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Make the Most of Your Gym Time

Don't be afraid to join classes or ask for help

You’ve decided to get fit, and you’re ready to exercise. Good for you! But if you’re joining a gym for the first time, you may be asking yourself: “Now what do I do? Should I just copy what other people are doing on all these machines? How many hours do I need to be here to get fit? Help!”

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According to Scott Jackson, a Nevada City, Calif., personal trainer and owner of a fitness center, the first step is to create a plan. The second step is to stick to that plan. Many people race out of the gate and devote too much time and energy to exercise in the beginning — so much so that they soon burn out and quit, Scott says. Having a sustainable plan improves your odds of succeeding.
man lifting weights at gym

Al Bello/Getty Images

Having a sustainable exercise plan improves your odds of succeeding.

Next, based on your realistic, healthy and sustainable exercise plan, establish a weekly weight-loss goal. One to two pounds per week is usually safe.

While a long-range goal of being physically active each day is ideal, you'll have a better chance for success if you set attainable goals. Try to accumulate a total of at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week. Gyms aren't for everyone but they do help you consolidate your exercise: Once you're in there, it's easy to justify putting in a consistent 30 to 60 minutes of exercise, then moving on with your day. The same cannot be said for watching an aerobics DVD at home, where you're more likely to get distracted and hit the "pause" button.

Variety is also key. You'll get fit faster if you "mix it up," Scott says. Try different types of aerobic activities and classes.

While working out aerobically, use the “talk test” to check your intensity level. Even when working moderately hard, you should be able to maintain a conversation without gasping for air.

And Scott adds: “Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Drink lots of water every day.”

If the gym has a weight-room orientation tour, take it before you start lifting. Instructors will show you how to safely navigate the machines and outline a basic program. At a minimum, read the directions on the exercise machines. If you have health conditions that limit your activity — such as a compromised back or joints, or an autoimmune disease — you’ll need to work with an experienced personal trainer to learn how to use the machines safely.

Practice good gym etiquette. Don’t rest on the equipment in between sets, let others do sets in between yours, wipe down equipment after you use it and always put your weights back on the racks.

Don’t let people bully you — regardless of fitness level, you are all paying clients — and try to make your gym visits fun. That way you’ll be excited to keep coming back, and that will help keep you on the road to better fitness.

Carole Carson, author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, serves as the coach for the AARP Fat to Fit online community.

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