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Photos courtesy of KayCie Gravelle and Håkan Dahlström (cc)

You’re ready. You’ve gotten yourself motivated and you’re in your scratchy polyester gym shorts, but you have no idea where to begin. You step into a gym full of sweaty, buff hotties and endless rows of equipment: machines, mats, weights, and more. It can be quite intimidating when you’re a beginner, but worry not, these tips will set you on the right track or treadmill.

Let’s talk cardio


Many people tend to either skip cardio or do exclusively cardio, and, quite frankly, both are terrible habits. Even if your goal is to bulk up, cardio is essential to increasing your stamina, endurance, and overall health. Your body cannot go from resting to lifting heavy objects easily, so even light cardio is needed.

For those with the goal of fat loss, cardio is a must. If we want to get scientific, the fact is during weight training, your body tends to use glycogen as energy, not fat. This is because when your muscles are in use, the blood vessels around them are constricting and fat is inaccessible. For those with serious goals, breaking up the days you do weights and cardio will give you maximum results because you can go harder on each, since you’re not splitting your energy between the two. You can do a full hour on cardio days and do a quick 15 or 30 minutes on weight days.

Cardio machines can vary; bikes are great for the legs, treadmills or just plain running is more of a full body exercise (you’ll feel it in your core), and the elliptical is a great lower leg and butt exerciser. You may find you prefer one type of machine and hate another; however, I always recommend switching it up. Working on one machine not only gets boring after a while, but you’re also missing out on a great chance to improve other muscles in your body.

You don’t always have to rely on machines; there’s jump rope, burpees, and many other exercises you can do to warm up and get your cardio up. I personally like machines because you can track the distance you’ve covered and calories you’ve burnt, which really helps in setting goals for yourself.

 On to weight training

Håkan Dahlström


Commonly referred to as “lifting,” weight training is a tricky subject.

Firstly, even if you don’t want to bulk up, do not fear the weights. You will only bulk up if that is your goal and you set out to do so.

It works like this: As you use cardio to burn off fat, weight training creates muscle to replace that fat. The kicker? Muscles burn calories even while dormant; you can literally burn calories while sitting and watching TV. The more muscle you get, the more dormant calories you can burn.

Machines are great for beginners because it’s easier to have the correct form, since there are pictures and instructions on all the machines to show you how to use them and whatwhat muscle groups they target. If you’re ever unsure of how to use a machine, don’t be scared to ask someone who works at the gym.

If you want to move onto free weights—which have many benefits like being better for your joints and better at truly targeting the muscles—it is essential that you research the proper form. You see those mirrors all over the gym walls? Yeah, they exist for a reason: to make sure you’re lifting with proper form.

Form can be explained as lifting at the proper angles and directions. If you do not have proper form, you may not successfully work the muscle and thus won’t improve. It’s also extremely bad for your joints and bones to be lifting incorrectly. Improper form can cause serious damage, so check yourself before you wreck yourself (literally). This is why having a gym-buddy is a great thing; they can check your form and help spot you if you decide to do any sort of bench press. A spotter’s job is essentially to help you lift the weight back up to maximum height at the end of your exercise and ensure you don’t hurt yourself in the process.

Now you know the basics. Once you find what works for your body and goals, you can hit the gym with confidence. Make sure to pencil in some cardio and tear into those bicep curls.

[styled_box title=”Marie Ottenbrite” color=”green”][frame_left src=”” href=””][/frame_left]Marie loves memes and online video games. When she’s not lifting she spends her time discussing technique with her cousin/personal trainer, having deep intellectual scientific debates wither herself, and going on foodie adventures with her roommate. 

Try not to bring up the topics of Virology or, “the beauty of the English language” around her; she may never shut up.