New to the Gym? Focus on These 10 Exercises

A man in the gym lifting a large barbell.

The moment you step into the gym, it can be an intimidating experience. There are lots of machines and free weights, as well as different “stations” for circuit training. With a Walmart-sized gym at your disposal, it can be tough for beginners to decide what to do and how. 

If you're one of these people, don't worry. We've all been there. 

Let's take a look at 10 exercises to do if you're new to the gym. 

First, Find a Personal Trainer

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Don't be afraid to hire a personal trainer if you're uncomfortable starting any of these exercises. In fact, many gyms have personal trainers available, typically for an extra charge. However, learning how to do the exercises properly and designing your very first workout program is money well spent. 

Bodyweight Squats

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  • Why: Squats are a fundamental lower body exercise that engages multiple muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
  • How: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, lower your body as if sitting back into a chair, and then return to the starting position.

Start with bodyweight squats. Once you get stronger, consider adding weight by using a barbell (as shown) or a Smith machine. 

Push-Ups

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  • Why: Push-ups are excellent for building upper body strength, targeting the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • How: Start in a plank position, lower your body towards the ground, and push back up.

Push-ups are a great foundational exercise for strengthening your chest. Once you get stronger, consider adding weight by wearing a weight vest or using a weight plate. If you can't do a full push-up yet using good form, begin on your knees (as shown). 

Plank

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  • Why: Planks help strengthen the core, improve posture, and enhance overall stability.
  • How: Get into a push-up position, arms straight, and hold your body in a straight line from head to heels.

The first time you do a plank, it will be hard. But you'll get stronger the more you do them. Make sure to keep your body as flat as possible (it's natural to raise your butt in the air as you get tired…resist doing this!). 

Dumbbell Rows

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  • Why: Dumbbell rows target the back muscles, promoting a balanced upper body.
  • How: Hold a dumbbell in one hand, lean on a flat bench, and pull the weight toward your hips.

Remember to keep your back flat during this exercise. To prevent injury, use a mirror or ask an experienced trainer to watch your form. 

Lunges

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  • Why: Lunges work the lower body and improve balance and flexibility.
  • How: Step forward with one foot, lower your hips until both knees are bent, then push back to the starting position.

Lunges are a great way to strengthen your legs and butt, but they are difficult at first. Take your time. 

Deadlifts

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  • Why: Deadlifts are a compound exercise that strengthens the entire posterior chain, including the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes.
  • How: Stand with feet hip-width apart, bend at the hips and knees to lower the weights, and then stand back up.

This is an exercise where the form is critical. Don't go too heavy at first before perfecting your form. Use a personal trainer to ensure your form is on point. 

Bench Press

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  • Why: The bench press is a classic chest exercise that also engages the triceps and shoulders.
  • How: Lie on a bench, lower the barbell to your chest, and push it back up.

The bench press is one of the best chest-builders in the business. For variety, alter the angle of the back rest (incline and decline) to hit different parts of the chest. 

Lat Pulldowns

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  • Why: This exercise targets the latissimus dorsi muscles, contributing to a well-defined back.
  • How: Use a cable machine to pull the bar down towards your chest while sitting on a bench.

When performing a lat pulldown, avoid leaning back. Keep your torso as upright as possible throughout the movement. 

Russian Twists

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  • Why: Russian twists engage the obliques and improve rotational core strength.
  • How: Sit on the floor, lean back slightly, and twist your torso while holding a weight or medicine ball.

One of the best exercises to strengthen your core and abs. Start without weight, then add a dumbbell or medicine ball as you gain core strength. 

Calf Raises

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  • Why: Calf raises strengthen the calf muscles, which is important for overall leg development.
  • How: Stand on a flat surface, raise your heels off the ground, and lower them back down.

Pause at the top of each rep to fully contract your calf muscle. Be careful not to go too heavy to begin or you'll be very sore the next day. 

Tips for Beginners

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Here are 5 quick tips if you're just starting out.

  1. Start Slow: It's crucial to ease into your fitness routine. To avoid injury, begin with lighter weights and fewer repetitions.
  2. Focus on Form: Proper form is more important than lifting heavy weights. Ensure your movements are controlled and precise to maximize effectiveness and prevent injuries.
  3. Rest and Recovery: Allow your muscles to recover by incorporating rest days into your routine. Adequate sleep and proper nutrition are essential for recovery.
  4. Stay Hydrated: Hydration is key to overall health and performance. Drink water before, during, and after your workout sessions.
  5. Ask for Guidance: If you're unsure about a particular exercise or using gym equipment, don't hesitate to ask a fitness trainer for guidance.