The Ultimate Survival Guide For Joining The Gym In January

New to the gym? It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed or intimidated by stepping into a gym filled with experienced regulars (or even other newbies). Don’t worry—we’ve got strategies you can use to navigate a crowded gym so you can get the most out of your workout experience and reach your fitness goals.

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It’s January 1, and you’ve crafted this year’s list of resolutions—or shall we say intentions—and gleaming as a top priority is healthy movement. After a few meticulous discussions with your galpals and partner about the best local gyms, you’ve discovered “the one.” We all know a little group effort can offer a boost of morale and inspiration to stick to your goal of three sweaty hours per week. Everything seems to be coming together seamlessly in your favor except for one minor detail: How in the world do you dive into the hustle and bustle of New Year’s gymgoers? Trust us, you aren’t alone. Innumerable women struggle with the same overwhelming thought when they embark on a fresh fitness journey. A new gym can be intimidating enough without the enormous crowds that January tends to bring. But it doesn’t have to be—we’re here to help you find your groove.

Prepare for the “resolutioners.”

Every year, gym traffic tends to increase 40 percent during December and January. Whether the goal is to lose a few pesky pounds, increase strength and mobility, or simply offset the health risks discussed during a recent doctor’s visit, there is an inevitable upswing in memberships for those who are ready to kick-start their progress in the new year. As intimidating as it may seem to walk through the doors for the first time, we encourage you to keep a few things in mind. The crowds will die down. The Washington Post notes that despite the dramatic influx, attendance typically drops after a few short weeks. If you find the initial crowds intolerable, now is a great time to take advantage of the mantra “this too shall pass.” Repeat it a few times under your breath as you move from one piece of equipment to the next. As soon as you consciously wrap your mind around this temporary norm, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running. During the first week, take notice of when the gym seems to be busiest. If you’re trying to steer clear of the masses, a good rule of thumb is to avoid the after-work rush. Gym traffic tends to pick up speed by 5 p.m. and continue during the ensuing hours. If this is the case at your chosen gym, perhaps consider swinging in for an early morning workout or lunch hour sweat sesh. Play around with your schedule until you find a block of time that best suits your needs. Something important to remember is that your fellow gym attendees are also striving for improvement. Regardless of the specifics, you and your new peers are working toward a common goal. Find comfort in knowing that every single member, new and experienced, is actively immersing themselves in the pursuit of bettering themselves. When you appreciate the collective effort, you’re also less inclined to lose your patience with a fellow member who is quite possibly in the same shoes. With this, also try to allow yourself to let go of any urges to compare your journey to someone else’s or to shy away from the public eye. Rest assured, steady progress toward your personal goals doesn’t need to be hampered as a result of the crowds. There are plenty of ways to get in a killer workout and minimize the amount of time spent moseying through aisles of idle bodies, waiting to complete the next exercise on your “Why Every Woman Belongs In The Weight Room” list. Know what pieces of equipment you will need beforehand and tailor your workout to what’s available. If you skip from Exercise 1 to Exercise 3 before circling back to the previously occupied Exercise 2, that’s entirely acceptable. If the required piece of equipment seems to be perpetually off limits, simply find an alternative exercise that targets the same muscle groups. The exercise database on is one of our favorite resources. As a last resort, ditch the original objective and opt for your backup plan if it seems as though every single person has walked in the gym with the same muscle group in mind. We’ll discuss options for this below!

Mastering Gym Etiquette

Perhaps you’ve heard your friends or co-workers complain when someone blatantly disrespects a few of the gym’s unspoken rules. So let’s shed some light on what you can expect to encounter. The truth is, respecting proper gym etiquette takes nothing more than practicing common sense and courtesy. Keep your phone tucked away during your workout. This respects others’ time while also helping you focus on an intense training session. Remember, the gym is a sharing community. We can guarantee that someone is waiting to hop on the very piece of equipment you’re currently using. Wait a second—don’t rush off, woman! You deserve a decent amount of time (and space) to finish your exercises, but no dilly-dallying between sets. If you need to check a text message or change your music station, we simply suggest waiting until you’re between exercises. Always re-rack your weights as soon as you finish your exercises. This is done out of respect for the gym’s employees and your fellow members as well. Not surprisingly, the employees have quite a bit on their plate already. Their day-to-day duties need not include picking up after grown adults too. Further, an empty machine with weights neatly put away is a sign that the equipment is available for use. There are few things more annoying than a barbell or leg press machine loaded with two handfuls of plates and no one claiming ownership. Picture this: After a few minutes of wondering whether this hypothetical individual will return to their weights and an awkward conversation with a passerby in an attempt to uncover possible availability, you’re left to un-rack the plates and prepare for your own working sets. See how this may cause frustration? The next step in cleaning up after yourself is wiping down the equipment. As we mentioned, the gym is a sharing community. With that being said, nobody wants that to include a plethora of residual germs after your machine use. If there’s a chance your sweat has found a new home on a piece of equipment, grab a nearby wipe and bottle of disinfectant before moving onto your next exercise. Cardio equipment, benches, and machines all require cleaning, but feel free skip over the dumbbells and barbells. Now, although there will be times when fellow gymgoers finish their exercise without un-racking their weights, there will inevitably be an equal number of occasions when the piece of equipment is still in use. If you wait a minute or so and catch sight of someone hopping from one machine to the one you’re considering, they’re doing what’s called a superset—two exercises completed back-to-back without rest to serve as one combined set. Many times, someone will leave a water bottle, fitness journal, or piece of clothing near or on the equipment as a sign that it’s still being used. If this is the case and you’re itching to complete the respective exercise, don’t be afraid to approach your fellow member and ask how many sets they have left.

Spice up your routine with a change of scenery!

If you feel inclined to skip the crowds altogether, you still have several options. Fear not, your goal of several training sessions per week won’t be compromised. Many gyms offer daily group classes with their memberships. The benefits are plentiful, as you’ll soon understand that these classes can be a way to find an upbeat community of like-minded members, break through your monotonous routine, test out a few new modes of exercise, and power through a full workout without worrying about possible interruption. Common classes offered by most chain gyms are Zumba, cycling, boot camp, and Bodypump. Each of these ranges in intensity from class to class, offering workouts fit for everyone from January newbies to long-standing residents. Give one a go! A second option is to forget the gym and take your workout elsewhere. If you had been planning on a cardio session, bundle up and hit the streets for a run through the cityscape. If you’re feeling an urge to knock out a fat-burning HIIT session, find a local high school with an outdoor track. You can easily put together an impressive circuit with sprinting intervals, climbs along flights of stairs, and bodyweight exercises on the field.

Satisfy your thirst for knowledge.

Above all else, your health and safety should remain your top priorities. If you have questions concerning how to use pieces of equipment or how to perform specific exercises with proper technique, ask a personal trainer for help. Your gym will have plenty of employees with appropriate certifications available on a daily basis. If none are in sight, it’s time for a hunt! It’s okay to not have all the answers. No one is expecting you to walk in the gym with perfect knowledge of how, why, and when everything works. Use your workouts as an opportunity to grow! The personal trainer will be able to guide you through the exercises and offer individualized cues to remember the next time you’re attempting to tackle the given movement. If you’re unable to seek help and unsure of how to perform the exercises designated for that piece of equipment (evenly slightly), we have one simple rule to follow: Don’t use it. Your risk for injury is exceedingly high should you choose to continue. Go home, sift through enough research to provide a stable foundation, and try out the new machine another day. (And keep it light and unweighted until you fully master the movement!)

Supplementing the Sweating

It’s important to remember that attaining most health or fitness goals will largely be influenced by proper diet. Some even argue that an individual’s nutrition has a greater effect on their wellness than their exercise level. As you begin your new journey, do your best to combine a challenging workout regimen with adequate nourishment. Your new motto? You need to nourish to flourish. This will largely mean sticking to a wholesome, nutrient-dense approach. Colorful vegetables, antioxidant-rich berries, complex carbohydrates, omega-3–rich fatty acids, and quality protein sources should begin to make up the bulk of your grocery list. If you’re looking for additional guidelines, we have a handful of suggestions ranging from tracking macronutrients to details on pre- and post-workout meals. We believe in you, and now you must do the same. Let’s own our process, celebrate our newbie status (not everyone shares your drive!), and get to work.

Lauren Bondi
Lauren is your average (not-so-average) multipotentialite with a drive for anything authentic. Her passion for elevating the lives of others has steered her toward serving up lessons on self-love and wholesome living. Mixing this fire with a desire to understand the science behind her passions, we have a woman who’s comfortable nerding out to explain why love is so crucial to our existence as human beings and why superfoods are truly pretty super. As she gears up to start pursuing her doctoral degree in clinical psychology, she—of course—is happily juggling a few more things. She’s one of our contributing writers whose free spirit calls her to some time spent blogging, personal training, nutrition counseling, and relentlessly light-working. Boxes? Those don’t exist with this one.

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