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No More Gym Intimidation

Fitness centers work to help beginners feel at ease.

Redefining the Market continued...

Still not convinced? Experts say the benefits of going to a gym can far outweigh the initial discomfort.

At a good gym, you will get guidance about the proper way to exercise to prevent injury. You'll also get a comprehensive program -- combining strength training, aerobics, and stretching -- for maximum health and fitness benefits. And you may see quicker progress toward your goals.

"One thing they teach people is the importance of resistance training," says Bryant. "We know it helps preserve and increase lean muscle mass, so you become a better calorie burner. People who are overweight will see quick success."

The gym is also a great place to meet people who will support you. Staff and fellow exercisers can lend motivation and encouragement that you won't get working out alone at home with an exercise video or treadmill.

Experts say that you should choose a gym and exercise programs based on your goals, motivation, and needs. What may work for your spouse or best friend isn't necessarily for you.

Whatever gym you join, here are some tips for achieving workout success:

  • Ease into it. "If you haven't exercised for 25 years, and you think you'll just walk into a gym and be successful, you're setting yourself up for failure," says Sally White, PhD, a professor and dean at Lehigh University who researches motivation. "Before going to the gym, commit to 20 minutes of walking each day with a group or in a mall. That will increase your cardiovascular capacity, so when you go into the gym you'll feel you can use the treadmill."
  • Watch videos. Before going to the gym, get familiar with exercise movements, language, and gym culture by watching videos.
  • Try out several gyms, and then select one that matches your needs. Most gyms offer trial programs. "A quality facility will take you through a good orientation," says Bryant. "They should also find out about your health and activity history, any underlying problems, your likes and dislikes, and prior experiences with physical activity. Then they can assist you in meeting your goals."
  • Hire a personal trainer. Get off to a good start by working for the first month or so with a personal trainer, certified by a professional organization such as the American Council on Exercise. Trainers charge from $35 to $50 an hour, but if a trainer helps you make this important lifestyle change, it's worth it. If you need continued support, a less costly option is an online trainer.
  • Reward yourself. It can be hard to motivate yourself to get to the gym. White advises setting a realistic initial goal -- maybe going to the gym three times a week for three weeks, and four times the fourth week. "Reward yourself for meeting your goal each week, and if you do an extra day, give yourself something extra."
  • Commit to 30 days, then 6 months. "If you will commit to 30 days of exercise, you'll experience significant benefits in how you feel and function," says Bryant. "Activities of daily living will become easier to perform, and you'll have more energy. To cement the new habit, commit to six months."
  • Get and give support. Hit a plateau? Got a gripe about a gym policy? Have a great tip for strengthening abs? Get a gym "buddy" -- be it a friend, co-worker, spouse, or new acquaintance from the fitness center -- to share your setbacks and successes with. Or visit the Weight Loss Clinic's Exercise and Fitness message board to discuss the issues and get expert advice. The camaraderie can help you over the rough spots and reinforce your new lifestyle.


Reviewed on July 21, 2006

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