Your Guide to Navigating the Fitness Floor

The gym can be confusing and intimidating to navigate. Our experts weigh in on venturing out of your comfort zone.

Photo Illustration by Leo Mao; Illustrations by Kveta

The first time Chrissy King walked into a health club, she made a beeline for the cardio machines. “I felt very self-conscious with so many fit people who all looked like they knew what they were doing,” she recalls. “I didn’t quite feel like I deserved or belonged to be there, and I assumed everyone was judging my body.”

The treadmill and elliptical were easy to use, and King stuck with them for years. But the awareness that she could better round out her fitness routine eventually overrode her feelings of intimidation. So King hired a trainer, who led her into the weight room for the first time.

She hasn’t looked back. Knowledge bred the confidence she needed to step out of her comfort zone, which opened a world of fitness beyond just one area or tool. Today, King’s a powerlifter, certified personal trainer, and fitness writer specializing in personal empowerment.

“Once I started doing things in the gym that I never thought possible, I gained mental strength as well as physical strength,” she recalls.

Many of us have been in King’s shoes — and maybe still are. Lack of knowledge, experts agree, is a key reason why we fixate on one aspect of fitness.

“The most common barrier is the fear of looking foolish alongside veteran lifters and exercisers,” explains Life Time personal trainer and onboarding manager Jennifer Blake, RKC-II, who talks to members daily about the obstacles they face.

“A good deal of apprehension comes from not having any idea what to do,” adds personal trainer and strength coach Noah Gabriel-Landis, CSCS. “Finding your way through trial and error alone can be intimidating and exhausting.”

As a result, it’s common for people to narrow their health-club horizons. And this tendency may be standing between them and fitness gains.

In the following pages, we break down four areas in a typical health club and describe the tools and techniques to try in each space. We also offer ­expert guidance on finding your foot­ing as you venture into the unknown.

Not all health clubs are identical, of course, but you can expect to find the following on most fitness floors:

  • Stretching and Body-Weight-Workout Area with mats, foam rollers, ab wheels, stability balls, sliders, and more. This space may also be a catchall for other implements — such as kettlebells, medicine balls, and battle ropes — that don’t fit elsewhere.
  • Cardio Area with treadmills, elliptical trainers, ski ergs, and stepmills.
  • Free-Weight Area with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, squat racks, bench-es, and lifting platforms.
  • Strength-Machine Area with guided weight-training tools, such as fixed and cable-pulley machines.

Additionally, look for the personal-training (PT) desk. At most clubs, personal trainers are available to help all members, not just their PT clients. So, if you’re looking for a piece of equipment or need guidance figuring something out, don’t hesitate to ask.

Note that some places keep prone-to-theft equipment behind the PT desk. If you can’t find a jump rope, superband, or sliders, check in here to borrow what you need.

Before you begin, remember this caveat: Novelty for its own sake is not the goal. “Just because a routine or exercise is new doesn’t mean it’s right,” says Gabriel-Landis. “That said, it’s important not to be afraid of something just because it’s new.”

With this guide in hand, may you gain the knowledge and confidence to step into something new, achieve untapped gains, and maybe even discover a new favorite way to move and train.


Power Plate

One of the most intimidating machines on the fitness floor, the Power Plate vibrates to increase how quickly your muscles contract. This is designed to increase the intensity of almost any exercise, while cutting down the duration of your workout. Try standing on the Power Plate while performing a squat, or positioning your forearms on the plate with your feet on the floor while doing a plank. Start slow to get a feel for how your body responds to the vibrations, and if you feel faint or dizzy, stop immediately.

This originally appeared as “Welcome to the Club: Your Guide to the Fitness Floor” in the January/February 2020 print issue of Experience Life.

is an Experience Life senior editor and Alpha Strong coach at Life Time.

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