Once upon a time, in our on-campus gym, it was leg day, the best day. I went to a machine I had never worked with before, but I had seen a video on Instagram and it didn’t seem too difficult. The goal of the machine was to place weight on your thighs, which you would attempt to lift up by pushing onto your toes and, in turn, exercise your calf muscles. I thought I could handle more weight than I was ready for and the weight came crashing down onto my thighs, causing me immense pain and embarrassment. I had only been weightlifting for a few months by this point. It can be intimidating to attend the gym, let alone an on-campus gym. However, there are many reasons to choose to go to the gym, whether it is to feel more confident, gain strength, or increase overall health. Here are some tips to get you started and save you from my embarrassment.
1. Start with cardio
When you first begin attending the gym, it is overwhelming to see all of those unfamiliar machines, a frat boy will inevitably be attached to all of them. Personally, I knew I would be incapable of lifting very much weight and I was afraid of the judgment I would receive for trying. However, we will work our way there. Begin with cardio, treadmills, rowing machines, and ellipticals–the most popular machines in the on-campus gym. They are perfect for getting acquainted with a new gym and learning its setup. Plus, cardio is a good way to begin working on your heart health.
2. Use lighter weights
Once you begin working your way into trying new exercises, use lighter weights. I recommend finding people on a form of social media, like Instagram, or Youtube, and following some of their basic routines. Even if you are capable of lifting more, starting with a lighter weight will help you perfect your form. Pyramid sets will also help work up your personal bests while still ensuring proper form. Begin by using a lighter weight with higher reps. As you increase your weight, decrease your reps. Do this for three to six sets depending on your abilities
3. Find an unpopulated area
We all know that feeling where we believe someone is definitely watching us as we especially during a proper (or improper) squat, or literally anything else. However, everybody starts somewhere and I don’t want you to become discouraged by others. You are already in an uncomfortable position, in a new on-campus gym, surrounded by new equipment and people you don’t know. I think we have broken out of your comfort zone enough for today. That being said, I encourage you to find a more secluded area of the gym, the second and third floors of the FSU gym are typically the least populated. Go into that corner and work through your workout, practicing your form. Eventually, you will feel comfortable enough to step out of the corner and in front of the mirrors.
4. Start with dumbbells
Dumbbells are perfect for getting started in weightlifting. They come in sizes ranging from three pounds to well over a hundred pounds. Barbells are not as convenient as they involve setting up the bar yourself. Plus, they require you to take on an entirely different form to compromise for their bars and weight. Using a dumbbell will allow you to think small and increase the weight slowly. I know the saying typically tells you to “think big,” but we aren’t busting down the metaphorical doors of our comfort zones here. We are not looking to injure ourselves. This is a leisurely stroll out of the comfort zone. In time, your future self will thank you for perfecting your form first on these exercises. As you increase, your form will matter more to ensure you see results.
5. Look up videos on how to use unfamiliar machines
You are ready for the machines, congratulations! Begin by picking out a few you would like to try and simply looking up the proper form and usage for each. Also, refer to my earlier tip to start with lighter weights. Your form may be managed better on a machine but a progressive overload will lead to results quicker if you are looking to build muscle. Progressive overload is the idea that you begin with a weight that you can do comfortably and then each week you can add more weight, reps, or sets to increase the intensity and continue to challenge the muscle.
6. Use the smith machine
If you are interested in using a barbell, best for squats and deadlifts, then the smith machine is the perfect way to introduce you to this. They are essentially a barbell with the bars attached to supports on either side. There are locks in increments down the sides so that you can set the bar down whenever you begin to feel uncomfortable in your movement. Plus, they come with fail-safes, which can be adjusted based on your height, so if you think you have to let go of the weight, it won’t go crashing down or fall on you. This machine does restrict movement as it only moves up and down at a slant. Although, this could be beneficial in establishing your form.
7. Attend classes
FSU’s on-campus gym offers various exercise classes throughout the week from early morning until later at night. Whether you would prefer early morning yoga classes or even kickboxing, FSU offers a wide range of workouts for every type of person. There’s even Zumba, which, honestly, is a little scandalous with the moves we were practicing, but you could use what you learn at the clubs this weekend. Other examples include HIIT, pilates, total body workouts, intense thirty-minute cardio, and spin classes. The FSU Rec app is a good resource for checking the days and times of the classes to see if it is available for walk-ins or by reservation.
8. Establish a routine
Routines, while boring for some, are perfect for people who want to guarantee they fit their desired amount of workouts in each week. This idea also applies to stick to the same, if not similar exercises. You don’t have to always change it up. I know variety is the spice of life, but consistency is key seeing results in your workouts. I recommend setting a workout split with a goal of how much you want to workout each week. For example, a workout split evenly distributed between upper- and lower-body focuses would look like a routine of two upper-body focused days and two lower-body focused days. The other days of the week could be rest days, or one additional cardio and yoga session. Of course, as you progress, it is good to change this routine. When you hit a plateau in your progress is when you know it is time to change it up. Whatever your routine, this will keep you going and getting more comfortable with your on-campus gym every time you go.