What To Do First Day At Gym As A Woman (Beginner Exercises)

For many, it can be difficult to figure out what to do on the first day at the gym as a woman. Men have oftentimes been more comfortable and experienced with gym equipment in the past, though more and more women are expanding their exercise repertoire.

Regardless, it can be intimidating to walk into a place where you just aren't sure where to start. With our guide, you'll be able to walk in with confidence and, most importantly – a plan!  

Your success highly depends on knowing that you have a plan. Having a plan ensures you are making the most of your time and are performing exercises in a way that will end up with the best results possible. No matter what your goal is with going to the gym, having a plan will make sure you accomplish them.

The Workout Plan

Start out with about 5 minutes at an easy pace on the cardio machine of your choice. That could be the recumbent bike, treadmill, stair climber, rowing machine, or elliptical machine.

You can check out our guide to rowing vs elliptical training to see which one is best for you.

After your muscles are warmed up, try 15 minutes of cardio at a more challenging pace. You should be able to have a conversation, but still be sweating.

Afterward, you should stretch for 5 minutes: both lower and upper body. You can find our guide on the benefits of stretching here! 

It's also smart to get in some bodyweight exercises. Try 2-3 sets with 8-10 reps of assisted pull-ups and push-ups, along with 3 sets of bodyweight squats and planks for 30 seconds.

What To Bring  

  • A Gym Bag
    It's always fun going out to pick a gym bag. Smaller duffel bags are great because they often have dedicated shoe sections, as well as a separate pocket for clean gym clothes, supplements, keys, and so on. You can find our review guide on the best gym bags for women here.
  • Water Bottle
    Staying hydrated is crucial if you’re serious about working out. Even being slightly dehydrated can have a negative effect on your mind’s clarity and athletic function. “Dehydration impairs your body’s ability to regulate heat. This causes you to feel more tired during exercise,” says Traci Thompson, MS, Director of PEAK at the University of Utah. You could use the water fountain, but that would require you to stop whatever you’re doing and walk over there. 
  • Extra Clothes & Toiletries
    If you’re going to be showering or heading somewhere other than home after the gym, you’ll want to bring along a change of clean clothes and toiletries. Bring along deodorant, a hairbrush, and perhaps any sunblock or makeup if you use that.
  • Towels
    Some gyms offer clean towels to use, while others do not. Regardless, there are people who prefer to bring along their own because they are almost always bigger and more comfortable. You can purchase a soft, absorbant one on Amazon or most athletic shops.
  • Workout Outfit
    You want your outfit to fit you well, so you do not have to fuss with it during your workout. Make sure you feel comfortable and that it's stretchy/loose enough for you to really move around. In addition, your clothes should be breathable and not chafe against your skin.
  • Headphones
    Headphones are a very personal preference. However, yours shouldn’t come out of your ears easily while you’re working out. This is why many gym-goers prefer over-ear headphones. Wireless Bluetooth headphones are also exploding in popularity, removing the need for a cord that can get in the way. 
What To Do First Day At Gym As A Woman

Gym Etiquette Tips For A Woman’s First Day At The Gym

What should a woman do after using equipment?  

After you use a machine, mat, or other piece of gym equipment, you should always clean it. Take a towel or paper towel, spray the equipment so that the entire surface you touched is covered, and wipe it dry.

What should a woman do after she finished using weights?  

Make sure to return any piece of equipment to where you found it. Obviously, some people will just leave their weights on the ground when done, but it’s always best that you re-rack your weights when done. Most weights will be grouped together based on the weight, so make sure to see if the rack has the specific weight listed on it.

How long is appropriate to spend on one workout machine?  

If the gym is busy, it's best to limit your time on a cardio machine to 30 minutes if you can see there aren't many free ones. For other exercise machines, you can feel comfortable taking your time on 3 sets.

However, if you can see someone is waiting for you, it's always courteous to ask if they want to "work in." That means you can do your set, then they do theirs, switching off until you finish.

How much weight should a woman lift?  

As every woman is different, we can’t tell you exactly how many pounds to start out with. However, it would be best to start at a weight where you can lift it at least 10 times without failure. It shouldn't be so simple that you can do more than 20 reps. Usually, this falls in between 5-pound to 15-pound weights for the upper body.

It's crucial that you don't go too hard your first day. Slow and steady wins the race in terms of increasing resistance, and your body needs time to acclimate. You are putting yourself at a greater risk of injury if you push your body too far.

Free Weights vs Machines

There are conflicting opinions on this one. While machines are a bit safer, they do force you into a particular position, which may not be ideal for your height. Free weights help work all the smaller accessory muscles to the major groups, mimicking real-world movements.


Best Cardio Workouts For Female Beginners (Weight Loss Guide)

For each of these workouts, you'll want to warm up for 5 minutes at a leisurely pace.

Treadmill Workout
Treadmills are great for beginners, as they involve walking on a flat surface, something we're already used to doing. If you're just starting out, try alternating between 1 minute of walking at an easy pace and 30 seconds of a high incline at a slow pace or 30 seconds of running near your max capacity. Alternate until you’ve finished 25 minutes of this. 

Elliptical Workout
Ellipticals are excellent for beginners and those recovering from injuries due to how easy they are on the joints. Many also come with moving handlebars to engage both the lower and upper body. Try the same workout as the treadmill workout we just discussed. Read through our elliptical results guide to see what you can expect from this cardio exercise.

Rowing Machine Workout
Rowing machines are also excellent beginner machines, as they're easy on the joints and let you sit while working out. Proper form is the key here and allows for a complete, full-body workout. Try 5-10 minutes at a steady pace to get your form down. Once you get the hang of it, you can try another 10-15 minutes of HIIT. Row at an intense pace for 1 minute, and rest or “paddle” for another. You can see from our muscles worked by rowing machines article that they are a total body toning workout.

Stair Climber Workout
Stair climbers are more challenging for just about anyone. Start off with 10-15 minutes of walking at a steady pace for the first couple of weeks. This alone should get your heart racing. Once your body is more accustomed to the machine, you can add 5 minutes each week. Once you’ve gotten up to 30 minutes, you can choose to add in intervals of 30-seconds of running or jogging. Review our guide to using the StairMaster vs the treadmill to see which is better for you.

woman running on a curved treadmill

Beginner Strength Workouts For Women (Guide For Toning)

  • Dumbbells
    Dumbbells are an incredibly versatile piece of equipment that many of us already have some experience with. These are perfect for doing bicep curls, hammer curls, tricep extensions, chest presses, for adding weight to walking lunges, and more.
  • Kettlebells
    Kettlebells seem to be a bit less intimidating – perhaps due to their added comfort in the grip. Try swings, push-presses, tricep presses, bicep curls, reverse lunges, and more. As you can see, kettlebells are often a great alternative to dumbbells. 
  • Barbells
    Barbells offer a bit less range of motion than dumbbells, but for many beginners, they are easier to use. This is because you don't have to worry as much about keeping an eye on each arm lowering and rising at the same time. It requires a bit less effort on form, in that sense. You can use these with weighted squats, bench presses, barbell curls, and more. They offer "the best bang for your buck," as you'll want to focus on compound exercises, which work better with barbells over the other equipment.
  • Medicine Balls
    Medicine balls are simply one of the best tools you can use to improve overall fast-twitch muscle power and core strength. Try these with Russian twists, close-grip push-ups, squats, mountain climbers, and wall throws.  
  • Resistance Bands
    These bands are very intuitive to use and take up very little space. They’re also a bit safer to use, as you don’t have to worry about heavy weights. Use them for seated rows, squat jacks, bicep curls, overhead presses, reverse flys, and more. Building muscle with resistance bands is great for beginners.
woman doing a resistance band curl

Workouts For Female Beginners (According To Their Age & Health)

  • Women In 20’s
    If you’re in your 20’s, you can pretty much focus on anything you want. We recommend, however, that you really focus on mastering compound exercises, like weighted squats and bench presses, along with lunges, push-ups, and strengthening your core. Perfect your form, too. This will give you a solid foundation while minimizing the risk of injury, no matter what age.
  • Women In 30’s
    You’ll want to continue being proactive with your resistance exercise, as our muscle mass tends to lower by about 5% every 10 years after we turn 30 years old. At the same time, our metabolism slows down a bit, so you may want to add in perhaps 15 extra minutes of cardio than you used to do. If you’re shorter on time now, try grabbing some resistance bands to use at home when you have some free time.
  • Women In 40’s
    Try keeping your aerobic and resistance exercises balanced, as they're both important. Make sure you're really incorporating stretching into your routine or even adding in yoga on your rest days. As we get older, it becomes more challenging to learn new movements, so it's best that you keep consistent with your workouts. Foam rollers are going to be your friend, working out tight knots.
  • Women In 50’s & Beyond
    At this age, you may want to incorporate more “fun” workouts, such as biking around the beach or going hiking outdoors, playing with the grandkids, etc. You’ll likely have a longer recovery time, so do take things slow when ramping up workout intensity. As your joints are more delicate, you may want to substitute a treadmill or bike for the elliptical or swimming. 
  • Special Circumstances / Physical Conditions
    If you’re pregnant or just gave birth, you really need to stay active but make sure to take it easy. You don’t want to risk pulling any muscles or tendons that are already vulnerable at this time. The idea is to just remain healthy and active instead of trying to bust out your 1-rep max on deadlifts. You should discuss any fitness routines you plan on trying with a healthcare provider. 

Why Do Some Women Avoid Going To The Gym?

On the first day at the gym, women may feel nervous for various reasons. For one, many gyms are male-dominant, especially the weight section. While that has changed quite a bit over the past 10 years, that stigma still exists for many.  

Depending on which gym you go to, it may feel like it's always crowded. If you can, try choosing a gym that's not as packed or going at a time like 2 pm – 3 pm that's known for being less busy.

Many women inherently feel uncomfortable "showing off" their bodies or getting all sweaty in front of others. While that's something many of us feel, 99.9% of people really are just focused on their own workouts, and there's nothing to feel nervous about.


Women’s First Day At The Gym FAQs

How long should you workout at the gym if you’re a female beginner?  

3 to 5 days is a great number of days when first starting out. This way, you'll have a day in between each workout to recover.  

How many days should I work out for my first week?  

Try 3 days, so you have enough time for recovery and aren't putting yourself at risk of injury/burning yourself out by going too hard.  

What are the best times to go to the gym as a newbie?  

2-3pm always seems to be the “golden hour” as very few people are typically at the gym at this time. After 4:30, people start getting off work, and it will get pretty busy up until around 7:30pm. From 7:30 to 10, it tends to calm down a bit.  

What is the best way to build a solid gym habit?  

By forming a plan and sticking to it! Really try to commit to it like you would with going to work. After all, our bodies are more important than anything else! 

Can 16 year old girls go to the gym?  

Absolutely! In fact, this is a great age to start going to the gym. You’ll get used to certain exercises and movements at an early age, which sets you up for success for the rest of your life.  


Conclusion

We hope that you now feel more confident walking into the gym on your first day and knowing what to do. It's okay if you don't know everything yet – no one does! Having your plan with you and following it is key to accomplishing your fitness goals, and we know you can do it! Thanks for tuning in, and we'll see you again soon!

Paul J