Just like walking into a new office for the first time, a gym you’ve never been to before can be pretty intimidating. Not having worked out in a while, being at the very start of your fitness journey, or trying to transition to an entirely new way of working out, like moving to an open-weights gym after a lifetime of group fitness classes, can exacerbate those feelings. Why does it feel like everyone is looking at me? And why can I never find the mats and dumbbells? Indeed, it can all feel pretty intimidating – a feeling perfectly summed up by the word “gymtimidation”.
So how do you overcome it?
Remember, everybody started somewhere
It might seem that everyone around you looks like they’ve been lifting weights or sprinting since before they could walk. That doesn’t mean that you need to have a six-pack when you join (or that you ever need to at all). We all have different lifestyles and body types with a huge variety of factors that influence the way we look, and beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Fitness and health also aren’t necessarily measured by how we look. Keep reminding yourself of that – and that even the ultra-fit out there had to start somewhere. You’re already doing something courageous, difficult, and admirable by getting yourself into a gym and committing yourself to a health-boosting exercise regime anyway.
Talk to strangers
While many people like to keep to themselves during a workout (whether that’s a personal preference or due to the fact that they’re counting the seconds during strictly timed strategic workouts), striking up a conversation in the right time and place can help you make friends faster. Just be sure to pick the right moment. No one wants to be interrupted mid-squat with 50 kilos on their back. Instead, compliment someone’s lipstick while you’re both putting on makeup in the women’s locker room, or say a simple but friendly hello during a break by the water cooler.
Plan your workout timings strategically
For some of us, the locker room is the problem. For others, it’s when the gym is just a little too busy for our liking. If it’s the former, try getting dressed before you get to the gym and/or showering at home afterwards so you don’t have to get changed into or out of your workout gear in the changing rooms. If it’s the latter, why not try to hit the gym at less-popular times? Just like Sheikh Zayed Road, gyms also experience “rush hour”, and going at off-peak times can not only be less intimidating, but you’ll also have more choice of free equipment and less wait time to get to the ones you want to use.
Unless you exercise so regularly that this particular workout is a case of “I just want to move, so let’s see how I feel when I’m there,” going without a plan can often end up in wasted time. Arm yourself with a workout plan, whether it’s one that you created on your own (if you have the know-how to do so safely), purchased from or had shown to you by a trainer, or found from a credible and reputable source online. There are plenty of both paid and free options out there with hundreds of reviews.
Choose the right gym
This one goes without saying, but a huge factor in feeling comfortable in any gym is picking one that has the right vibe for you. Spend time choosing your gym wisely before investing in a membership, choosing one that is convenient for you in terms of location and price, but also one populated by people with similar interests and goals to yours. Make sure you get a tour of the facilities and answers to all your questions before you even sign up.
Ask for help
One of the scariest aspects of the gym is the equipment – after all, if you’re there solo and without a personal trainer to show you the ropes (and essentially be your ultra-motivating and super-dedicated workout buddy), most gyms don’t give you a “how-to” guide on the equipment. However, good gyms tend to bring in new equipment on a regular basis, and the instructions for use will typically be printed on the machines themselves (at least for the weight machines vs. free weights and other free-standing gym equipment). When choosing which gym to sign up to, one thing you might want to ask about is whether or not there are some qualified staff members on call at all hours who are able to help if you’re unsure how to use a piece of equipment. Many gyms even offer a free personal training session or two when you sign up, which is a great time to learn about what all the different bits do while getting the lay of the land. If you’re still nervous, why not look up some YouTube videos (from credible and reputable sources) on the different types of basic gym equipment pieces and how to use them? That way, you’ll feel more confident going in armed with at least some base-level knowledge.
Start with a group class
Still not ready to hit that wide-open gym floor with all of its weights, balls, and ropes yet? If your gym offers group classes that take place around the main floor, wet your feet by signing up to those until you become comfortable enough with the space to venture off and try the rest of it. Bonus: You might find a class that you adore, and you might even find a new workout buddy!
Invest in a cute workout wardrobe
Just like life outside the gym, if you’re not dressed in clothing that you feel comfortable in, you’re not going to feel confident. You don’t need to buy the expensive sporting equivalent of your weekend best, but owning some nice workout gear that you feel good in will not only give you more pep when you’re there, but it may also encourage you to get to the gym in the first place so that you can justify your reasons for buying it!
Bring a buddy
There is power in numbers, and you can use a positive mindset to enhance the benefits of your training buddy for both of you in many ways. If they’re more experienced than you, they can show you the ropes. If they’re less so, you’re automatically reminded of the knowledge you do have, and helping to show them what to do can help boost your confidence. If you’re on equal levels, then remind yourselves that stepping up for each other’s confidence will do you both good.
You’ve got all these swirling thoughts rushing around your head from the moment you get in there, from the gymtimidation itself to finding and using available equipment, keeping track of your timing, and remembering to breathe through your reps. Just remember that everyone else is going through the same thing – and they’re all equally as preoccupied with their own thoughts as you are, so don’t worry about them watching you.