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I know what you’re thinking.

Why should those nerds from The 300 have all the fun? You deserve some sweet abs too. Photoshopping a tight six-pack onto yourself may work for your Facebook profile, but to tone up your body for real involves taking a break from citing Wikipedia as your main source on your research papers and making some trips to the gym. If your college gym is anything like mine, you’ll need to come up with a game plan before you hit the free weights.

What to Wear
The most important thing to make clear is this: the gym is not the appropriate place for short shorts, men. Unless you’re taking your time machine to the ‘80s to play in the NBA, leave the short shorts in the closet; getting fit can be a little easier if you fit in.

Throw on some average length athletic shorts and any sort of running or cross-training sneakers then grab a t-shirt that has passed its prime and you’re all set. It’s perfectly acceptable to rock the sleeveless shirt if you want to show off your guns, but I prefer to hide the farmer’s tan that has followed me throughout my adult life.

What to Bring
Take off your gold chains and trucker hats. The only things you need to bring to the gym are your dorm room keys. And please don’t forget those. As a man who has stood outside his dorm room sweating and smelling for twenty minutes while Campus Safety comes to the rescue, I know the pain of the forgotten keys. Bring an old sweatshirt to ward off the winter rains if necessary, otherwise you are all ready to get your swell on.

What to Do
There are a couple ways to approach your first gym adventure. Do you have a friend that works out a couple times a week? Get him to bring you along and show you the ropes. That’s what friends are for, right? Now, if all of your friends are lazy and out of shape, you can just hop on the treadmill or stationary bike and observe a bit. Chances are there are some ripped and tan dudes that know their way around a vertical leg press.

Watch the pros for a bit to see how to use the machines. When you set yourself down at a machine make sure to adjust the weight of the resistance. You should be able to lift, push, or pull the weight 10-15 times without completely exhausting yourself. Pick three or four different machines and make the rounds two or three times. Now you’re on your way to a workout.

Pro Tip: Thinking about snagging the treadmill next to a beautiful lady? I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, but if you can’t keep up with her pace you might just want to occupy the stationary bike behind her.

What Next?
Do it all again. Let your workout find a place in your schedule. Try to find two or three days a week to get down and dirty at the gym. Spread them out across the week. Sneak them in between classes or before dinner. Before you know it you will begin looking and feeling better.

About the Author: Jack Martin is a freelance writer who finds just enough time between writing book reviews and updating a music blog to maintain his abs.

Photo courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Imagery via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).