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Getting Started at the Gym

Making the gym a first step to fitness

Ready to commit to fitness? Joining a gym could be a first step toward a healthier lifestyle. If you’re serious about getting in shape, there are several practical reasons to consider joining a gym. Fitness centers typically have treadmills, stationary bikes, dumbbells, and numerous other types of exercise equipment, which means you can try out different equipment without investing in your own. And that equipment takes up space, which may be hard to find in your own home. A gym can also be a mental oasis, coming without the distractions of home – the ringing phone or list of chores – which may make it easier to complete a full exercise routine.

But those aren’t the only reasons fitness clubs may be a good place to get started getting more fit. “The best gyms also offer exciting group exercise classes and one-on-one fitness consultations that may help you stay motivated, informed, and inspired,” says Monica Vazquez, CPT, CES, LWMC, a master trainer at New York Sports Clubs.

Shopping around for a gym

When you start looking for a gym or fitness center, some key things to consider are location, amenities, offerings, and cost. To narrow down your search, ask these questions:

  • How close is the club to your home or office?
  • If you have children, is in-house childcare available?
  • What types of classes are offered, and does the center offer them at times that work with your schedule?
  • If you want to swim, does the gym have a pool?
  • Are staff members – both personal trainers and group fitness instructors – trained to work with people living with diabetes?
  • What is the cost of membership, and are any perks included?

“Always visit a center before joining,” says Vazquez, “Ask to survey the locker rooms, group fitness studios, and weight and cardio portions of the gyms, and ask any questions you have about policies and training. Make sure you like the environment – from clientele to music to cleanliness. Feeling good about your gym will help ensure you keep going.”  Some centers will even offer you a free day or week pass to test out the gym – take advantage of the offer!

Once you find a fitness center you’re interested in, ask about the amenities that are available with membership. Monthly rates can vary widely, ranging from $19 to $100 or more, and are often pre-set, but the initiation fee may be negotiable. Fitness centers often run discounted rates or waive initiation fees at different times during the year, so keep your eyes peeled for the best deal. Also, check with your benefits department at work, as some companies offer a fitness club benefit. Finally, check online group discount sites, such as Groupon1 or LivingSocial2, that may offer discounted packages to a fitness center in your area. Interested in personal training or a fitness consultation? Now’s the time to ask for a free session or a discounted rate.

Before getting started

It’s tempting to jump into a new exercise program full-force, particularly when you have all the classes and equipment you could want at your fingertips. But new exercisers should check with a doctor before their first workout. “Your doctor may want to schedule an exercise stress test,” says Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD, professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University, and author of The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan. If you haven’t exercised in a while, your physician will probably recommend you start with moderate activity and work up to more vigorous workouts. This is also the time to discuss any diabetes-specific concerns you might have, such as exercises to avoid or recommended types of footwear.

Getting started

To make it easy to use the gym, keep a bag of workout essentials wherever it’s most convenient, such as your car or desk drawer. This way, you never have the excuse of having forgotten your gym gear. Then, “if you don’t know what you want to do at the gym or feel nervous about working out on your own, start with group classes,” suggests Vazquez. “Since the schedule is set all you have to do is show up and get moving!”

Classes can feature cardio workouts (such as dance or aerobics), strength work (think Pilates or weight training), or a mix of the two. Ask a staff member for suggestions if you’re unsure which classes are best for beginners. If your focus is burning calories and weight loss, you might want to try cardio; if you’re more interested in building strength, choose a workout that includes weights. “Arrive early to classes so you have ample time to discuss any health concerns or questions with the instructor,” suggests Vazquez.

If you’d rather work out on your own, consider scheduling an appointment with a personal trainer to help you create a thirty- or sixty-minute exercise routine you can follow on your own. Some exercisers meet with a trainer each time they visit a gym. However, working with a trainer a little less often – weekly, monthly, or just every once in a while to update your routine – can help you learn new moves, track your progress, and become more comfortable with all of the tools in the gym.

To stay motivated, pencil in specific classes you’d like to take or times you plan to visit the gym. Setting a specific time in your calendar for exercise will really help you make the most of a gym membership. Joining with a friend or finding fitness buddies at the club may also help you stay inspired: you might be less likely to skip a workout when someone is there waiting for you! But most importantly in my mind, have fun! Find the class, exercise, or coach that helps keep you motivated to come back for more.

For more articles to help reach your fitness goals, check out the Getting Started exercise series in The DX archive.

Jessica Cassity is a health reporter for SELF, Fitness, and Shape magazines, and the author of Better Each Day: 365 Expert Tips for a Healthier, Happier You. She is a Portland-based Pilates and yoga teacher and blogs at Cassity is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates

1Groupon is a trademark of Groupon, Inc.

2LivingSocial is a registered trademark.

© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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