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How to NOT look like a total goof at the gym

[author]Šarūnas G.[/author][author_img][/author_img] [author_info]Creative Director at Nordic Lifting[/author_info]
a guy benchpressing


It’s one of the most frightening and intimidating experiences for a beginner athlete – coming to the gym and realizing that you’ve got no idea where to begin… Rows and rows of dumbbells, hundreds of cardio machines and cable apparatus, it can be nothing short of daunting. And let’s be real, nobody wants to look like a total newbie and end up doing something stupid or even potentially harmful. The very thought of screwing something up and having hundreds of eyes instantly gawking at you is nothing short of terrifying.

Luckily, I am here to help you take some positive, professional steps in becoming a true gym virtuoso and avoiding common rookie mistakes. Follow these guidelines and you’ll feel at home in the gym in no time!


First things first, we need to dispel a couple commonly held beliefs and myths. If there’s one thing that you must take away from this article, it is this – nobody cares about you at the gym. It’s harsh, but it’s the truth.

Nobody is staring at every single rep that you do, nobody is out there videotaping your every move, it just doesn’t happen. The truth is, people come to the gym for the same reason you’re there – to work hard and become stronger or slimmer than their former self. So forget about this unsubstantiated, self-conscious fear and focus on your own performance.

Dwayne Johnson in the gym shouting focus


Another frequent belief is that the strongest, most impressive-looking people at the gym are these closed-off mountains of muscle that are completely inapproachable and, in fact, will mock you at the slightest hint of a mistake or lack of knowledge. It’s weird to me that this myth arose at all, because if you ever actually try to talk to one of these guys, you quickly realize that it’s simply not true. The strongest folks at the gym, in many people’s experience, are also the most humble. They understand the amount of hard work and dedication is required to achieve their level of strength and 99% of the time they’re happy to share their wisdom. Just don’t approach them when they’re in the middle of a squat!


a guy benchpressing


With these out of the way, let’s look at 7 more general gym tips that will keep you above the curb and make you feel and look much more comfortable:

  • Have a PLAN. This is one of the most important pieces of advice for fresh gym-goers. While it’s fantastic that you decided to start working out, it’s not worth much if your preparation ends at the decision itself. You have to have at least a basic plan, whether you chose to follow the generic beginner routine available in most gyms, this awesome & detailed one by or the infamous 5x5 routine – make sure you arrive with a PLAN and stick to it.
  • Avoid using your cell phone. It’s not totally of limits and it’s a great item to track your progress, take any notes or just monitor your rest times, but please don’t be the person who has to Instagram every single set and take at least a dozen selfies with every gym visit. The gym is a place to sweat and make #gainz, respect that and keep your cell use to a minimum.
  • Keep a distance.This is especially important during your first few times at the gym. Take note of your surroundings and understand how much space is required for the various exercises that are done in the gym. Do your best to stay clear of anyone in the middle of an exercise.
  • Move in between sets.There is no reason for remaining on a machine after finishing your 12 reps. Stand up, walk around and take a breather before you go again. It’s incredibly rude to just sit around on machines, denying access to everyone else. I’ve seen people literally bring newspapers to the gym. Don’t be that guy. 
  • Respect the equipment. After busting a sweat and pumping hard, make sure to wipe off the You wouldn’t want to sit down in a pool of someone else’s sweat, so make sure you protect everyone else from that experience. Most modern gyms have readily available paper towels and if yours doesn’t – make sure to bring a personal towel.
  • Put stuff back. If you pick up a pair of dumbbells, put them back when you’re done. If you stack a barbell with plates, don’t forget to bring them back after your set. If you grab a gym mat or foam roller, put it back in place! The gym is profoundly a tidy place, do your best to keep it that way.
  • Research compound exercises. After a couple of weeks at the gym, take time to research free weight exercise alternatives. Starting with exercise machines is fine, but eventually you will want to perform more advanced exercises with dumbbells, barbells, weight plates and benches. You can read up on it here and here.


I hope these tips will help boost your confidence and help you get motivated before your first gym visit. Keep them in mind, dress appropriately and remember – it’s about you, and you only.

Ready to take up weightlifting? You can read up on all the basics of Weightlifting here.

Don’t think weightlifting is your cup of tea? Find out everything you need to know about bodyweight training here.

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