First time at the gym – a personal trainer’s tips


4 minutes

18 February 2022

A happy woman stretching at the gym after exercise

A guide to getting started on a new fitness journey, with tips from a Goodlife personal trainer.

The gym can be a fantastic place to work towards your health goals and experience the benefits of exercise.

But joining any new community can sometimes feel intimidating. What should you wear? How do you know what to do? And what are all those weird ropes and pulleys?

To help you get started at the gym, we talked to Laura Davie, a Personal Training Manager at Goodlife Health Clubs, for some expert advice.

In this article

Prepare your mindset

Everyone at the gym was a beginner once, and taking the first step is something to be proud of.

“It is absolutely normal to feel intimidated about going to the gym – the majority of people feel or have felt exactly the same way,” Davie says.

If you’re feeling nervous, try to stay focused on what you want to achieve and how you’ll benefit from your new workout routine.

“Remember you are not alone and there are staff members and fitness professionals there to help you.”

What to wear and bring

“You don’t need anything fancy to get started, but make sure you’re ready for your workout,” Davie says.

A few essentials you should have are:

  • Clothes you can comfortably move in. Think stretchy and breathable – leggings, track pants, gym shorts, t shirts and singlets. (Tip: A good sports bra, if you need one, can make the world of difference.)
  • Runners/sports trainers. Closed-toed shoes are essential. Your shoes don’t have to be fancy, but they should feel supportive and comfortable.  
  • A water bottle to stay hydrated.
  • A small towel to wipe down sweat. This is good gym etiquette, and many gyms have a ‘no towel, no train’ policy. You may also be able to hire a towel from the front desk if you forget.
  • A face mask. In the new COVID-normal, always have a mask with you and follow the current rules or advice.

It’s a good idea to ask beforehand about the locker situation. Some gyms will have lockers you can secure with a code or your gym access swipe, while at others you may need to bring your own lock.

Get your bearings

Most gyms will offer you an introductory session to show you around and explain all the different equipment and facilities available.

“It’s a great idea to take up this introductory session if one is offered, then come back regularly in your first couple of weeks so you remember what you’ve been shown,” Davie says.

“Even if you are experienced, some machines differ club to club, so it's always good to have a refresher.”

Know your gym etiquette

Like in lots of new spaces, it can take some time to get to know the ‘unwritten rules’ of the gym community.

A few good tips include:

  • Wipe down equipment after using it. Use your towel, or antibacterial wipes or spray if the gym provides it.
  • Put everything back in its place. Keeping the gym tidy makes it easier for everyone. 
  • Don’t go to the gym if you’re sick. Particularly in COVID-times, we all want to reduce the spread of germs.  
  • Sharing is caring, especially when it’s busy. Try not to occupy too many pieces of equipment at once and limit your time on popular machines if people are waiting.

Remember, if you’re not sure about something, you can always ask a staff member (or a friendly fellow gym member) – they should be happy to help you! 

What should you actually do at the gym?

When you’re new to the gym, it’s a good idea to start simple. Davie suggests trying out things like:

  • Cardio machines like the treadmill or exercise bike.
  • Pin-loaded weight machines like the seated leg press, chest press or lat pulldown (these usually have instructions for use on the machines themselves).
  • Bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups and crunches.

“These can be a brilliant way to get started, as they’re safer options that can help reduce risk of injury when new to the gym,” Davie says.

Group fitness classes can be another great option. The group energy is often motivating, and you’ll get some good guidance that helps build your exercise knowledge and confidence.

If it’s in your budget, a few sessions with a personal trainer can be an excellent way to learn the ropes, with personalised advice and a workout plan tailored to your unique goals and needs.

Rest and recover

It takes time to build up strength and fitness – so don’t feel pressured to push yourself too hard, too soon.

It’s always important to listen to your body and give yourself proper rest and recovery when you need it.1

“Make sure you refuel and rehydrate, take some time to warm up and cool down, and prioritise getting a good night’s sleep,” Davie advises. 

A bit of stiffness and soreness after exercise is normal, but if anything doesn’t feel right, seek advice from a health professional. 1

Keep going

Congratulations, you’ve survived your first gym visit! Now the challenge is to keep at it and find routines that work for you.  

“You've done the hard part by signing up, now it is time to make the most out of it,” Davie says. “Don't be afraid to ask for help and go for it!”

Save on Goodlife memberships with HBF Member Perks

HBF Health members can access special offers and discounts, including at Goodlife Health Clubs.

Visit HBF Member Perks to see current offers. (T&Cs apply)

How can health insurance help with fitness?

HBF extras cover can pay benefits towards a few services that may help support your fitness journey, such as:

  • Physiotherapy – to help treat aches and pains, mobility issues, injuries and other physical issues.
  • Remedial massage – to help you rest up and recover from aches and pains, injuries and illness.
  • Nutrition and dietetics – for healthy eating advice to support your exercise goals and overall wellbeing.
  • Exercise physiology – to help manage, treat or prevent chronic illness or injury through exercise.

If you’re an HBF member, you can check what you're covered for by logging on to myHBF or calling us on 133 423.

Physio cover to keep you moving

With great benefits for physiotherapy, HBF extras can help support your wellbeing.

Find out more


  1. 1Better Health Channel – Exercise safety


This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.