Just joined a gym for the first time in a while, looking to get healthy
May 29, 2014 8:24 AM   Subscribe

I used to have a high activity job that kept me in pretty good shape without needing a gym. Over the past few years I stopped doing that job on a regular basis and instead became much more sedentary while not eating less (factually: probably more). I've gained wait within that time, and have decided that I want to become more healthy by adding exercise back into my life. However, since I've never needed a gym before I have no idea what to do with my gym membership. Specifics inside.

My goals:
> My main goal is to strengthen my upper body and core. I don't particularly care about aesthetically impressive musculature.
>My secondary goal is to burn fat and trim myself. I realize that building muscle and burning fat are sometimes at cross purposes.
>My overall goal is to find a plan which is healthy and achievable.

My challenges;
>I have almost no idea what I'm doing in terms of lifting or using machines. I'm slightly worried about doing it wrong and hurting my body, thereby discouraging further work.
>I always feel a little out of place at a gym. I'm hoping that the plan I pick will make me feel more competent and like I belong there.
>There's a lot of conflicting information, combined with my lack of knowledge, which has lead me to a sort of choice paralysis. I feel like if I simply pick something with a definitive path then I'll be more likely to follow through.

My time / equipment resources:
>It's summer, and I'm an academic. That means that I can go to the gym about 3 or 4 times per week.
>It's a small gym, but it seems fairly fully featured.

My druthers:
>I'd prefer not to do anything faddish. I'm looking for a straightforward plan using common equipment.
>Videos would be nice. I have no real experience with lifting, and one of the things that's holding me back is a lack of knowledge.
posted by codacorolla to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Does your gym have qualified trainers who are able to show you how to use the equipment over an hour or two? My old gym did and I imagine most do. It also had personal training services available to help develop a workout plan specific to the individual. I'd highly recommend learning from a trained professional for at least a few sessions, especially where weight lifting is concerned. You do not want to risk injury by having improper form, etc. And from that you should be able to better understand what you do and don't like to do.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:35 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Most gyms insist on showing you how to use all of the equpment before you're 'let loose' in them.

I really like the Body For Life workouts. They're easy, and use standard equipment (free weights.) You alternate cardio and weight training days.

You can also contract for a session with a personal trainer to help you design a routine. It might cost about $35-$50 but if you're a straight up beginner, it's money well spent.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:37 AM on May 29, 2014

I was coming in to give the same recommendation as futureisunwritten. Check with the front desk if personal trainers are available. Like with all professions, there are good ones and bad ones, but don't let what you (might) see on TV sway you - all of the trainers I've ever met have been kind and wanting to help me where I'm at, and don't pressure me or scream at me. Even just a few sessions can be really helpful for the questions you have.
posted by RogueTech at 8:38 AM on May 29, 2014

You'll appreciate this piece that appeared in the NY Times a few days ago: Fitness Crazed. tl;dr summary: Forget the fads and focus on just lifting a little more (or running a little further, or cycling a little faster, and on so on) each day.
posted by bassomatic at 8:44 AM on May 29, 2014

I recommend Stronglifts 5x5, personally. Very simple, starts you off easy, and lets you occupy just one spot in the gym. Walk in, set up, do your workout, walk out. While the program technically recommends doing nothing but the program, I personally supplemented it with a general interval training/cardio day (and later, a "shore up my weak points" day) and I found that it worked fine for me. It's a good beginner program, and all the movements have loads of form videos available for you to look at on Youtube without needing to pay to join the Stronglifts community.
posted by Urban Winter at 9:20 AM on May 29, 2014

All the diet/exercise resources you need to get started are in the /fit/ sticky.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:25 AM on May 29, 2014

Weights. Lift weights.

I am a fan of (and currently using one of their books) The New Rules of Lifting.

Nthing the check in with a personal trainer first if that's an option.
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:09 AM on May 29, 2014

A personal trainer is an excellent idea, assuming you find the right trainer. Find a trainer that is interested in getting you started and giving you the tools to succeed moving forward, not keep you around by throwing every exercise in the book at you.

Focus on the core lifts. Starting Strength or Stronglifts 5X5 are both excellent places to start. I was in a place very much like yours two years ago, and now I haven’t missed a scheduled lifting day in two years. If you have specific questions, please feel free to memail me.
posted by Silvertree at 10:45 AM on May 29, 2014

Starting Strength and Stronglifts 5x5 are both excellent programs that meet your criteria: they use simple, slow, well-known lifts (deadlift, bench press, squat) that require minimal and common equipment (barbell and power cage) and have lots of videos online; the programming is simple and well-specified; the ideal schedule is three times a week; and lots of other people have done it (meaning, you'll meet people at the gym who can advise you).

The only drawback I can see is that both these programs have been criticized for having too little upper-body work. They're mostly core and leg programs. But if you're overwhelmed by the choices, I think it's actually a good idea to stick to the bench press for a few months. There are lots of exercises and lots of programs for the upper body; it has just more degrees of freedom, mechanically speaking. Do SS or 5x5 for a few months, get used to the whole exercising, lifting, eating, gym stuff, meet some people at your gym, learn how things work for you, and then you can think about your arms. Do only one hard thing at a time. You've got the rest of your life to get this right, so there's no rush.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:37 PM on May 29, 2014

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