I have quite a few friends who, after I started going to the gym regularly and became addicted, started asking me for advice about getting started on a fitness/workout routine. It was pretty humbling to have people telling me that what I was doing was inspiring them to either try it out for the first time or try to get back into it after a long time without. And because I was growing so passionate about what I do in the gym and for my fitness and health, I was always more than happy to share my experiences and how I figured things out.
One of the most common themes that kept popping up in conversations with my friends and people I knew was, how did I feel comfortable in the gym? A lot of them kept telling me it was too nerve-wracking to think about going to a gym filled with people working hard, and either not knowing what to do or not feeling confident at what they were doing. So, how did I do it? How did I go every day for a couple of hours and not want to leave right away?
I completely understood what they meant. I was terrified when I bought my gym membership and started going. I’d given up on every other gym membership I’d ever gotten, feeling too intimidated by all the people around me who seemed to know exactly what they were doing. I was fine at my parents’ home, using my father’s weights and going for jogs down the empty country road. However, when I was in a room filled with ripped, athletic men, and toned, fit women, it was pretty scary to look down at my twiggy legs and the piddly weight I was lifting and feel utterly inadequate. I always ended up giving up, the effort didn’t feel worth it to me. But this time it was different, I had a goal now and a dream to work towards. Nothing was going to get in my way, especially not my own self-consciousness.
That wasn’t something I was really willing to share outside of my closest circle of friends, so I simply gave my friends the following information and advice:
Have a goal in mind
It doesn’t matter if that goal is to be able to jog 1km without becoming winded, if that goal is to lose 10 kgs or put on 3 kgs, if that goal is to lift your own body weight or just 10 kgs. Whether your goal is physically related (weight, bulk, strength, fitness) or mentally related (discipline, confidence, stress relief), or a combination of the both relating to general health and wellbeing, you should have one. It can be as simple as ‘I want to work out for 20 minutes every day’ or as complicated as ‘I wanted to reach a particular level of muscle mass and be able to lift certain percentages of my body weight’; if you have a goal you will be more motivated to go the gym once, or twice, or three times, or every day of the week. That motivation will help move past the self confidence you feel around others working out, but the following point will help overcome that even more.
Choose a gym that is right for you
This is one of the most difficult parts of getting started and feeling at home working out. Finances, preferences, particular kinds of exercise – these all contribute to the type of gym that will suit you (or perhaps if a gym even suits you at all). I purchased a membership to a gym that allowed me access to an all female gym, a co-ed gym, and an indoor swimming pool.
I was still nervous about the idea of working out around confident, capable men, when I was so thin and weak when I began, so I started out exclusively using an all female gym and then swimming laps after a workout. It was comfortable being in a smaller space and I usually went when there were only a few people around until I felt more confident. This is a pretty good consideration for a lot of women who want to start working out but are feeling nervous. I’ll be honest, a lot of all female gyms can be catty which can be worse, but they often have less members than co-ed gyms and so it can be easier to avoid people by going at certain hours if it’s possible for your schedule. For some people, they need access to a 24 hour gym because of the hours they work. Some people need access to certain equipment for their particular routines. These are all important considerations when choosing a gym.
Before you choose, visit the gyms, see if you feel comfortable in the space. See if you like the staff. See if any of the regulars give you the heebs. Explore your options before you make a commitment. You’re not going to feel motivated to go to the gym if you don’t like your gym. I love all my gym spaces and I use each one of them depending on my mood, or what I want to do that day in my workout. The women’s gym is my main space because I’m so familiar with it (and also because the olympic bars are usually free and I rarely have to wait to use them but that’s another story).
Also, it’s possible that a gym might not suit you. Perhaps you’re more comfortable running or cycling outside for cardio, and doing home workouts in your own space. That’s fine too. The entire point of a workout is that it should work for you and if a large space with ridiculous looking machines and too many people doesn’t help you feel motivated, then don’t go. It’s super easy to devise home workouts, there are plenty of resources to help you get started.
The point is, choose a place to workout and exercise that is right for you and nobody else.
Nobody is judging you
This is probably the hardest thing to wrap your mind around. In a gym, when you feel like everyone is staring, laughing, sneering etc. they’re probably not actually. It’s hard to believe this when you’re nervous and self-conscious – it took me a long time to believe it despite being told by numerous gym rats – but it’s the truth; seven out of ten people at a gym are there purely to do their thing and then go home, the other three are there to socialise to procrastinate or other. If you’re there to do your thing, ignore that 30% and just follow the lead of the other seventy, just do your own thing. If anything, somebody watching you might be witnessing a new exercise they want to try (I do this a lot, if I see somebody doing something I haven’t done before, I might watch them so I can give it a try) or they might be checking on you, if they know you’re a newbie, in case you need help.
Story time: That actually happened to me on my first visit to one of the co-ed gyms I have access to. One of the trainers was staring at me lifting weights and I was starting to get all self-conscious but when I put the dumbells down and moved past him, he asked if he could show me a better technique. He was very kind and helpful and when I finished my workout he complimented my fast leaning as I left and wished me a good day.
My point is, in my experiences, the majority of the fitness community are helpful and non-judgemental. Whatever your reason for starting a workout regime, they want you to succeed. They want you to achieve your goals and feel at home in the gym. Once you experience that first hand and realise it, it’s a lot less unnerving to venture into the gym.
In conclusion, those three things are what helped me find a place I felt comfortable and therefore could go every day to work towards my goals. It’s not easy feeling at home in the gym, I will admit, but once you do, it’s hard to leave. So, if you’re feeling nervous about getting started in this wide world of sport and fitness, I hope this piece gave you some ideas about how to find a place that will be comfortable for you to start moving and kick some serious tail. Go get ’em!
Note: That gym pictured is not mine, my gym has pink walls and feminist art hanging everywhere but that gym looks amazing and I kinda wanna go haha.