Everyone’s fitness journey starts somewhere, and for many, it’s inside a gym. You know, that large box full of complicated equipment and muscled up weightlifters. So that feeling of intimidation: It’s real, and it can keep people from ever setting foot inside the gym.
“As someone who used to be 100 pounds overweight, I totally understand being intimidated by the gym,” said Jimmy Hays Nelson, a fitness coach and speaker who’s turned his transformation into a business helping others. “I assumed that anytime someone was laughing or smirking, they were laughing at me because I didn’t know what I was doing.” It’s a common fear, but in reality, the vast majority of gym-goers are there for themselves — not to gawk at the new person.
Still, that anxiety can be paralyzing, but there are ways to push past it and take the first steps toward a healthier life. You’ll be glad you did it.
So below, 10 tips for overcoming gymtimidation:
1. PICK THE RIGHT GYM
Not all gyms are created equal. Certain gyms draw athletes, bodybuilders and other expert-level exercisers. Certain disciplines, like CrossFit, probably aren’t the best choice if you’ve never worked out before. But Planet Fitness, for example, caters to people of all fitness levels, and actively encourages a friendly, “judgment-free” atmosphere. So look around, and you can find the right gym for you.
2. ASK FOR HELP
You know those gym employees you see walking around: They do more than re-rack weights. If you’re unsure how to use a machine or if you want a spotter when lifting, ask for help. They’ll be happy to assist, and you’ll learn something new — which will be a confidence booster on your next trip.
3. USE THAT FREE TRAINING SESSION
Even better, enlist one of the gym’s trainers. Many gyms offer a free training session when you sign up. If they don’t, it can still be worth signing up for a few sessions. You’ll learn a variety of exercises geared to your individual fitness level — and you’ll have someone to show you how to use the equipment and explain gym etiquette. Best of all: They can help put you on a plan to reach your fitness goals.
4. GO DURING OFF HOURS
A crowded gym can be daunting. So one easy fix is to go during off-peak hours. If your schedule can accommodate it, you’ll find more available equipment, more personal space and fewer voyeurs.
READ MORE > THE ULTIMATE JOINING-A-NEW-GYM CHECKLIST
5. BRING A FRIEND
Everything’s easier with a friend. They can hold you accountable, keep you motivated and spot you on the bench press.
6. TRY A GROUP CLASS
Group classes can be fun. They’re a great way to meet people — and their structured nature means you’ll always have marching orders. Start with something that interests you, whether it’s yoga, Pilates or spin. You might have trouble keeping up at first, but that’s OK, you will improve. Just go at your own pace. It’s not a competition.
7. START AT HOME
“In-home workouts gave me the confidence to know what I was doing, so I could eventually go into the gym and try new things,” said Nelson. Practice makes perfect. If you’re concerned about feeling out of place inside the gym, try working out at home first with your favorite fitness app or streaming class. Once you do get into the gym, you’ll feel more self-assured and enjoy the experience more.
8. WHEN IN DOUBT, RESEARCH
Between YouTube and sites like this one, there’s no shortage of available info at your disposal. So if you’re nervous about taking your first spin class, or you’d like to try the rowing machine, watch a few videos first. That way, you’ll know what to expect, which boosts confidence even before you walk through the door.
9. CREATE A MOTIVATING PLAYLIST
In a study exploring the effects of music on exercise intensity, Dr. Costas Karageorghis from London’s Brunel University School of Sport and Education wrote: “Music is like a legal drug for athletes. It can reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15%.” Music is a great tool for zoning out the distractions, honing in on what you want to accomplish and pushing yourself to new limits. So pop in some headphones and crank up your favorite workout playlist.
10. REMEMBER: YOU’RE NOT ALONE
Everyone starts somewhere. Every single person in the gym or in that class has experienced a first time, too. So stick with it. Because while it’s not easy, it will get easier, and soon you’ll be a knowledgeable, experienced gym-going veteran.