6 Things Every Gym Newbie Needs to Know

By  Stephen Box

The gym can be a pretty scary place for a newbie, especially if you have no idea what you’re doing.

I still remember what I felt like the first time I walked into a commercial fitness gym by myself.  At the time I was pretty overweight and my exercise knowledge was limited to what I learned from my high school football days – bench press, dips and squats.

I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of machines and constantly worried about being judged.  Obviously I’ve learned a lot since those days, but it took me years to learn a lot of things I consider very basic now.   That’s why I wanted to create this guide.  I want you to feel more comfortable in the gym so you can reap the rewards of a good workout.


Learn the Language

Reps, sets, super-sets, drop sets, isometric, concentric, eccentric…are we speaking English?  Yes, the gym has its very own language, and in time you will need to learn much of it; but for now lets talk basics.

  • Reps: Short for repetition.  A rep is considered doing an exercise 1 time.  For example, if you’re doing a bench press bringing the bar down and pushing it back up is considered 1 rep.
  • Sets: Think of sets as a grouping of reps.  If I do 10 reps on the bench press without rest that is considered a set.
  • Super-sets: Doing a set of two different exercises back to back without rest.  You might do a set of squats, followed immediately by a set of push-ups.
  • Circuit: A circuit is just like a super-set but with 3 or more exercises.
  • Concentric: By definition this is the part of an exercise where the intended muscle is working the hardest.  The upward lifting motion of a bicep curl is an example of a concentric movement.
  • Eccentric: The opposite of concentric
  • Isometric: This is the portion of the movement where you are simply holding the weight in one place.  It is usually the period between the concentric and eccentric phases of the exercise.

Learn Proper Gym Etiquette 

Yes, there are unwritten rules in the gym and it’s important that you follow them.

  • Always put your weights back where they belong
  • Never workout in front of the dumbbell rack.  I suggest taking at least 5 big steps back from the rack
  • Never super-set  or do circuits during peak hours when equipment is at a premium.
  • Never walk in front of someone or try to talk to them during a set.
  • Always wipe down the bench after you use it, nobody wants to lay in your sweat.

Find a Workout Partner or Mentor

Let me be clear on this one.  Most people are more than happy to help you out in the gym, but be careful who you take advice from.  Often times I see people ask the biggest guy or the girl with the toned arms for advice.  Sometimes these people are really knowledgeable and are a great resource; sometimes they just have really good genetics.

I would suggest anyone that is new to strength training to hire a personal trainer.  There is nothing worse than having to abandon your new workout habit due to an injury brought on by poor exercise technique.  A personal trainer can show you how to do the exercise correctly and help accelerate your results.

If hiring a trainer doesn’t fit into your budget I would suggest speaking with one of your gym’s trainers and asking them what members have really good form and ask for an introduction.  Although trainers are in the gym to make a living and pay their bills, they understand that not everyone can afford their services and are happy to point you in the right direction.

Weight Loss Takes More Than Cardio

Probably the single biggest mistake I see newbies make is they head over to the cardio section, do 45 minutes on a machine and leave.  Strength training may not burn as many calories at the gym, but it can increase your metabolism over the next 48-72 hours meaning it burns significantly more calories in the long run.  I actually suggest saving your cardio for your non-lifting days because doing cardio before a workout can zap your strength and doing it after the workout takes away your muscles’ ability to recover.

Change Takes Time & Consistency

As a general rule of thumb it takes about 4-6 weeks for you to start seeing changes, 8 weeks for others to really notice, and 12 weeks before major change starts happening.  Obviously, that will be different for each person but the point is that nobody gets in shape after a week or 2 in the gym.  Another quick point that cannot be overlooked, you need to build up to a minimum of 3 hours per week for strength training if you really want to see results.  Going to the gym 3 days one week and not going the next week won’t get you very far, you have to be consistent.

Never Stop Learning

This list is a great starting point, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg.  Here are few next steps you can take:

  • Join a group of like-minded people.
  • Learn how to cook new foods or find healthier versions of your favorites.
  • Remember that health isn’t just about weight loss or gaining muscle, it’s important to reduce stress, sleep well, and keep your mind active.
  • Remember that the ability to move and use your body is a blessing, not a chore – so have fun.


Stephen Box, CFT, OTA, Pn2

About Stephen

My passion for fitness started with my own 80 lb weight loss journey. I love showing people that fitness and nutrition don't need to be complicated or restrictive. A good coach should be able to meet you where you are and help you get to where you want to be.

I am certified as a fitness trainer through the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA). Additionally, I hold certifications in exercise nutrition through Precision Nutrition and online fitness training through the Online Trainer Academy.

When not serving my clients I am an expert media contributor for companies such as Men's Fitness, Men's Journal,, and many others.

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