Health & happiness

Going to the gym without being scared

A lot of people find the gym an intimidating place and are scared to go to the gym. Everybody seems to know exactly what they are doing and most people appear to be in great shape already. Where do you start? What if you do something wrong? In this article I share six tips on how to overcome this gym intimidation and start enjoying your workouts!

I completely understand the concept of ‘gym intimidation’, or being embarrassed to go to the gym. I started going to the gym over two years ago and I still don’t feel completely comfortable all the time. However, I am way more at ease than I was at the start. If the grunting, throwing weights around and taking mirror selfies wasn’t bad enough, I constantly felt people were staring at me or making fun of me. I had never even touched a dumbbell and had no idea what all the machines were for (I still don’t for a lot of them). Below I’ve outlined six tips that, in hindsight, really helped me get over my fear of the gym. If I can do it, you can too!

1. Ask for a tour

When you’re first starting out at a gym, asking for a tour of the gym is a great way to lower the threshold of coming in after you’ve enrolled (big step) and are officially on your own. Let the owner explain the machines, show where everything is (locker rooms, toilets) so the next time you come in you’ll be prepared. Trust me, it really helps. Look around, check out the equipment and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also, taking a look around at the people and the workouts they do. It’s like seeing you’re classmate’s faces before the first day at a new school.

2. Find a workout buddy

For some, going to the gym alone is not only boring, but also ineffective. I know lots of people who need someone to get them out of bed in the morning, or through a workout, otherwise they’ll just skip it. For the record, I am not one of those people; I love going to the gym alone. But I do understand that working out with someone can make it easier for those of you who are dreading it or need help to be consistent. It enables you to ask for help with the equipment and how to do a certain exercise and it serves as a great distraction. So choose a set number of days a week to go to the gym with a friend, and you’re much more likely to actually go.

3. Start with group lessons

If you are suffering from serious gym intimidation, why not start the safe way: with group lessons? Most gyms offer a wide variety of group lessons, such as body pump, Pilates or yoga. All you really have to do for these classes is show up – no need to figure out difficult equipment, worry about your form or how many reps you need to complete. It’s a great way to start feeling comfortable with being at the gym, while also getting a great workout. Win-win!

4. Start with cardio

This is how I started. When I first joined a gym, I was mostly intimidated by everything I didn’t know, which was all the weight training equipment. When I first walked in, fiddling my iPod and water bottle, I walked straight towards what I did recognize: a cross-trainer; which is where I spent the first few weeks. After I while, I started getting used to the environment, the people and my fear slowly faded. Also, my workouts got boring and that’s the main reasons I joined a gym in the first place: variety. So I got over my fear and walked over to some of the easy-looking equipment and picked up a dumbbell. During my first weeks on the cross-trainer I took my time to look around and spy on other people, so I did learn a few things. This made the transition from cardio to weight training a little less intimidating. Also, I recommend starting at the lowest weight. Don’t worry about how you’ll look to other people, at least you won’t drop the weights in the middle of a work-out or sustain an injury. Be sure you know how to execute an exercise before moving on to heavier weights. ‘Form over weight’ is the rule!

5. Plan your workouts in advance

I still live by this: I always, always plan my workouts. I never go to the gym unprepared. It has less to do with intimidation now, and more with the fact that I want to be efficient. I don’t want to be in the gym any longer than I need to be, so I keep an App on my phone with my exercises for the day, how many reps to do, how many sets and what weights to use. I started doing this because I wanted to be prepared, so when I got to the gym I wouldn’t look stupid and this really helped me. Whenever I wasn’t sure how an exercise worked, I just quickly Googled it and realized most gym equipment and exercises are universal and there’s a Google image or YouTube video showing exactly how they work. I did a lot of Googling in my first weeks, until I got used to my new routine. Now I like to change it up every couple of months so it doesn’t get boring. What I do now is Google ‘alternatives’ when I get sick of an exercise, and that works really well too.

6. Dress comfortably

This may not be life-changing advice, but I always feel better at the gym when I’m comfortable. I also make sure I look good, because that just makes me feel better, but I don’t wear clothes that make me have to suck everything in. Also, I always work out early in the morning so I don’t wear any make-up or do my hair. I look terrible, but I really don’t care. It isn’t about how you look, it’s about getting a good workout in and starting the day off right. Wear something you feel comfortable in, and you’ll feel much better when you walk into the gym and start exercising.

I hope these tips help (some of) you get over your fear of the gym. It took me a while to get over mine, but the key is to keep going. If you still feel terrified at the gym after trying out all these tips, I have one final piece of advice: go early! I always work out at 7am and there are literally only five people in the gym at that time. I love it! Late Sunday afternoons are also great; a lot of people have a so-called ‘rest day’ on Sunday and my gym is usually deserted after 2pm. Just find what works for you, and which days and times are best. Most importantly: don’t give up! Joining a gym is one of the best decisions I ever made. I look better, I feel better and I am able to eat much more food without gaining weight. How great is that?!

Emmelyn X

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