Time and time again I hear people scared or nervous to enter a gym for fear they have no idea what they're doing or how to approach a bench. No worries, this process is something that takes time to become comfortable with and requires the patience to figure it out for yourself.
But, here are just a few things that I learned starting off that I wish I would have known beforehand.
1. It's OK to NOT know
Everyone who has ever weight lifted had to start from somewhere. Sometimes people hire coaches to talk them through each machine and each workout, other times people attempt to figure it out for themselves. If you are the latter, know that it's OK to NOT know what you are doing. When I first started, I didn't either. But don't let the fear of not knowing to keep you from starting. Walk into that gym and experiment with each machine or each weight, but be accepting of the fact that you may not know exactly what you're doing. Not everyone does, and even sometimes those that think they know what they're doing, don't. Workout's that were considered "good" for us years ago are being pushed aside now for better methods. So things are always shifting, and what works for one person may not work for you, so don't be scared to just figure it out for yourself.
2. A picture (or video) is worth a thousand words
YouTube Videos, Instagram Videos, or even pictures of how to use machines worked wonderfully for me when I was first starting out. If I saw a machine was open in the gym, I would walk over to it, look at the name, and specifically google how to use that machine. Watch, and mimic. Don't be nervous to do so, it's better to take the time to do it right than do it wrong and injure yourself. Be patient.
3. My Rep-Weight Rule
So this is something that I tell those people who are unsure of what weight to use when they first start off weight lifting. When I started, and even still to this day, when I am not sure how much weight I will be able to handle, I pick up my absolute lowest weight. For curls and upper body that's a 10-pound free weight, or for squats or all leg movements, it's 40 pounds. If I can do the workout I'm supposed to be doing for 15-20 reps with these weights, the weights are too light. If I'm using any weight above 15, I always say that if I can do the number of reps describing the weight I'm holding, the weight is too light. So, 15 reps with a 15? Up the weight. I will typically go through this process 2-3 times at the very beginning of my workout, depending on the body part I'm working. If I know that at the start of my workout I was curling 20's for 15 reps (WITH PROPER FORM), then no weight I use for that day should drop below a 20. This makes me hold myself accountable and ensures I'm using the proper weight for my body.
4. The Water Bottle Distraction
This is a habit of mine when I'm at the gym and I become self-conscious, feeling like I'm being watched or that people are judging me or my technique. (Yes, even after a year this still happens.) Anytime I go to the gym I bring a water bottle with me, If I notice that at any point I'm thinking more about what people are thinking of me instead of focusing on my workout, I sit or stand, and take a minute to look down at my water bottle. I slowly open it up and take casual sips in between breathing in and breathing out. Breathe in, breathe out, sip. I do this until I calm down and can focus on my workout and what I'm trying to achieve. Also, having the water bottle give my hands something to do and my mind a distraction that isn't just staring at my phone, which actually makes me more anxious, and inevitably distracts me for longer than I always hope.
5. To Rest or Not To Rest, That is the Question
I superset everything. What does that mean? I either do not rest between each of my workouts or if I do, the rest is less than 30 seconds. So if I'm doing lunges, I do my 15 reps on each leg and then move on to my next exercise, which is normally 15 reps of weighted squats. After that, I take a quick 30-second break and begin the set again with lunges. Why? Because this works for me. You may need to do a few reps then wait a minute or two to let your muscles relax before doing your next set. I can't do so, because I find that my level of motivation disappears the longer I wait, and who has time for a four-hour workout? But if you need to rest, rest. Just make sure you're not using resting as an excuse to not do what needs to be done.