Get the most out of your gym membership

Plunking down a credit card and signing up for a gym membership makes you feel like you’re practically in shape already. You can almost hear the shiny equipment and acres of treadmills calling to you, “I’m here to help!” If only it was that easy.

Gym-savvy fitness tips

After spending more than 30 years in gyms as both a trainer and member, I’d like to share a few of the things I’ve learned that may help you get results for real this time. Ready? Grab your towel and let’s begin.

Take advantage of the complimentary personal training workouts

Using new equipment takes a little know-how. Getting on a machine the wrong way or using it improperly ensures you few to no results and potential injury. Trainers at most gyms often use these free sessions to prove themselves in hopes you’ll sign up with them. Let them. Ask questions (about the exercises as well as the trainer’s certifications) and take notes. You may decide to sign up after the (usually one to three) free sessions.

Try out a class or two — and make a friend

The camaraderie and fun competitiveness in a yoga, Zumba or any other exercise class may be the best motivation to get to the gym. You’ll start seeing familiar faces and feel more comfortable. You may even be inspired to start your own walking club or other fitness get-together on off days for variety.

Know your basic body parts

A whole-body workout includes the following basic muscle groups: legs (hamstrings, quadriceps and calves), glutes, chest, back, arms (biceps and triceps), shoulders and core/abs. Machines in most gyms are grouped according to body parts. Make sure to get them all in. (A trainer should take you through all of them.)

Find motivation to move

Cool music, new workout shoes, a fancy yoga mat — find ways to motivate yourself. Set out your workout clothes the night before so you won’t have to rummage through the laundry basket at 6 a.m. Mix up a smoothie ahead of time for a healthy ready-to-go breakfast after you get home. Put heart-shaped stickers on your calendar for every day you exercise. You get the idea.

Be realistic with your exercise goals

If you stick with your workouts and eat healthy, you will see results — just not tomorrow or next week, regardless of what the late-night infomercials tell you. Your nervous system adapts first before your muscles follow, so even though you won’t see the changes right away, they’re happening below the surface. More than 50 percent of new exercisers drop out after three to six months, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, and lack of results is a big reason. Be patient!

Start with machines

Unless you have a trainer to help you, start with the machines instead of free weights if you’ve never lifted weights before. Machines don’t guarantee proper form, but they’re easier to learn and don’t require a spotter (someone to help you if you’re lifting weights over your head). Most machines have instructional stickers on them highlighting the muscles you’ll be working (see above) and how to do the movement. Ask for help from a trainer if you’re unsure.

Have fun with your fitness

Switch around your program every month or so, try a new class, interact with other people and before you know it, you’ll be in great shape.

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