Mahalo Moves

, ,

How to Work Out (In) the Gym For the First Time


Going to the gym is easier said than done. It’s not only finding time to do it – which is already quite a challenge if it’s not in your habits – but the idea of all those machines, weights, tools, muscular people – who all seem to know exactly what they are doing…



Why even start, right?

Well.. For your health and well-being! For your heart health, your joints. To move more easily in your so-called daily life. For your happiness. For more energy. For a better mood. A better feeling about your body. I can add numerous more benefits, but that’s not what this article is about.


The Ultimate Guide: First Time Gym Tips

Before going to the gym

Every success starts with a good preparation. In case of the gym that starts with picking the right gym for you. Make it as convenient and easy for yourself as possible and choose a gym that is close by to your home or your work. This wipes the argument of ‘it takes too much time to get there’ right off of the table. Next, make sure that you understand what the gym offers, and whether that fits your needs. Do you want a ‘simple’ gym, with weights, a few machines, and some cardio facilities? Or are you interested in a bigger gym, some extra services; the possibility to train with the guidance of a personal trainer, enjoy a variety of group classes, or maybe even some wellness facilities?

After picking the gym that serves your wishes best, you can start to get ready for your first workout. So: pack your bag. Make sure you carry a towel, a bottle of water, a good pair of sneakers, and your workout clothes – whatever you feel comfortable wearing while moving. And ladies, don’t forget a supportive sports bra. You won’t regret it. Generally, gyms have locker rooms with locks – bring a padlock – and showers, so if you need to go elsewhere and you want to be fresh as a daisy: don’t forget to bring your toiletries and clean clothes.

Gym Bag

On your way to the gym

What is your goal for today? Going into the gym without a plan is the road to feeling like you have been wasting your time. Making a plan does not have to be difficult. For your first visit it can be: asking a gym employee for a tour in the gym. Knowing where the locker rooms are, the machines, the cardio area, and the free weights, is a great first step towards feeling more confident in the gym.

In the gym

OK, so now you know where everything is. What to do now? Easy: warm up your body. Everyone needs to do it. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced: all cold muscles need some warming, or they will get injured. Start with a little stretching – don’t overdo this! – and 10 – 15 minutes on a cardio machine. Just press ‘quick start’. Walk briskly or start on the bicycle – this one probably doesn’t have a quick start-button, but you can adjust the saddle to make sure it’s around hip height, climb on the saddle, and start spinning the wheel. If you feel like taking a row, step on the rowing machine – get crazy! But remember this when you want to row: usually, the towel is used to sit on the machines without your skin touching the seats, but important note regarding the rowing machine: don’t do that here! The risk that the towel gets stuck in the machine while moving the seat back and forth is way bigger than the harm of a little flesh contact with the seat. Also, remind yourself that it’s a warmup. You don’t have to start running, cycling or rowing like crazy. Give your body the time to do what the warmup is meant to do: warm your muscles slowly up. Meanwhile, if you’re lucky and the cardio machines are well located and the gym is spacious, you can take your time looking around in the gym. Just notice how busy it is, which machines are popular, how people use them, what other people are doing and how they use the gym space and its facilities. After 10-15 minutes, stop and continue to the so-called free weight area. OR: if this was enough for you and you’re just trying to build a habit of going to the gym, that’s perfect too! In the beginning the biggest challenge is actually making it to the gym and starting. Repeating it until here is a great way to starting to build a routine.

Cardio Gym

Before we move on to what to do in the free weight area, it’s handy to know a bit more about the five basic movement patterns.

The Basics Movement Patterns

We’ve got five, and they are all movements that you would like to do comfortably (yes, I think you do!) in your daily life. Here are some examples:

  1. Bend and lift. We all do it so often: picking something off of the floor and lifting it up.
  2. Single leg. Walking is a pretty good example. You lift one leg, and the other is holding you in balance. Walking on the stairs is slightly more challenging, but equally if not better for your single leg
  3. Pulling a door towards you. Most of the time, this is not heavy. But there are some doors… Lifting your baby out of its crib is basically also a pull exercise.
  4. Pushing something heavy aside.
  5. Picking something up on the right, and putting it down on the left.

We all want to do these things painless and with ease, right? That’s where the gym comes in! Doing these things more often, so repeating the movements, become repetitions. Repetitions end up in separate sets, and these sets lead to stronger muscles and more ease in your daily life!

How to do this in the gym: the free weight area

It starts with the free weight area. This is the space in the gym where you the various weights; dumbbells, barbells, plates, etcetera. It might sound like a lot for this first time, but it’s important to know – trust me. To start with, let the weights just be. Get used to their sight and them just laying there around. I know they’re quite scary, so you’d better just get used to the sight before lifting them up.

Weight Area

Start with body weight exercises

It might sound dull and you might prefer the machines instead, but body weight exercises are actually one of the best ways to learn the technique of working with weights, and making them more effective with your whole body. The machines are great tools, but they generally isolate single muscles. While if you’re working with your body weight and the so-called free weights, you generally combine actions of various muscles in what we call compound movements. At the end, this saves time, will get you quicker to your goals, and it drives your metabolism more.

Let’s keep focusing on the five basic movement patterns and translate them to body weight exercises

  1. Bend and lift >> Squats
  2. Single leg >> Lunges
  3. Push >> Push up
  4. Pull >> Wall Row
  5. Rotate >> Russian twists

Sounds great! But how to do them, and why do I need them?

I’ll explain all exercises down below, but the most important thing to know about why you need to master them is that these exercises are for every level. The only difference if you start to progress is adding weight and more challenge. Technique and safety are one of the most important pillars of my personal training programs, so for that reason the descriptions below are very precise and taking breathing into account. But if you can master this, you’ll certainly benefit from it in the future while taking on bigger loads.

How to Do The Squat

Mastering the whole body, the squat – if done well – can boost all muscles in your body as well as your metabolism. How to do it?

  1. Put your feet slightly wider than hip-width distance apart. Breathe in and pull your navel slightly in and up – always activating your core. Shoulders low.
  2. Start to bend your knees and bring your glutes (pretty word for your butt!) while you are exhaling out. Make sure to keep controlling your core, and to put the weight in your heals without lifting your toes.
  3. Inhaling, coming back up. And exhaling repeating again
  4. Do 8-10 repetitions, and then rest for 30 seconds, and repeat. Do 2 to 4 sets.


How to Do The Lunge

  1. Put your feet hip width distance apart and take a step back with one of your legs – a big step. Find balance here and hold your spine upright. You can bring your hands in your waist to make sure the upper body stays active.
  2. Breathe in and prepare: bring your navel in to activate your core. On an exhalation, you bend both of your legs and move your body down. I say this again: down!
  3. Inhale come back up, and exhale, repeat.
  4. Repeat this for 8-10 times, and then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat, and do 2-4 sets.


How to Do The Pushup

Not everyone’s best friend, but you can make it easier and more difficult if you wish. Let’s start easy.

  1. Come stand at the wall and take a large step back, but keep facing the wall
  2. Bring your hands to the wall, shoulder width apart and make one long line with your body. Your heals will probably lift a bit, but that’s OK ‘cause we want to engage the legs as well. So lift your knee caps, push back in your heels. Inhale, and bring your navel in, activate your core and push your hands firmly down as if you want to push your back backwards.
  3. Exhale, start to bend your elbows but keep them close to your upper body, and lower your chest in the direction of the wall.
  4. Inhale, push back up.
  5. Repeat this for 8-10 times, and then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat, and do 2-4 sets.


Wall Row

  • Grab a towel, belt, or elastic band and wrap it around something that’s safely attached to the wall – just like the row exercise in the gym, as shown in the picture.
  • Grab both ends and start to lean back until you are standing on your heals, you want your whole body in a straight position
  • Maintain a straight line as you’re inhaling and activating your core
  • Exhale, and pull your body in one straight line towards the wall
  • Repeat this for 8-10 times, and then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat, and do 2-4 sets.


Russian Twists

  • Sit on the floor or on a bench, just make sure there is no support behind you
  • Inhale first, then exhale and draw your belly button in, start to lean back until you feel that you are still engaging your core, but you’re not hanging in your low back
  • Inhale, place your forearms on top of each other, keep the straight line in your spine.
  • And exhale, rotate with your shoulders and arms towards the right.
  • Inhale, back to center, and exhale to the left.
  • Repeat this for 8-10 times (each side), and then come up and rest for 30 seconds. Repeat the whole sequence, and do 2-4 sets.
  • Use a weight in your arms, just like the ball below to make it more challenging.

Russian Twist

Cooling Down

Did you finish all of the above? Great job! No matter how it went, just be proud that you went to the gym and that you did a workout. Whether you feel that it was perfect or not does not matter. In this stage, it is still part of building a habit of going to the gym, and getting to know your body.

Now the next step step – before your leave the gym – it’s time to cool down. Even if you don’t feel that you need it. Cooling downs are for the body ánd your mind.

Side Bend

How to do your Cooling Down

As we worked our whole body, we also have to offer our whole body possibilities to stretch and relax.

  • Lay down on a mat or on your towel – find a space where you can do this freely, and give yourself a nice long stretch with the arms overhead and your toes pointed
  • Then bend your right knee, place the sole of the foot into the ground and bend your left knee out to the side and lay your ankle on top of your right knee. Either stay here, or pull your thigh towards you with your hands. Just make sure that you knee is not in pain; it can help to flex your toes towards the knee.
  • Then drop your legs over to the right and let your spine go into a twist. Make sure your left shoulder stays grounded and if your neck allows it: look over your opposite shoulder. Stay here for a couple of breaths before you switch sides for both stretches.
  • Come to a seat and cross your ankles in front of you. Inhale stretch your right arm out towards the side and overhead. Make sure your spine stays upright. Stay here for a couple of breaths.
  • Switch sides
  • Come back to the centre and breathe five times in and out. Focus a little more on the exhalation, and try to make it as long as you can. Maybe close your eyes if you’re comfortable to do so.


Well done, you’ve made it all through! Now it’s time to let your body rest!

Recovering is very important: here’s where the growth and strength happens. Take at least a 48 hour break before you hit the gym again and re-do your up-to-be habit.


Do you want some personal advice during your training: book a personal training session with Mahalo Moves!

Share this post

Related Articles