1. The people around you have no idea what they’re doing. Even the biggest, strongest, most “ripped” guy in your gym probably has no bloody clue what’s going on, so you don’t have to worry about him as much as you think you do. The average guy in the average gym doesn’t know the first thing about programming, exercise selection, form or anything else. Once you’re aware of this, it’s a lot easier to not be self-conscious when you’re working out.
2. Warm up properly. Don’t be one of these jerkoffs who walks into the gym, swings his arms around, then starts right in on some useless exercise. Take the time to move around and get blood into your muscles before you do anything. If you don’t know how to do this, just get on a treadmill and walk for ten minutes before you touch a barbell or a machine.
3. Never start a workout by doing curls. This is a combination of #1 and #2. Most guys come into the gym, do the stupid arm swing thing from #2, then walk right over to the dumbbell rack and start doing curls. Nothing says, “I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing” better than this.
4. Don’t stand on things to perform exercises unless there’s some biomechanical advantage to doing so. There’s a guy at my gym who stands on a box when he does shrugs. There’s another one who always has to stand on a bench when he does barbell rows. This is stupid and unnecessary. Don’t do this unless it alters the exercise by lengthening or shortening your range of motion. Climbing on top of something to do an exercise you can perform standing on the floor makes you look like an imbecile.
5. Clean up after yourself. Put things back the way you found them. Return dumbbells to the rack. Take cable attachments off machines and put them where they belong. Take plates off bars and machines that use them. Nothing pisses me off more at the gym than having to clean up after some slapdick who thinks he’s too important to take a couple of plates off a bar after his big 135 pound bench adventure.
6. Don’t use the squat pad. That stupid cylindrical black pad that goes around the bar when you squat? Don’t use it. Learn how to carry the bar on your back without putting that thing on there. I’ve squatted 700 pounds without it, and believe me, I’m really not that tough. If the bar is sitting in the right place, you won’t need it. If you need it, you’re squatting wrong.
7. Don’t do Preacher Curls. They don’t do shit, trust me. I did them for twenty years. The Preacher Curl is quite possibly the most useless piece of equipment in the gym. There are at least twenty more effective bicep exercises. Figure out what they are, and do them instead. Better yet, learn how to do a pull-up. It’s a better bicep exercise than damned near any curl movement.
8. Bodyweight exercises are your friend. For most people, push-ups, pull-ups, ab circuits, bodyweight squats and Swiss Ball hamstring curls would work better than going to the gym and lifting with specialized machines. Honestly? The only reason I train in a gym is so I can lift heavy weights. If you just want to look good, you can accomplish just as much, if not more, by staying home, exercising in your living room, and manipulating your diet properly.
9. Mix up your cardio. Steady-state cardio is necessary to increase cardiac power, it influences your vagal tone in a positive way, and it lowers your resting heart rate. You need to throw in some interval cardio, too. It burns fat like crazy. Instead of walking or jogging on a treadmill, try running sprints. Take the incline up to 15.0 and bump up the speed. Run for 15 seconds, then stand on the rails for a minute. Do this ten times, then walk for a while, then do it again. Monitor your heart rate, and watch the time fly by and the fat melt away.
10. Buy a stopwatch. Time your rest periods. Don’t just walk aimlessly around the gym taking five minutes between sets. Take two or three minutes between heavy “main” exercises, and thirty seconds to a minute between “assistance” movements.
11. Compete. Pick a few things and use them to measure yourself. This can be anything – poundage, reps, time, whatever. Do better than you did the week before. Figure out what helps you improve these things. Discard anything that doesn’t. Above all, just keep trying to get better.
12. Have a plan. If you’re reading this, you have access to a computer. Figure out what you want out of your gym experience, then go online and find a plan of attack. Don’t just walk into the gym and wing it. This is another way to avoid being self-conscious about being there, because when you know exactly what you want to do, you don’t have to worry about anyone but yourself and your own program.