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Gym buddies working out

A beginner’s guide to the gym

9 MIN READ • 25th March 2021

If you’re just starting out on your fitness journey, taking a break, or are overcoming an injury, the gym is a great place to start. Working out alongside others can be motivational and sociable, but if you feel intimidated by the idea of exercising among experienced gym go-ers, rest assured that the gym is a place for people of all levels of fitness, even if you feel like a gym amateur. As well as helping with fitness and weight loss, you might even find yourself a gym buddy. You don’t have to commit to a core gym membership, you can find a pay as you go gym. Read on for more exercise tips on how to make the gym part of your regular workout routine, and proper gym etiquette. You’ll even be speaking the proper gym lingo soon!

Set a goal 

Begin by setting yourself a workout plan that includes a long-term goal that can be worked at through more achievable short-term goals. Don’t put all of your hopes solely on your scales, because although this does measure progress to an extent, it can be misleading. Instead, set goals that are achievable and make you feel good, such as completing your first fun run or going to the gym three times during the week. Breaking a big goal into smaller ones makes your fitness journey less daunting. 

Choose an exercise that suits you

If you’re not sure whether to take a class, do some free weight training, work on your strength training or dive into the pool, the best thing you can do is something you enjoy! The key is to select a form of exercise that engages your brain as much as it does your body. Some may choose to follow a traditional gym programme which involves resistance training, whereas others may look to workouts which include different forms of movement or take place in a group fitness setting, such as a spin class or Pilates.

Do your research

If you’re considering trying something completely new, seek advice from a personal trainer or fitness expert before you begin. PTs are constantly in touch with the fitness world and test out the effectiveness of different types of training, so if you’re looking to follow a typical gym workout, they will be able to show you how to use gym equipment and how to perform exercises correctly, determining the resistance and frequency that’s right for you.

What to take with you to the gym

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie, one question remains – what should you take with you to the gym? Some staples are obvious, such as a sports bra, but there are so many products out there that you could be missing a trick without even knowing it. With that in mind, we teamed up with to see what some of the UK’s PTs and gym junkies pack – and the answers may surprise you!


The bag: I prefer to take an oversized handbag rather than a normal gym bag with me so that if I’m going out anywhere before or after my session, it goes with whatever I’m wearing.

Flip flops: I have a pair that are specially designed to wear after a workout as they aid with recovery.

Animal print: I’ve packed my zebra print leggings and tank top for my workout, as well as a zebra print zipped top to put on afterwards and my bright pink trainers.

Smartphone: I use the Apple activity app to track all of my exercise so my iPhone and Apple watch are always with me.

Gloves: I manage weights much better with these.

Post-workout essentials: I have a towel, face wipes, body butter and mascara to make me look presentable when I leave the gym! Looking after your skin pre- and post-workout is important. 

Hydration and nutrition: Not fully hydrating yourself or refuelling after your workout can make you feel lethargic and light headed, so take time to pack snacks and water – I always have a banana.


Two pairs of leggings and two tops: I like to be prepared!

Spare jacket: This is made of breathable material, which enables you to continue working out comfortably.

Trainers: It’s worth investing in a pair of trainers that are not only suited to your type of training, but also to your feet.

Gloves: I love training with free-weights, so I wear these to avoid calluses on my hands and to ensure maximum grip when handling the weights.

Toiletries bag: Hygiene is very important at the gym, so I always keep this stocked up.

Headphones: This goes without saying – a good music playlist can do wonders for your workout.

A sturdy gym bag: Pick something that’s strong enough, preferably with separate compartments.

The ultimate gym workout

Short on time and want a workout that will target your entire body? Allyn Condon, double Olympian and general manager at The Gym Bristol, part of The Gym Group, provides the lowdown on how to get fit in five.

1. Squat 

This is one of the best total body exercises, incorporating most of the major muscles as well as working your core muscles. We pick things up all day as part of life so this move can help develop those leg muscles, making life tasks a great deal easier. If you’re looking to burn fat, forget the cardio and get squatting instead.

2. Deadlift 

This is another great exercise for burning body fat and improving overall strength and conditioning – a big hip hinge movement with a real emphasis on developing your glutes. Due to its high emphasis on developing core stability and postural muscles, this is a great exercise for those looking to reduce long term injury.

3. Lunge 

This is my favourite move, offering great functional movement. It can be completed in multiple directions to hit those hard-to-target muscles.

4. Press ups 

This is the best move to develop your chest. If done correctly, the press up incorporates the skill, strength and awareness of the plank but adds the challenge of upper body development. This is an excellent way to get rid of bingo wings!

5. Chest press

Grab some weights ladies! This is a similar movement to the press up but with added resistance to allow you to focus on strengthening your top half. It’s a must for anyone training whether beginner or advanced. Change it up by alternating between dumbbells, a resistance cardio machine and a barbell to maximise the benefits.

Workout from home

Don’t worry, we aren’t talking treadmills and bulky cardio equipment that will take up most of your living room and a lot of your pay check – we mean easy-to-store, budget-friendly, lightweight or small pieces, like a dumbbell, that can be used in a variety of ways to ramp up your routines. This might also include resistance bands, kettlebells, barbells, a skipping rope or a yoga mat, for example. Having this equipment at home will not only make you more motivated to work out when you’re there, but it will also make your exercise more fun. If you’re still struggling with motivation you can always enlist an online personal trainer.

Workout to music 

Being at home means that you get full control of the sound system and you don’t need to rely on your headphones or listen to whatever the gym happens to be playing that day. Use music to motivate you during your workout – as it’s your house, you can choose the playlist and the volume! A good beat can add huge amounts of energy to your routine and it will help to mentally take you to a more focused mindset; one that will help you to forget you are at home and make you think you’re sweating it out at the gym instead.

Create a workout space

It can be really difficult to take exercising in your own house seriously if you’re short on space and struggle to perform even basic movements without risking injury. An instant way to improve your home workouts is to find a place where you can easily make some room to move. That could be achieved by simply pushing the sofas back, moving the coffee table out of the way or by permanently creating a gym spot in a corner of the house. This will help you to be less distracted and stay focused on your training, without worrying about bumping into furniture.

Wear the right workout clothes

No matter how much you might want to, don’t try to exercise at home in your pyjamas! If you do this, your workout will reflect that same lazy or non-committal attitude and you won’t find yourself as motivated as you could be. Simply changing into your gym gear will raise your game and get you into the right frame of mind for training. It’s such a small thing that’s often overlooked, but it could really improve your routine – so save the PJs for a cosy night in on the sofa instead!

Keep things simple

Some people struggle to work out at home when they overcomplicate what they’re doing. It’s not a gym environment, so it doesn’t have to be all about kettlebell squats and barbell deadlifts. Bodyweight exercise requires no equipment and minimal space, meaning that they’re perfect for when you’re in your house and don’t have the facilities to do certain moves. Simple to implement, home workouts should include basic bodyweight exercises, such as squats, planks, lunges, bridges and leg raises. All of these are really effective if you’re looking to get lean and tone up!

Use your furniture

When working out indoors, many people miss the obvious and don’t make the most of the fact that they are indeed at home. Keep in mind that it offers lots of useful furniture and equipment for exercise that simply don’t exist at the gym. You could use the stairs for uphill runs or to mimic the step, a chair for low-seated squats, the edge of the sofa for tricep dips or the kitchen counter for standing push ups – all of these are great ways to make your routines really varied and enjoyable. Once you start to make the most of your home environment, the quality of your workouts will soar.

7 signs you should skip the gym

You can’t get too much of a good thing, right? Well, according to a PT, you absolutely can. Gym-goers are risking their health by “over exercising”, which is not only keeping them up at night, lowering their mood and making them ill, but is actually weakening their bodies. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 3 percent of gym members consider themselves “dependent” on exercise, so what are the signs to look out for when you get back from your workout? PT Jason Griggs reveals the telltale signs you need to cut back on the gym.

1. You’re drinking pint after pint of water

Drinking plenty of fluids during and after your workout is great, but if you can’t shake that thirst, then you might need to have a break for a few days. “If you are training every day, then your body is constantly breaking down muscle tissue,” says Jason. “This process naturally causes dehydration, therefore the body will crave large amounts of water. If you’re constantly thirsty, you may want to think about cutting down on your routine.”

2. When the post-gym buzz turns to blues

Regular exercise is a great way to release endorphins, which is why we often leave the gym feeling so good about ourselves. Because of this, you’d think the more workouts you cram into the week, the better your mood… but not exactly. Over-exercising can actually create a hormone imbalance, which in turn will cause mood swings and irritability.

3. You’re struggling to fall asleep

A gym session is a great way to tire yourself out, but as you exercise more and more, your body tries to keep you going. If you don’t know when to quit, then neither will your brain. The nervous system can go into overdrive, constantly providing you energy in the middle of the night, keeping you up. So if you’re struggling to fall asleep at night, or can’t seem to focus at work, maybe take a look at how much exercise you’re doing.

4. Loss of appetite 

One of the most important things to consider when you’re working out is keeping yourself fuelled up. This will become much harder if you find you don’t have an appetite. If you do a lot of exercise in the week but don’t have the stomach for your meals, then try cutting down the gym seshes until you’re back to your old self.

5. You can’t shake a cold

You may think constant exercise will only make you stronger, but you might be doing some serious damage to your immune system. Working your body too hard puts it in a constant state of recovery leaving it unable to fight off colds as it usually does. If you’re always finding yourself with a runny nose and sore throat, it might just be time to give your body a rest.

6. You have signs of burnout

Pushing yourself that little bit further can be great, but doing too much might cause your fitness to flatline or – at worst – decline. Sure, exercise is needed to make your body stronger, but only when it gets a chance to rest. As Jason puts it, “essentially, your body finds its own way to recover if you do not present it with one”. Between workouts, make sure you’re fully recovered before the next, or the results will just get worse.

7. It feels like a chore 

Perhaps the most obvious sign: if you really cannot be bothered to go to the gym, that might be your body’s way of begging for some rest. Of course, if you’re only working out casually, then that voice saying “don’t go!” is only normal. But if you’re usually a workout-fanatic, then such a lack of motivation is probably a sign you need to reign it in a bit.


Meet the writer
Liz Frost
content creator

Liz has 15 years' experience in women's lifestyle journalism and creative writing. Over the years, she's been stalked by paparazzi, pummeled by a Ukrainian judo champion, danced on ice like the stars and rubbed shoulders with her heart-throb... Discover more

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