. A good start, you should be eating a portion of carbs which is the same size as your fist and a portion of protein which is the same size of your palm. Eat healthy fats like avocado, baked nuts sparingly.
14. What Type Of Supplements To Use?
As a person new to gym, I can understand how confusing it can be to see the 'crowd' having a bottle and shaking after a training session. Don't worry about it. Read up more about supplements, what it does to your body and how to use it. For more information, you can refer to one of my articles on supplements: http://amirrudinong.com/all-you-need-to-know-about-sports-supplements/
I hope after reading this article, you will be pumped to do your next workout. Never be intimidated about the thought of going to the gym the first time. Don't be bothered of how people would look at you. Just wear your shoes, have your towel and lift. Simple. You are lifting for yourself, not for people to judge you. You own your life. Keep learning and reading from the internet. Read from as many sources as possible and experiment which works and which does not work for you. I wish you best of luck.
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