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Navigating the Gym for Strength Training

When you’re starting a strength training routine for the first time, stepping into the weight room can be a daunting task. The number (and variety) of machines may feel overwhelming, and being surrounded by weight-lifting pros might be just a little intimidating.

However, stepping outside your fitness comfort zone is critical to achieving your wellness goals – and there’s no better place to get started than in the weight room. Here are some tips to help you stay stress-free about strength training.

Start With Free Weights and Body Weight

Although machines can make strength training seem easy, they’re often more complicated than they appear, particularly for first-time users. Instead of spending 10 minutes trying to master one complex machine (and another five waiting for someone to finish using it), spend five minutes performing a basic free weight or body weight exercise like tricep dips or weighted squats.

Not only are these movements easy for beginners, but they’re also considered building blocks of a solid strength training routine. Once you’re comfortable with a handful of basic free weight and body weight exercises, then you can try machine workouts to see if they’re right for you.

Familiarize Yourself With the Gym Layout

Most gyms are organized into two main areas: Weights and cardio, and a well-rounded workout will include time in both sections. The weights area is divided into sub-sections that provide space for things like functional fitness, machines, free weights and stretching. Larger gyms might have additional spaces dedicated to workouts like yoga, Pilates, TRX (Total Body Resistance Exercise) and kettlebells.

Once you familiarize yourself with the layout of your gym, you won’t feel lost. Best of all, by simplifying your workout with free weights and body weight exercises, you won’t have to constantly walk back and forth from one section of the gym to the other.

Create a Plan Before You Go

Strength training takes confidence, which starts with having a strategy. Before you set foot in the gym, write down your workout so that you know exactly what to do when you arrive.

Not sure where to start? Try the 45-minute beginner strength training workout below. It’s tough enough to test your fitness level, yet simple enough to complete at almost any gym. All you need are a few dumbbells and a yoga mat to get started.

  • 10-minute cardio warm-up: Choose a cardio machine of your choice (the elliptical, treadmill and stair climber are all great options) and get your heart rate going. Try increasing the speed or incline as each minute passes.
  • 10-minute strength starter: Stretch and warm your muscles with basic body weight exercises like push-ups, unweighted lunge walks, bridges, inchworms and bicycles.
  • 3-minute cardio burst: Ramp up the intensity with one-minute rounds of burpees, mountain climbers and jumping jacks.
  • 10-minute strength challenge: Grab one light and one heavy set of dumbbells. Choose an area of your body to focus on, such as the upper body, lower body, back or shoulders, then choose five basic dumbbell exercises and complete each exercise for two minutes. To work your arms, try bench presses, curls or shoulder presses. Squats, deadlifts and step-ups are great for the legs, and crunches, dumbbell swings and farmer’s carries will work your core.
  • 3-minute cardio burst: Complete another set of cardio exercises. Stick with your choices from the first round, or challenge yourself with something new!
  • 5-minute core crunch: Wrap up your workout with a series of core exercises. Venture over to the machine side of the room and try hanging leg raises, or roll out a yoga mat for a series of sit-ups, planks and weighted Russian twists. Choose five exercises and complete each one for one minute.
  • 5-minute cool-down: Finish up with five minutes of stretching while you catch your breath and recover. Make sure to put your weights back where you found them, and wipe down any mats or machines you used. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a high protein post-workout snack to support muscle recovery!

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Mary Lambkin

Mary Lambkin

Mary Lambkin is a Nashville native, blogger, and healthy living enthusiast. She lives in East Nashville with her husband and loves running through downtown Music City and around Shelby Park. Mary has run nine marathons and is always looking for new recipes to fuel her exercise adventures. Learn more about her at

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