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June 26, 2020 10 min read

When you are starting to workout at the gym for the first time it can be a little intimidating. You walk into a space dominated by fitness junkies and bodybuilders using equipment that looks totally foreign. Still, despite their impressive physiques, the reality is that those buff builders and junkies started in the same place you are. There was a time when they walked into a gym somewhere and didn’t know where to begin or even how to use the equipment. For most people starting out, the biggest hurdle is just diving in. This guide will help you do just that. 

Fitness is Personal 

A gym workout routine can be as unique as you are and usually that is what you want. Different people have different goals in the gym and no two bodies are the same. Some people want to lose weight and get toned while others want to bulk up into large heavy lifting bodybuilders. You also have to keep in mind that genetics, age, and personal health play a large role in how your body will respond to a workout. Some people gain muscle quickly, others struggle to even shed a pound from their wastes, and others struggle to gain a pound. 

As a baseline, functional fitness is a goal that everyone can and should pursue. You should be able to dash up a couple of flights of stairs or carry your heavy luggage through an airport without being totally winded. Beyond that, fitness becomes what you want it to. Whether weight loss, strength training, or something else is your goal there is a way to get there that is right for you. 

Working out at a gym isn’t the only way to reach your goals either. Some people make amazing progress with bodyweight exercises alone, some rely on practices such as Yoga, and others simply set up a small gym at home with free weights. Because fitness is so personal that means there are no totally right or wrong answers on how to go about it.

It is important to start with a clear fitness goal in mind though so you have something to aim towards. That will also help you decide what kind of workout program you need to be doing. With this article, we will go over a great generalized full-body workout to get you started but as you advance you will want to change the regimen to fit your needs. 

A man working out in a gym.

Some Fitness Basics 

You might be wondering when we are going to get to the gym machine workout routine but fitness is more than just going through the motions at the gym. Many articles about gym routines cut to the chase and list a simple ten-step exercise routine to get you started. If you are just starting out that isn’t enough. Too many people dive headfirst into the gym without understanding how personal fitness is or what it really takes to achieve certain goals. These people start with a ton of energy and then burn out two weeks in. 

One of the most important parts about fitness that many gym routine articles miss is that what you eat, or don’t eat, is part of your workout routine. The keyword here is routine, this is something you regularly do. A gym workout routine actually begins before you go to the gym and continues after you leave. The lifestyle you keep and the types and quantity of food you consume will have a huge impact on the results you get from the gym. 

If you want to lose weight and get more toned that usually means you will need a better balance between the calories you burn and the calories you take in. Healthy, well-balanced meals with fruits, vegetables, adequate-protein, and not too many carbs are essential. You don’t necessarily need to count your calories but you should generally be burning off more than you consume. Exercises like running, rowing, biking, and swimming can really help burn off calories.  

To gain weight and muscle your approach becomes the opposite. You basically need to take in more high-quality healthy calories than you burn off. This doesn’t mean you can just scarf down pizza and soda every day to up your calorie count though, remember to keep it healthy. Too many bad calories and not enough exercise will just leave you fatter and unhealthier than you were before. To gain muscle you still need cardio but weight lifting also becomes especially important to help you reach your goals.           

Just like healthy food is part of your gym routine so is healthy drinking. Water should become your new best friend if it wasn’t already. Water is important before, during, and after your workout. Soda, sugary fruit drinks, and alcohol work against you and offer empty calories and tons of carbs. That isn’t to say you can’t ever have a soda or a beer again, just be conscientious of how much you consume and what it is doing to your body. 

Habit Change is Hard  

Changing your habits is a challenging process and it takes time. So many people make New Years’ resolutions to become healthier and more fit. They stop drinking alcohol, stop eating junk food, start eating kale salads and start going to the gym three days a week. Within a month these folks are usually tired, annoyed, and disillusioned with the fitness process. That’s because humans only have a certain amount of will power and we can only make so many changes at one time before it becomes too much. 

All you need to keep in mind is this often quoted maxim, strive for progress, not perfection. Even the fittest athletes and biggest bodybuilders in the world have days where they down half a pizza and a couple of sodas. What would life be without pizza anyway? As a beginner in the gym, all you have to do is show up and try. Create a simple routine for yourself and chip away at it day by day. Slowly, you can eat better, drink better, and feel better. Habit change is hard so take your time. 

Always Warm-Up 

This is where your workout routine begins. You should always start with some kind of a warm-up before diving into the heavy lifting of the workout. A warm-up literally warms up your muscles and gets blood flowing to them. It is important to prime your muscles and get your joints moving in a warm-up because it reduces your chance for injury and also makes you a little stronger during your workout.

A warm-up also plays an important role in getting your heart rate up in a controlled and healthy manner. This first stage of your workout should work your whole body without overdoing it. The limit is different for everyone but the end of your warm-up should leave you energized and ready to go. If your muscles feel totally exhausted or you are out of breath then you took your warm-up too far.

Great warm-up exercises include jumping jacks, push-ups, and a light run on the treadmill. You can supplement these with arm circles, squats, lunges, or anything else that takes your muscles and joints through a full range of motion. Motion is what’s important in the warm-up. Do not do any static stretching before your workout. This includes any stretch where you hold yourself in a single position for a time, that lack of motion is called being static. 

That is not good for you before a workout. Static stretching should be saved for after the workout, that’s when it is very beneficial. Along with your active and dynamic warm-up make sure you drink plenty of water. For future workouts, you should plan your warm-up ahead of time. A good warm-up will work your whole body but can be tailored to focus on the body parts you will be exercising the most. 

The Workout 

Many people divide their workouts between the upper body and the lower body. One day is all about the upper body, then they take a rest day, and the following workout is all about the legs and so on. When you are just starting out you can adopt this style if you want but, since the intensity of the workout won’t be as high at the beginning, you can do a full-body workout in one session. 

Don’t overdo it at the start. Plan for a nice 30-45 minute workout twice a week and then build from there as needed. Make sure you leave a day or two between workout sessions. Despite what you might see in some intense workout routines it is very important to have full recovery days. Workout days are when you tear the muscle apart, recovery days are when the muscle builds back up. 

Start on the Treadmill 

Unless you have a very high metabolism we all need a little bit of fat-burning cardio. Even if you are trying to gain weight and build muscle, spending 10-20 minutes on the treadmill will help burn off fat and keep you toned instead of flabby. Start at a brisk walk and set the treadmill at a slight incline. This will work your muscles a little bit more. 

If you aren’t comfortable with the treadmill or your balance is bad then start slow and use the safety clip which shuts off the treadmill should you slip. As you gain endurance, strength, and balance, you can increase your speed and the incline of the treadmill. Don’t go wild with it though, remember, this is just the start of the workout. 

Go for a Pulling Exercise 

Between your warm-up and time on the treadmill, you’ll be more than ready to move some weight. One of the tricks functionally fit people keep in mind when exercising is they remember the importance of balance. For every pushing exercise they do, like push-ups, they counter it with a pulling exercise. It’s good to start with a pulling exercise for your upper body too because these pulling muscles can get tired pretty quickly. 

One great pulling exercise is the lat pulldown machine. This is the machine where you are seated and pull a bar down from above your head to in front of your chest. You will have to set the weight for this machine so pick something you can properly move for several reps. Two sets of 8-12 reps is usually a good place to begin. These should be well controlled smooth reps done with proper form though. 

If you have to jerk the weight down or can’t bring it all the way down to your chest then the weight is too heavy. Good form with this machine means your chest is out, your back is straight, and your spine is naturally curved (neutral). There will be knee pads to help hold your legs down so make sure those are set where you like them. With everything aligned this exercise will do wonders for your back and arms. 

Work the Legs

For many gym-goers their workout includes an often dreaded “leg day” which is all about making painful progress in the lower body. Some bodybuilder types, unfortunately, don’t put enough effort into their leg day and it is noticeable. You might even see these people at your gym. Their upper body is very well developed while their legs look like two pencils holding them up. 

The importance of building up your leg strength can not be overstated. This is your base and is the source of much of your lifting power. If you have ever tried carrying a sofa up a flight of stairs with weak legs then you know how important it is to take time to build them. Leg muscles can be a real chore to develop though. As one of the largest muscle groups in the body, it sometimes takes a lot of weight and focus to see results. 

Your beginner full-body workout can work the legs by using two machines. Start with the leg press machine and the stair climber. With the leg press machine set the seat so you are comfortable and start with weight a little below your own body weight. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart on the press and your knees should be at a little less than a 90-degree angle. While maintaining control push from your heels until your legs are straight but make sure you do not lock your knees. 

Complete two sets of 12 reps with a 10-second rest in between and you’ll be good to go. From there you can go straight to the stair climber for about five minutes. This machine simulates walking up a flight of stairs. All you have to do is start the machine and pick a speed that works for you. Between this and the leg press, you will build strong and toned legs. 

Add a Pushing Exercise 

This workout has progressed from the warm-up to the treadmill to a pulling exercise and then a lower body workout. You might be feeling the effects of all this effort at this point. The workout isn’t complete though until you balance that pulling exercise with a pushing exercise. Your upper body should have recovered somewhat from the lat pulldown machine while you were focused on the leg press and stair climber. 

Getting into the gym you might be eager to use the bench press but you shouldn’t rush it. While some experienced lifters make it look easy the bench press can actually be dangerous. If there aren’t any protections it is easy for a new lifter to add too much weight, get tired, lower the weight onto their chest, and not be able to pick it back up again. This is why you should always lift with a partner and only do so when you have developed enough strength for it. 

An excellent beginner pushing exercise can be done on the chest press machine. This machine will prepare your muscles for the reps you will eventually be doing on the bench. With the chest press machine, you just have to set the seat so you are comfortable and pick a weight you can comfortably move without having to break proper form. From the seated position you grab the handles and push away from your chest until your arms are straight. Do not lock your elbows. Do two sets of 12 reps with a 10-second rest in between. 

A girl stretching in a gym.

Cool Down With a Stretch 

At this point, you are almost done with the workout. Make sure to drink water now and throughout the exercises. You need to stay hydrated. Once finished with the core workout you should always cool down with some good static stretches. This will help the muscles heal after the beating you put them through and will also make you feel better and more prepared for your next workout. 

Keep Building 

With that last rep and those final stretches, you will have completed your simple gym machine workout routine. This simple workout will elevate your heart rate and target almost every major muscle group in your body. The warm-up primes your muscles for exercise, the treadmill elevates your heart rate and burns fat, the pulling exercises work muscles of the arm and back, the leg press and stair climber target the legs, and the final pushing exercise balances out the upper body muscle development you started with the lat pulldown. 

This workout routine is just the beginning though. Your first two weeks of exercise will leave you sore and uncomfortable but if you push through it your body will slowly change and evolve. Your workouts will have to evolve with it. More sets, more reps, more weight, and longer workouts balanced by improved eating and drinking habits will help you achieve and then surpass any goal you have set for yourself. Keep building and good luck!