As a fitness beginner, the gym can be incredibly intimidating. We understand – there’s a ton of equipment that you may not know how to use and it seems like everyone else knows what they’re doing. So we’ve put together a road map to get you going on your fitness journey.
Diving into a workout routine full of new equipment can be overwhelming. So make it a more gradual process: try one new piece of equipment each time you work out, (and don’t feel shy about asking for guidance from a trainer or coach). If you deliberately familiarize yourself with the equipment and go to the gym with a plan, you’ll likely feel more empowered and ready to put your full effort into your training.
To start, get to know these eight pieces of beginner-friendly equipment, listed from easiest to slightly more complicated to use.
1. Elliptical: Cardio
The elliptical is an effective, approachable piece of equipment to help you ease into a new cardio routine. It requires almost no set-up, and you have the option to choose a pre-programmed workout or use “Quick Start” to change the incline and resistance yourself.
The elliptical mimics the body’s natural movements and is low-impact, so it’s easy on your joints. This equipment primarily engages your lower body, but you can use the moving handlebars to work your arms as well.
2. Treadmill: Cardio
The treadmill is a staple in every gym for good reason. You can walk, jog or run, depending on your fitness level. For beginners and advanced gym-goers alike, the treadmill is a great piece of equipment for building endurance and increasing your overall fitness level. Try raising the incline of the treadmill deck to simulate climbing a hill.
3. Floor mat: Strength – Flexibility
The floor mat is your friend for exercises like sit-ups, planks, mountain climbers and push-ups. It adds a bit of cushioning when you’re on the floor and makes your movements more comfortable. And for stability exercises, that cushiness be just enough to add a bit of challenge. You’ll also see floor mats used for exercises like yoga and Pilates.
4. Dumbbells: Strength
Dumbbells are perfect for those new to strength training because you can start small and move up to heavier weight as needed. One benefit of dumbbells is that because each hand is holding its own weight, you know that both sides of your body are performing an equal amount of work.
With equipment like barbells, where weight is distributed across both arms, it’s easier to favor your dominant arm (which can often take over) and risk uneven training. Try some simple dumbbell exercises like rows, curls and presses to work your back, arms and chest.
5. Resistance bands: Strength
Resistance bands — those stretchy, colorful tubes connected to two handles — are more versatile than you might think. You can use them to build upper body, lower body and core strength. The resistance can be increased or decreased by adjusting your grip to shorten or lengthen the amount of band you’re stretching.
6. Balance balls: Strength
Balance balls are perfect for improving your stability. Try doing sit-ups with your lower back resting against the ball. The slight shifting movement of the ball will engage your core muscles so you can get the most out of the move. You can also use a BOSU ball, a piece of equipment that looks like a rubber half-sphere, to enhance certain movements. For example, try doing hip raises with your feet planted on the rounded side to strengthen your legs and glutes.
7. Bike: Cardio
Indoor cycling bikes require more set-up than most other cardio equipment, but don’t fear! If you take a cycling class, an instructor will be happy to show you how to properly adjust your bike.
Cycling can be an effective way to shed pounds (when combined with a sensible diet, of course) and can help steadily build your cardiovascular fitness. Not to mention, a regular schedule of fun group classes will help you stay on track.
8. Bodyweight exercises: Strength
Your body is an amazing machine, and bodyweight exercises are a great way to get comfortable in your own skin. With this type of activity your body is the equipment. Try beginning with a compound, full-body move like the squat.
Squatting is a fundamental movement with endless progression, meaning you can add weight and do variations on the basic squat to continually challenge your body. Start by squatting only your bodyweight and then, once you’ve learned how to use proper form, you can consider adding more weight.
Tips for good squat form:
- Stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart
- Keep your chest lifted and your weight shifted toward your heels throughout the exercise
- Move your hips down and back – the movement should be similar to sitting onto a stool
- Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground, making sure that your knees do not travel forward past your toes as they bend
- Keep your knees aligned with your feet – do not let them buckle inward
- Press up through your heels to return to the starting position
Classes: Cardio – Strength – Flexibility
While they’re not pieces of equipment, classes are an excellent way for new exercisers to get comfortable in the gym. They provide a supportive environment where you’re guided through your workout by a group exercise instructor, so you don’t have to worry about planning which moves you’re going to do — just show up and be ready to sweat. Classes come in a variety of difficulty levels, so you can start with a beginner class and move up to a more challenging one when you’re ready.
Headphones and music: Motivation
Don’t underestimate the power of a good beat to fuel your workout. You may think that headphones aren’t fitness equipment, but music can play a powerful psychological role in your workout. The right beat can help you exercise harder for longer. (Check out this playlist.)
If you start your fitness journey with a small selection of equipment, you’ll be less likely to feel overwhelmed and more likely to succeed! Get to know the equipment listed above and soon you’ll feel right at home in the gym.