A question that I get asked a lot by a lot of my clients and new starters in the gym is where do I start? Everyone that you see on Instagram or that you see in the gym had to start somewhere. Here a few tips that I hope will help not only new starters but may help any gym goer.

Just go for it

I was super intimidated when I first walked into the gym. I had on my footy shorts, a t-shirt, and headphones in hand, and I felt a little bit out of place. Even if you are intimidated, you just have to push beyond it and go for it. Get your foot in the door, and do something. You’ll be amazed how quickly that initial fear goes away when you get your heart pumping and muscles aching. Frankly, you have a lot more to think about at the gym than being intimidated.

Everyone is there for the same reason which is to feel healthier and to get those happy hormones going. And honestly, after being a member for a few months, I’m more inspired than intimidated by the guys (and some hardcore ladies!) on the bench next to me lifting far more than it seems like I’ll ever be able to do.

Another intimidation factor for me was simply not knowing how to use certain machines or do certain exercises. Be it a stair climber or rowing machine or that funny looking machine in the corner, those things can be confusing to use. One route is to simply get on the machine and start doing something, as lot of the machines have diagrams on how to use them.

In many cases you’ll figure it out after a couple minutes. Another is to look up a YouTube video or you can always ask a trainer for a simple 2-minute tutorial on properly using the machine in question.

Nobody is judging you

When I checked in to the gym on my first day of being a member, I was sure that everyone there would stop what they were doing, watch me do my workout, and judge not just my form but my meager muscle size as well. Of course, no such thing happened. You have to remember there are people of all shapes and sizes, just doing their best to get in shape. From ripped dudes curling 37kg dumbbells, to old men on the treadmill with their shirts tucked into their pants, it really is a democracy.

Just be sound!

While working out is a great way to unleash your primal side, you should still practice good manners and be respectful of your fellow gym goers and staff. Knowing the unwritten rules of the land will not only make you feel more confident, but save you from getting the kind of look that might unnecessarily make the gym feel like an unfriendly place. Nobody may be judging how in shape you are, but they may critically assess your decision not to wipe down a machine you’ve been using. Please re-rack your weights!!!!!

Do what you enjoy — some activity is better than none

I started out doing easy workouts — 20 minutes of cardio, go to a class or even just get going on the treadmill. I sort of felt like a wimp, but I just wanted to get my bearings and ease into gym membership rather than go whole hog and feel overwhelmed.

The honest truth is that as you go to the gym more, you’ll push yourself more. I’m completing workouts now, just a few months into it, that are far above what I started at. Once I established some benchmarks, the natural competitiveness of wanting to beat my times and weights kicked in.

When it comes down to it, doing something active is so much better than doing nothing. I get that the workouts I’m doing may not be the best, but they are better than couch-sitting. Getting your heart pumping is better than not getting it pumping; lifting some weights is better than not; a moderate ride on a stationary bike is better than nothing at all. This is my attitude when I talk to newbies.

Progress will not happen overnight

Our fast-paced culture doesn’t like slow progress; instant success is far sexier, but also incredibly unrealistic. So when people go to the gym and drop their membership after a few months, I think it’s because they’re annoyed that they haven’t instantly been transformed into super athletes. In the first few weeks of having a gym membership, I progressed rapidly, and it felt awesome. But then I hit a wall, and actually regressed a little. I wasn’t completing the workouts that I had successfully finished the week before. In those moments, it’s easy to think it’s not working. We actually end up catastrophizing the situation. “I can’t complete this workout, I’ll never be able to reach my goals, I’m destined to become fat and die early.” And then we go back to the couch to live out that destiny.

So how do you get past that? You just have to shift your mindset to one of slow progress rather than instant success and stick with it, even in the midst of failures. If you keep going and keep working hard, you’re bound to get better. The key is just to not quit. Sound simplistic? It is. But that’s what our world needs when it comes to health and fitness right now. As long as you don’t quit altogether, you’ll progress.

Don’t overdo it

The fact that you’re in the gym in the first place probably means you had to shift a few things around in your life in order to make time for the commitment. You’re now on the road to stronger bones, bigger muscles, and increased strength. With that said, lifting weights can cause injury if done improperly or too often. To avoid injury, proper form and the correct volume are essential.

As a lifting beginner, you (and your muscles) have very little idea what’s coming. If you want your gym experience to be sustainable, do only three or four exercises your first day. This way you won’t be overly sore, and you can recover more effectively for another workout. Slowly work your way up to lift heavier weights with perfect form—there’s no rush.

Take notes

You can only really note your progress if you know where you started. On your first day, start a training log with all your current stats. Write down the exercises, sets, reps, weight lifted, and rest you take throughout every workout. Your starting numbers will give you the satisfaction of quantifying what you carve out in iron.

Nothing worthwhile comes easy and going into the gym may be daunting but it doesn’t need to be. There are personal trainers there to help and gym run classes that can ease you into it. Enjoy yourself, get out of your comfort zone and get those happy hormones going.