Don't let the ranks of exercise machines intimidate you -- navigating a gym is mostly common sense.
To the uninitiated a gym can be an intimidating, foreign environment with its own strange culture and rules. The good news is that once you get past the intimidation factor, most gym rules are dictated by common sense. Taking a tour, if your gym offers it, is one of the best ways to demystify the place. It's also an opportunity to have your questions answered on the spot. Even if tours aren't available, take the time to get oriented by exploring on your own and sorting out what sort of equipment is where.
When You Get There
Head straight for the locker room. On the way, see if you can spot the three main areas every gym has: a cardio room for machines like elliptical trainers and treadmills, another room or area for gym weight machines and a separate space dedicated to free weights.
If you don't feel comfortable changing in a locker room, you can either come dressed in your gym clothes, change in a bathroom stall or use the separate "family" changing rooms provided. Either way, bring a padlock for your locker. Most gyms won't let you carry your belongings with you as you work out, but theft from gym lockers is a very real problem. Your best bet is to lock up your valuables.
Using Cardio Machines
No matter which sort of cardio machine you're using, always sit or stand up straight; don't lean on the handlebars. If you're using an exercise bike or elliptical trainer, start pedaling and then press the Start button. If you're using a treadmill, start the belt moving very slowly and then step onto it and adjust your speed as desired.
If you want to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations for exercise, you need to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week; add 5 to 10 minutes of warm-up and cool-down time before and after each workout.
Using Weight Machines
Most gyms will offer a quick tutorial for using their weight machines and often have someone on-hand to answer simple questions. The basic principle, however, is the same for every weight machine -- just adjust the machine so your joints line up with the machine's "joints" -- that is, the axes of rotation for its moving parts. Start with low weight and gradually work your way up to an amount that challenges you do to 8 to 12 repetitions with a smooth, controlled motion.
"Live and let live" is the most basic rule of gym etiquette. Don't disturb someone else's workout, and they'll be unlikely to disturb yours. A few other common-sense rules that help keep the peace are not to linger on gym equipment if you're not using it; do use the spray bottles and rags your gym provides to wipe down equipment once you're done with it; and keep the grunting and groaning to a bare minimum because the people listening to it won't be impressed -- just annoyed.
Group Fitness Classes
If you're taking a group fitness class for the first time, dress modestly -- no leotards and definitely no swim suits -- and arrive a few minutes early so you can get a spot in the back of the class. Wear clean clothes and deodorant because even if you don't recognize the stink on your day-old workout clothes, others will; and if you have any special issues, like injuries or health conditions, make sure your instructor knows about them before class starts.
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