I started working out with weights when I was in high school. I was a cross country runner with a scrawny little body and skinny legs with very little muscle on my body. In fact, I was so tiny that if a group of people blew on me, I would have been swept away, far away (not kidding). After speaking with my science teacher who supervised the high school weight room (this was close to 30 years ago) after school, I decided to take his advice and drop by the weight room after a class one day. Much to my surprise I was the only girl in the weight room and not knowing how to use a single piece of equipment, I left shortly after arriving. It felt so intimidating and awkward to be around all of these guys who looked like they knew they were doing. I didn’t go back for a while but I did muster up the nerve to go back after learning how to use the equipment and to tell you the truth, I’ve never looked backed.
Many people want to exercise but building up the confidence to join a gym with intimidating machines, the idea of bulky bodybuilders, and navigating through an endless sea of machines can be extremely overwhelming. If you are one of the many who feel this way, you are not alone. However, it doesn’t have to be this way and these strategies will not only help you conquer your fears of joining a gym but give you the confidence to feel better about yourself.
- Create a Plan
- First of all, you need to know why you want to go to the gym. Not everyone shares the same goals and you should be doing this for yourself and not because someone told you to do it. Joining a gym is not for everyone so make sure whatever reason it is, there’s a compelling reason for it whether it be for motivation, stress release, training for a specific race or sport, or general weight loss.
- Selecting the right fitness center for your needs. If you don’t like large crowds, then you might want to avoid a large commercial gym. If you are looking to take group fitness classes only, then a smaller studio might be the right choice for you. Research the gyms in your area and speak with the owners or staff on site so you have a better understanding of what to expect when you join.
- Location, location, location. If you are short on time and you have to drive 30 mins to get to your facility, then you aren’t saving much time. A good idea is to do a test drive to all the possible facilities you might be using during the time you plan on using it to see which is more convenient and will save you time.
- Hours of operation. What time will you be using the gym? Whether you work out early in the morning or late at night, make sure that the hours of your gym fit your schedule.
2. Get Comfortable with Your Surroundings
- Get a tour of the gym. Most gyms will have staff to provide you with a tour of the facility to get you more acquainted with the layout. Don’t be afraid to let them know that you’ve never visited a gym before so ask them to spend extra time with you. If they truly want you to become a member of their facility, they will take the extra time to make you feel important.
- Have a game plan. Wandering around the gym aimlessly will only create more stress as you convince yourself that everyone is watching you (even though they aren’t). If you plan on spending most of your time in the cardio area, then find out ahead of time where all the equipment is and how to use it. If there are signup sheets to use the equipment, then find out ahead of time where they are so someone doesn’t kick you off the machines without even realizing that there is a rule in place. If you’re not comfortable with weight equipment, then take a few walks through the gym when it isn’t so busy to familiarize yourself with the weight machines and free weight areas.
- Gym Etiquette. Every gym has their rules. Learn what they are. From wiping down the equipment (you should be doing this regardless) to putting the weights back to the rack once you finish using them is standard across most gyms. Bringing indoor shoes to wear while working out is not only a courtesy but it’s easier on the cardio machines as dirt gets trapped in the machines and can wear down the some of motors. Besides, who wants to walk around on a gym floor filled with mud and dirt.
- Try out the gym for free. Most gyms will offer you a chance to experience the gym for free at least once. This is a great trial for you to become not only familiar with the layout of the gym but also the people that use the gym during the hours that you will be working out.
3. Hire a Personal Trainer/Schedule an Equipment Orientation
- Schedule time to learn to use the equipment. Not all gyms have this service but ask in advance so you know what you’re dealing with. If you know what pieces of equipment you want to use but you are not quite sure on how to use them, then it can only take a few minutes to have a staff person show you how to use it properly. This will not only save you time from embarrassment from trying to figure it out yourself but you will feel confident when you walk in the gym on your next visit.
- Goal setting. You know what your plan is but you don’t know how to put that plan in action, then hire a personal trainer. Trainers help you with creating short and long-term goals, motivation, correct technique, fitness assessments, progression of workouts, to taking you through an entire workout. Trainers are not for everyone but it’s a good investment to book one or two sessions with one to get you started and well on your way.
- Specific sport or race training. Many personal trainers now specialize in different areas. For example, some trainers focus on seniors or youth training and have taken specific courses to further their knowledge base working with these age groups. If you are looking to train for a tri-athalon, running, or cycling race, it’s a good idea to hire a trainer to put together a training program for you to accomplish your goals but also someone who is experienced in this area.
Read my blog on how to choose the best personal trainer for your needs.
4. Be Confident
- Mental attitude is everything. I know easier said than done. Joining a gym can be intimidating as it’s a new environment and you don’t know what to expect. What you’re actually afraid of is not knowing what you’re doing, navigating in an unfamiliar environment and having people look down on you. These fears are real but it has nothing to do with the gym itself. If you have prepared yourself with the first three steps, then your mental attitude will start to change.
- Just breathe. Take a deep breath and know that everything is going to be fine. Being in any new environment can be very overwhelming but remember that you’ve gone through similar situations before and you got through it.
- Listen to motivating music. I find that this technique works with many people. As soon as we turn on the music we forget about our surroundings around us as our focus is on the music and how it makes us feel. Put together a great playlist and take it with you every time. You will find as soon as you place those ear buds in, the music can silence the other gym goers and provide you with the push to keep moving.
- No one is paying attention to you. Most people are so focused on their own workouts and are simply trying to get through their own routines and out of the door as quick as possible. Everyone has been a newbie at the gym so they get it.
5. Do Less
- Think smaller. Don’t feel that you have to start using weights right away or using a variety of cardiovascular equipment. Try starting with one machine for a while and once you start to feel comfortable, add another piece and continue with this approach. The same goes with weight equipment. Start with one piece of equipment and keep adding on when you are more comfortable to learn new machines.
- Start with smaller goals. We think of the big picture or end goal which is a great habit to have but it’s just as important to have short-term goals in order to achieve those long-term goals. This provides you with an opportunity to celebrate the small successes and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
6. Choose Less Busy Hours
If one of your greatest fears of joining the gym is having people watch you then if your schedule is flexible, choose a less busier time. Most gyms have busy times such as early morning, lunch time and after work. To avoid the crowds, you can schedule your workouts for mid-afternoon or even late at night, if that works for you.
7. Don’t Be Hard on Yourself
- Be persistent. You can make mistakes and even have fears but keep working towards your goal, a goal that doesn’t require external validation.
- Prioritize. You need to face your fears by learning to overcome them. If your goal is fear of going to the gym than you need to make it your priority to conquer it. Follow the steps of learning more about the gym, the equipment, and familiarize yourself with new surroundings.
- Core purpose. Start with the why. What is your purpose of joining the gym? It’s a good idea to write down your goals as a constant reminder and carry them with you at all times.
It’s a shame that some people give up on their health and fitness goals because of their fear of joining a gym. We’ve all been there and you are not alone. It can be so intimidating with an unfamiliar environment especially if you are insecure about your body image. I know my first visit in a weight gym was overwhelming and I had to overcome being the only girl using the gym in a place that was dominated by men. However, today it’s made me the trainer and athlete that I am today. I believe the key to overcoming any obstacle is mindset and proving to ourselves that we have every right to use a gym just as much as any person regardless of their age, weight, sex, or size.
People believe that our confidence comes from our body image but I don’t believe that. We can become stronger, fitter, slimmer, and healthier but still have those fears. Confidence starts from within and not what you look like on the outside. Change your mind and change your life.
Stay active & live clean!
Maureen & Art