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You’ve made the first step in your weight loss journey and joined the gym. That’s great, but where do you go now? The budget doesn’t stretch to hiring a trainer, so you’ll have to go it alone. Here’s what you need to know.

You walk through the sliding double glass doors, into the pristine, shiny lobby, with crisp white towels on the counter and the gentle buzz of the vending machine selling sports drinks, vaguely registering in your senses.

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You swipe your card, get a smile from the receptionist and walk up the stairs, eager to get started on your new path to a fitter, healthier lifestyle. You hit the gym floor and are confronted by row upon row of treadmills, exercise machines that look more like torture racks, dumbbells and barbells the like of which could easily crush you and more men and women clad in spandex than you’ve ever seen in your life.

Welcome to the gym.

The color drains from your face and you feel your vim, vigor and anticipation leaving your body. Suddenly getting slim doesn’t seem so appealing.

There’s no doubt about it, starting out at the gym can be a seriously scary experience. Whether you’ve been a gym member in the past, or never set foot in one in your life, the gym is a different world.

Fear not though, for your gym newbie status, along with the fear factor, will perish almost instantaneously if you know what you’re doing.

Gym Etiquette 101

Before you even think about exercises, training times and treadmills, or engage in discussions on sets, reps and everything in between, you need to know the gym laws. The dos and don’ts of your health and fitness club.

What to Wear

It may sound mad, but you’d be surprised how many people freak out over gym attire. Here’s the thing though – you don’t need to spend a fortune.

Get yourself some comfortable trainers first off. If you’re planning on doing some weight training (and you should be) then thin, flat soled shoes are best. For those looking only at weight training, something like a Converse All Star or some sort of pump or plimsoll-like shoe works best. If you’re planning to incorporate cardio too, look at a minimalist style running shoe.

A loose-fitting tee shirt is a must. Forget the tight fitting lycra job, or the sleeveless tank top – guys and girls in these are generally posers. Besides, you don’t need clothes to make it look like you know what you’re doing. People will know you’re the real deal when they see you training, not from the clothes you wear.

Finally, shorts or track pants. Generally you’ll be working hard and sweating enough that you’ll probably want to go with shorts, but if your gym’s a concrete dungeon, you live within the vicinity of the Arctic circle, or you just plain hate your legs, go with pants.

The Lay of the Land

Familiarize yourself with what’s what in the gym. Equipment falls into two general categories – weights and cardio. Surprisingly, even as a beginner, you’ll be using mainly free weights (that’s if you want the best results, and you do want the best results, right?) and bypassing resistance machines altogether.

Have a quick glance over the cardio equipment – ellipticals, bikes, rowers and so on, then make your way to the free-weights section.

The Ultimate Beginner Routine

Now you have the basics down, it’s time to get onto the nuts and bolts. Going trainer-less certainly doesn’t have to mean sub-par results, or having to stick to “beginner exercises.” 

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Here’s how to get advanced results from a basic routine:

The Warm Up

Ditch the cardio warm up. Despite the fact 99% of the gym population head straight for the cardio section each workout, you don’t need it.

Instead, perform a few basic body weight moves. Try 10 body weight squats, followed by 15 lunges on each leg. Do the first five as regular lunges, the next five – reach above your head, and the final five – twist to your side as you lunge down, alternating sides each rep.

Next, drop to the floor and perform 10 push ups on your knees and 10 cross body mountain climbers each side, where you assume a pushup position and bring your knee toward your opposite elbow. This should have your heart rate up, blood flowing, and ready to go.

Weighty Matters

To keep things simple, this routine has just four exercises – squats, deadlifts, dumbbell presses and chin-ups.

Only four? You may ask.

Yep, the ultimate beginner routine is basic and minimalist, but will get you stellar results.

For squats, position a barbell at chest-height in a squat rack. Step under the bar, so it’s resting across your upper back and pull your shoulder blades together, creating a ledge for it to sit on. Lift it out of the rack and take a step back. Squat down by pushing your butt back and knees out, going as low as you can, then stand back up forcefully.

Start with an empty barbell to get your technique right before adding weight.

Take the same barbell and place it on the floor for deadlifts. Stand with your feet underneath the bar, about shoulder width apart and grab it with both hands. Bend your knees until your shins are in contact with the bar. (Note – if you’re using an empty barbell, you will need to place the ends on aerobic steps to get the bar to mid-shin height. Drop your butt down and lift your head up so your back is completely straight, then pull the bar off the floor. Stand tall by pushing your hips forward and chest out, then lower the bar back down in reverse.

Set a weight bench so it’s flat and grab a pair of dumbbells. Lie on the bench, facing up, and hold the dumbbells at chest height with your palms also facing up. Press the dumbbells up until your elbows are straight and your hands are directly above your chest. Pause briefly and lower back down.

Finish off with chin-ups. If you’ve got good strength already, it’s a simple case of grabbing a chin-up bar, starting with your body hanging straight down and pulling yourself up until your chin’s over the bar. Most beginners will need to do assisted chin-ups though, which are exactly the same movement, but performed on a machine with a counter-balance weight.

The Details

Perform three sets of eight reps on each move, resting 90 seconds between sets.

That’s it – ultra simple. Do this three times per week, and you’ll be shocked at your results.

The key however, is managing intensity. Once you can manage the three sets of eight without too much difficulty, go up to three sets of 10. Then three sets of 12. When this is all fine, add 10 pounds to every lift, drop back to three sets of eight and start working your way up again.

If fat loss is your goal, add 15 to 20 minutes of moderate to high intensity cardio on any equipment of your choosing after your weights session.
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