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Students working out in the ARC
February 20, 2020
3 mins read

How to get started at the gym if you're unsure

Starting new and healthy routines is possible any time of the year, not just on January 1st.

I made the New Year’s resolution to start working out at the gym for 3 consecutive years before I actually started going last year.

For a while, I found the idea of going to the gym quite intimidating. When I first began, I isolated myself in the cardio room where I felt most comfortable, and as far away from the barbells, dumbbells, and squat rack—equipment I was unfamiliar with—as possible.

Over time, however, I became more comfortable and confident going to the gym and less concerned with the other people working out around me.

Here’s what I’ve learned that may help if you’re not sure where to start:

1. Make a game plan

The most intimidating part of going to the gym is not knowing what to do or what all the machines are for. This is where the research skills you’ve acquired as a UBC student can come in handy.

YouTube and Instagram are goldmines when it comes to fitness content. Start with this video that showcases some basic moves and how to use some machines (it's not as intense as it looks), and start exploring yourself.

These are a few Instagram accounts that inspire me.

A post shared by UBC Recreation (@ubcrec) on Feb 25, 2018 at 10:09am PST

Save videos with routines that you like, and write down the names of exercises you want to try. Then, choose 4 or 5 exercises that appeal to you, decide how many sets and reps you want to do, and write yourself a short fitness plan in your notes app.

It can look something like this:

  • Warmup: Treadmill - 15 minutes, medium intensity
  • Dumbbell rows: 3 (sets) x 12 (reps)
  • Kettlebell squats: 3 x 10
  • 1 to 2 other exercises you want to try

Watch videos that demonstrate the exercises and practice the moves before you add weight. Mastering the basic movement first will reduce the risk of injury when you’re using weights. And when you do add weight, start light—starting too heavy is a surefire way to hurt yourself.

2. Be strategic about when you go

In my experience (and according to Google), the busiest times at the UBC gyms tend to be around 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, and 5:00 to 8:00 pm. Make a point to try out the gym for the first time outside of those hours—I would recommend right when the facility opens, or about an hour before it closes, as this is when it'll likely be the least busy.

Get a sense of where things are, what’s available, and how the space is laid out. Plus, if you want to try a machine for the first time and need some help, you can ask a staff member for some guidance. Don’t be afraid to ask—they’re there to answer your questions!

Of course, you won’t be able to count on the gym being empty or close to empty every time—getting used to having other people around you is part of getting comfortable working out. Just focus on what you’re doing and be respectful of other people’s space.

3. Find someone with gym experience to go with

You likely know at least one person who semi-regularly goes to the gym. Have they ever asked you to go with them? What would they say if you asked to tag along?

The majority of the time, a friend will want to support you in your fitness journey, just as they were likely helped at some stage in theirs. Ask your friend about their routine at the gym, and see if they’d be willing to let you shadow them for a few sessions.

Watching someone else do an exercise and having them there to help you at the beginning is super valuable. Plus, buying them a coffee to thank them for their time is much cheaper than a personal training session!

If you have a good time together then you may have found yourself a gym buddy. If you both decide you’d prefer to work out alone, that’s cool too. I’ve found going to the gym can be healthy me-time for listening to podcasts and music.

Wondering which gyms to try out?

Luckily, at UBC, we have two fitness centres which offer plenty of equipment, machines, and space for students to work out in. The ARC is located in the Life Building, and the BirdCoop is in the Student Recreation Centre. It’s $35 a term for students to access both fitness centres.

The on-campus gyms are likely the best deals you’ll be able to find, but if you live off campus, there are a number of community fitness centres around Vancouver that aren’t too costly to check out. Shop around at different gyms to find one that’s convenient and affordable for you.

Good luck gym rats!