A gym can be a scary place.
It can smell funny. You might see people wearing clothes that are a bit too revealing for your taste. And as if that wasn't bad enough, there are rows and rows of foreign-looking contraptions with buttons, cables and little diagrams telling you how the machines work.
For people who haven't been to a gym in years - or ever - and for those of us who are closer to chubby than chiseled, a gym can be downright intimidating.
"I walk into gyms out of town, and I'm intimidated," says fitness expert Jeff Bergholtz. "And I'm a former championship bodybuilder."
Intimidation can be a real barrier for people considering making 2005 the year to get fit. But you can overcome that barrier by keeping the following tips in mind:Get a trainer or a mentor. Not knowing which exercises do what can sink your confidence, but just a few sessions with a personal trainer can give you a basic understanding of proper techniques.
Bergholtz says you should look for a trainer who has a college degree in a field such as kinesiology or exercise physiology or is certified by an organization such as the American Council on Exercise, the National Strength and Conditioning Association or the American College of Sports Medicine.
If you don't have the money for a trainer, find an experienced friend or relative to guide you through a workout or two.Bring a friend. Taking someone along with you gives you someone to confide in if you're feeling uncomfortable, and it can make the experience more fun. It also creates a system of accountability so that if you skip a day, you undermine your friend's fitness goals as well as your own.
Don't expect too much too soon. You can intimidate yourself by setting unrealistic goals and expecting sudden and dramatic results. "You're not going to become fit in one week," says another sports and fitness expert, Matthew Mulcahy.
Focus on your goal. To keep self-consciousness from derailing your workout routine, Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the nonprofit American Council on Exercise, says you should regularly remind yourself of why you joined a gym in the first place.
Maybe your motivation is to fit into an old pair of jeans. Maybe it's to be able to go on long walks without being winded. Maybe you want to cut your risk for heart disease and other health problems.Shop around. Your gym will be a place that you visit at least a few times a week, spending at least half an hour or so there each visit. Since you'll be there regularly, make sure you find a place that you're comfortable with. There are YMCAs, large franchise gyms, smaller boutique-like gyms and women-only gyms. Some senior and community centers offer workout facilities, too.
Bryant says to be wary of gyms that pressure you to sign a contract. Such gyms are likely to oversell memberships and leave you fighting with other members for an open machine. They're also unlikely to deliver the personal attention you'll need.Visit during off-peak hours. Early morning and early evening tends to be the busiest time for gyms, but Bryant says newcomers should consider going at off-peak hours. This way, you can experiment with different machines and exercises without feeling like someone else is waiting to use it or watching you.
If all else fails, forget the gym and work out at home. You're not exactly overcoming gym intimidation by staying home, but a consistent home workout can get you fit, and that's the goal, right?
Work out the right way
Here are the top 10 mistakes people make at the gym, according to a survey of 3,000 professionals certified by the American Council on Exercise:Not stretching enough. To prevent injuries, stretch immediately after an aerobic activity.
Lifting too much weight. Don't lift more than your muscles can handle. Gradually increase your resistance over time to increase muscle strength.
Not warming up before a workout. Muscles need time to adjust to aerobic activity, so start slowly and gradually increase intensity.
Not cooling down after a workout. Instead of abruptly stopping, take a few minutes to lower your heart rate and stretch your muscles. This will improve flexibility and prepare your body for its next workout.
Exercising too intensely. It's more effective to sustain a moderate workout for longer periods of time than to exercise intensely for a few minutes.
Not drinking enough water. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink water - you're already on your way to dehydration. Keep a water bottle with you during exercise and throughout the day.
Leaning heavily on a stair-stepper. Leaning on the stair-stepper is hard on the wrists and the back. Lower the intensity to the point at which you can maintain good posture while lightly resting your hands on the rails for balance.
Not exercising intensely enough. Work up a light sweat and get your heart beating in your training zone. To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. Your target heart rate is 60 percent to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate. A 30-year-old's target heart rate is 114 to 171 beats per minute, for example.
Jerking while lifting weights. This can lead to muscle strain and injury and is especially hard on your back.
Consuming energy bars and sports drinks during moderate workouts. Unless you're working out for more than two hours a day, you don't need high-energy bars and drinks. Remember that high energy is usually synonymous with high calorie.