How To Get Back To The Gym

If you're anything like us, it's been a long time since you've been to the gym. Like, embarrassingly long. Like, so long you're not even quite sure you'll be allowed back in.
Well, this being resolution season, we know many of you have made promises to get reacquainted with that big sweaty box with all the plastic machines and metal things inside. But, as we all know too well, theory and practice are totally different. No matter our intentions, many of us have to get over some serious gymtimidation to make the most of our workout (and to go back and do it again. And again.)
In that spirit, we've come up with a sort of cheat sheet for getting back to the gym. Compiled along with the expert advice of Equinox pro-trainer Stephanie Irvin, these tips should help to ease the transition and get you back in fighting shape in no time. You never know — this could be the year that your resolution sticks.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Make a plan.

On the first day back, it's important to go into your workout with a solid set of objectives and a routine in mind. This helps prevent you from getting overwhelmed by the vast array of options (not to mention sights, sounds, and smells) that can make going to the gym so intimidating. Even better, it forces you to think about what you really want to accomplish. Irvin says, "Don’t wander aimlessly; you just look lost. Think about what you want to do and why you’re there, and plan around the goals you set for yourself."

But, while it may be tempting to go all-in on that resolution, Irvin recommends a bit of realism. "When you have a goal, the most important thing is for it to be attainable," she says. "Otherwise, you're setting yourself up for failure."
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Do your cardio first.

We know — we hate it, too. Especially if it's been a while since you last interacted with an elliptical machine, make sure to hit the cardio zone first thing. Even if your goal is not necessarily weight loss, it's super important to get that heart rate up and to do it regularly. Increasing your overall cardiovascular fitness will make future workouts, whether cardio, strength training, or yoga, more painless — and productive.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Try different classes — and don't get discouraged.

The gym isn't just for treadmill fiends anymore. The list of classes offered by many neighborhood gyms gets longer and longer every year — from spin to pilates to striptease aerobics.

We recommend trying as many as you can to tackle the inevitable boredom that comes from hitting the gym with the same routine day after day. But, it's important to ease yourself into it. "Especially if it's been a while, people can get discouraged, and leave in the middle of a class — or just never go back," Irvin says. "Ease yourself into it, and know what you're getting into."
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Maximize your workout

One of the things we hate most about the gym? It requires a lot of time out of our already crazy-hectic schedules. But, depending on your goals, certain habits can help you accomplish more — in less time.

Our favorite pro tip? Muscle burns way more calories than body fat. Focus on your legs — they're the largest muscle group in your body by far and thus have more potential to positively impact your metabolism. A little time on the leg press can go a long way toward making that elliptical session more productive (not to mention the wonders it can do for your butt).
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Learn to multitask.

One thing at a time? Ain't nobody got time for that — at least, not at the gym. While many of us tend to gravitate toward exercises that work only one muscle group, then switch their focus to other muscle groups for a full-body workout, combining exercises can literally cut your workout time in half. Try doing squats with a medicine ball for an arm-leg double whammy — or just stand on the Bosu ball for a killer core workout while you knock out your bicep curls. (Bonus points: Flip the Bosu over and balance on the flat side for an even more intense ab challenge.)

But, it's not just about time management. Working multiple muscle groups at once with compound exercises like these confuses your muscles, burning more calories while helping to prevent that dreaded plateau phase..
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Lifting isn't just for boys.

By now, you know how we feel about lifting weights. Pretty much anything that helps us burn more fat is kind of a no-brainer. But, just in case you're still scared of turning into a bodybuilder, Irvin has a bit of advice for you.

"The idea that lifting weights will make you bulky — that's an old wives' tale," she says. "Lifting light weights with lots of reps will tone up the area, without adding muscle." But, she says, you don't even have to lift with the goal of gaining muscle. "You should lift to get healthy and strong. Who wouldn't want to be strong? If you had a choice, why wouldn't you choose to be healthy?"
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Be kind to yourself

It's relatively easy to make the decision once to go to the gym. Keeping your commitment to keep going, week in and week out? That's another story. The secret: Take care of your body to minimize the risk of running out of steam the first few days.

Stretching is key here. Yes, we know — it's the most boring part of your workout, which is why so many of us skip this crucial step. But, getting back into the routine can cause serious soreness that can last for days after your workout, especially if you're trying out a new class or exercise. A few minutes on the mat, whether using traditional static stretches or with the help of a foam roller, can work wonders in terms of your body's recovery time, making the idea of going back the next day considerably less intimidating.

And, don't go all out all at once. "If you haven't been working out in a while, start with two to three days a week, spaced out. Ease yourself into it so you don't burn out." Amen to that.