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When you begin an exercise program, your body will experience new muscle movements, cardiorespiratory demands and impacts and stresses on joints and muscles. To ease into a new gym or fitness center routine, it's best to choose equipment that doesn't create high-impact movements, require significant muscular effort or raise your heart rate very high. A treadmill might be your best choice for getting into shape at a gym.
One of the first considerations for a new exercise program is the amount of impact it will create on your joints. Exercise that doesn't require you to leave your feet, such as riding an exercise bike or swimming, is nonimpact. Low-impact exercise keeps one foot on the ground or against an object at all times, such as walking, step aerobics or using a rowing machine or elliptical. Running or aerobic dancing are high-impact exercises. The soft cushioning on a treadmill reduces the effects of an already low-impact power walk.
The more resistance against your muscle during exercise, the more painful it can be, including post-workout muscle stiffness and soreness. Using heavy weights, weight machines set to a high resistance level or other equipment that requires significant effort to move will help you build muscle, but it might be too strenuous if you're just getting into exercise. Raising the incline on a treadmill and using light dumbbells while you walk will help you combine resistance that doesn't cause you to become sore during a heart-healthy workout. A rowing machine offers a full-body, nonimpact workout, but it might be too tough on your knees and hips, due to the repetitive motion.
You'll want to improve your cardiorespiratory stamina over the first few weeks of your new workout program so you can graduate to more intense aerobic workouts. A treadmill lets you increase your speed by 0.5 mph as you build stamina. Walking at a beginner pace of 2.5 mph, a 160-lb. person burns about 200 calories per hour, according to the Mayo Clinic. When she's able to raise her speed to 3.5 mph, she'll burn more than 300 calories per hour.
In addition to muscle strength, you'll need to build your muscular endurance so you can exercise for 30 minutes or longer without getting so sore and tired that you have to stop. A treadmill workout, combined with dumbbell exercises as you walk, helps you build the muscular endurance you'll need for more intense workouts. While some ellipticals have arm poles, the motion is limited and won't provide as much benefit as a dumbbell workout.
Start your visit to the gym by warming up off the treadmill. Jog in place, do some light jumping jacks and butt kicks and perform some arm swings and circles. Take several minutes to raise your heart rate and get your breathing elevated. Get on the treadmill and use the warmup program if it has one. If not, walk at 1.5 mph for two minutes, then increase the speed 0.5 mph every two minutes until you reach a speed you think you can maintain for 15 minutes or longer. Try to create a longer workout -- at least 30 minutes -- rather than trying to burn more calories in a short period of time. The longer you exercise, the more stamina and endurance you'll build. Perform dumbbell exercises after you've learned what walking pace you can maintain. End your workout with a cooldown of five minutes, decreasing your speed by 0.5 mph every 60 seconds until you reach 1 mph. Get off the machine and take five minutes to stretch all of the muscles you've used.