So You Joined the Gym… Now What? A Guide to Getting Started.

There’s a great moment at the end of Finding Nemo where the escaped aquarium fish are in plastic bags floating in the big blue sea. “Now what?” one of them asks, once they realized that getting out of their tank was only their first step towards freedom.

You might feel the same way when you walk into your WFCC club after joining (even if you’ve come along to the free orientation session we offer to all new members). You’ve committed to growing healthier. You’ve gotten yourself in the door. But now you are faced with a sea of equipment, and each machine seems more complicated than the last.

Take a deep breath. Here’s a quick guide to figuring out “now what?”

The recumbent bike might be the best starting place for an absolute beginner. It functions like the upright bike you probably rode as a kid, but won’t put as much stress on your knees and pelvis.

When you sit, slip your feet into the straps on the pedals. Adjust the seat so that your knees are slightly bent at their greatest extension. Your hips, ankles and knees should stay in the same plane as you extend your leg. Don’t collapse into yourself as you pedal; keep your core engaged to maximize your workout.

Elliptical trainers may look too smooth and easy to provide a good workout, but they are ideal for you if you are looking to minimize impact on your joints. They combine the movements of a bike, stair stepper and ski machine: your feet trace out an ellipse, hence the name.

Most elliptical machines won’t come to life until you step on and start moving a little bit. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the controls for the angle of the footbed and the rate of resistance. You can pick a preset program or design your own as you go. Put your hands on the handles to increase your heart rate. Remember that you are the one who should be doing the work. Don’t just let your arms come along for the ride; they need to actively work, too.

Usually parked next to the elliptical trainers are the stair steppers or stairclimbers. While these machines help build aerobic endurance, they also do a great job of helping to tone your butt and thighs, if you do it right. Once you’ve stepped onto the machine, make sure your entire foot is on each step. Start at the lowest resistance and adjust it until you have to push each step down. The temptation is to lean onto the control console as the workout grows more challenging. Resist this impulse. Rest just your fingertips on the handrails. Keep your weight over your feet and use your lower body as much as you can.

Finally, the most challenging machine might be the treadmill, if only because learning to balance while your feet are moving but the rest of the room is stationary takes a little time. When you step on the treadmill, take a minute to familiarize yourself with the controls, paying particular attention to the “stop” button, which will instantly stop the belt. Start at a walking pace and keep your eyes ahead of you rather than looking at the control panel. Ramp the pace up as you feel comfortable.

As with the stair stepper, avoid leaning onto the handrails unless you like risking injury and not burning as many calories as you can in the same amount of time. When you step off of the treadmill, you might feel a little disoriented. This is normal and should pass quickly.

(If you’re interested in going a little bit further with your treadmill workouts, we’ve also got a detailed guide to using it! Read it here: Treading Rightly: The Top 10 Best – and Worst – Ways to Use a Treadmill.)