Starting a new exercise routine can be exciting — and terrifying. After all, it’s common for beginner — or even experienced — exercisers to feel out-of-place at the gym. Many of us become so anxious imagining other gym-goers are judging us that we let fear stop us from creating the exercise habit.
Ease that anxiety with one of these expert tips:
FIND THE RIGHT GYM
This first point is key for ensuring you have a great gym experience, because it doesn’t matter how amazing the amenities are, or how great the rate is, if you don’t like your gym, or you don’t feel comfortable in the environment, you’re not going to go.
A good way to start your search is to look for gyms that use language that makes you feel comfortable. “Anytime we talk about our gym in our marketing materials, we always talk about the welcoming, inclusive and supportive space we have, and that immediately puts people at ease,” says Lauren Pak, NASM-certified personal trainer and co-owner of Achieve Fitness in Somerville, Massachusetts. “We’re basically telling them that, even if you’re nervous, we’re going to support you. We’re going to welcome you with open arms”
You can also narrow your search by tapping into your network of friends for recommendations and reading online reviews.
WORK WITH A PERSONAL TRAINER
Admittedly, hiring a personal trainer isn’t realistic for a lot of people, but if you have the means to do it, consider making the investment.
According to Pak, many people think they should wait until they’ve built a base level of fitness before hiring a trainer. “I hear that all the time,” she says. “People say, ‘I want to work with a trainer but I don’t want to work with them on the basics, because that’s silly to pay for.” So, people try to figure things out on their own.
In reality, hiring a trainer right off the bat will likely help you build that base level of fitness more quickly and effectively, as well as help you feel more confident in the gym, because that trainer can show you how to use the equipment and write you a plan. “Then you can actually start doing it on your own and feel a lot more confident,” Pak says.
If you can’t afford a personal trainer, you could always try taking a small group training class, where you’ll likely get more individual attention than in a larger setting. Boutique gyms in particular offer small group classes that focus on strength, cardio and/or mobility.
WEAR WORKOUT CLOTHES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD
It may seem trivial, but your choice in workout gear can make a big difference in your gym experience. Think about it: Have you ever worn something too big or too small or a style that didn’t feel true to you? If you don’t feel comfortable in your own clothes, your gym experience will likely suffer.
So, pick workout clothes that feel good. “You don’t have to wear whatever’s trendy out there,” Pak says. “Wear whatever makes you comfortable and is functional that you can move around in.”
USE MIRRORS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
A major stumbling block for many people at the gym is the fact many facilities line their walls with floor-to-ceiling mirrors, which can be uncomfortable for newer exercisers in particular.
“I think part of the concern with the mirror is a general feeling of not belonging at the gym,” says Mark Schneider, a Minneapolis-based personal trainer and life coach.
It may take some time for you to feel like you belong at the gym, but a short-term solution is to simply turn away from the mirrors whenever possible. The downside to this strategy is that a constant avoidance of looking at your own reflection encourages the idea you’re not good enough to look at, “so I don’t really like that idea,” Pak says.
If avoiding the mirrors helps you get to the gym consistently and enjoy your workout more, then by all means, start with this strategy. After all, you want to remove as many barriers to the gym as possible. Over time, however, you’ll want to work on your mindset. “I would hope that while you’re facing away from the mirror, you’re also doing some work on yourself, maybe with a coach who’s supporting you and finding ways to feel more confident in your own skin,” Pak says.
In the meantime, use the mirrors strategically. For example, you could wait until later in your workout to work in front of the mirror. By this point, you’ve likely put in some hard work, and hopefully you feel good about what you’ve accomplished so far, Schneider says.
And if you’re up for it, you could even try making silly faces in the mirror. “Why not,” Schneider asks. “It may snap you out of the sense of dread and criticism.”