Now that summer is approaching, it’s high time you find your way out of the gym and into the fresh air where you can take part in a handful of outdoor exercises. However, that’s if and only if you’re already a gym regular — meaning, you’re not using the upcoming season as another excuse to continue avoiding the gym in fear. Yes, we know you’re out there, and you’re certainly not alone. A lot of Americans want to exercise, but foster a fear of the gym and can only muster ideas of bulky bodybuilders, intimidating machines, and accident inducing treadmills when they envision exercise.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you are scared of what lies inside the four walls of the fitness center, it’s important to understand that you’re not alone and summer might actually be the best time to overcome this fear, because fewer people visit the gym during the heat, and therefore you won’t be intimidated by other exercisers.
If your summer 2014 resolution is overcoming your fear of the gym and finally getting the body you’ve always wanted, read up on these seven tips for getting over fitness center anxiety. Before you know it, you’ll be a regular at your neighborhood gym, and by the time fall rolls around, newbies will be the ones asking you for advice.
1. Take a group fitness class
One of the easiest ways to get over your initial gym fear is by enrolling yourself in a group fitness class there. The beauty of these classes is that you don’t have to know what you’re doing because the class instructor will do that for you, and in the classes, you can expect a friendly environment where most people are trying out new exercises and aren’t expecting any experts. What’s more, as long as you tell the fitness class instructor you’re a newbie, he or she will usually be more than willing to help you out and give you extra attention if you need it.
Once you take the plunge and sign up for a class, simply show up early, tell your instructor you’re new, and find a good spot somewhere in the middle of the room where you can see the instructor but won’t be blocking everyone else’s view. You’ll blend right in and will be easily able to take cues from the instructor and other participants. Don’t worry — everyone will be too busy focused on their own exercise to be judging and looking at you. Many gyms offer Les Mills group fitness classes. Here’s a breakdown of what those entail: Top 5 Les Mills Classes for Group Fitness Junkies.
2. Avoid Peak Hours, Bring Music
Our next tip details what you should bring to the gym and what time you should go. If you are already feeling intimidated by the hoards of fitness junkies you expect to see at the gym, go easy on yourself at first and deliberately avoid peak hours, as many would agree that an empty gym is much less stress-inducing than a crowded one. There are definite times of the day when the most number of people are making their way to the gym — and that’s typically in the early morning hours before work, and right after work around dinnertime. Gyms are usually ghost towns after 8 p.m., so if your schedule and energy level allows it, try to either visit the fitness center midday or later at night. That way, you can navigate your own routine without tripping over other exercisers, and you can focus on only yourself.
In addition, when you go to the gym, be sure you bring music — especially if you are feeling intimidated. Putting your ear plugs in and zoning out to motivational music can silence the other gym goers and give you the push you need to keep going.
3. Map Out What You’re Doing Before You Get There
Along with the headphones, make sure you visit the gym prepared with a game plan. Wandering around aimlessly will only create more stress, and you’ll likely convince yourself that everyone is watching you stalk around awkwardly. That’s why you should plan out what you want to do at the gym before you even get there so you can make a beeline to your machines once you arrive. If you’re looking for cardio, hit one of the machines (whether elliptical, treadmill, or stairmaster) or, if you’re interested in lifting weights, have a routine already mapped out for you. Here are a couple cardio and functional workout plans constructed by Julie Fagan, a certified personal trainer at Peanut Butter Fingers that can help you get started.
4. Research Online
Another thing you can do to prepare for your workouts at the gym is conduct some research online so you know exactly what you should be doing at the gym and how to do it without causing injury. The weight room is an intimidating place for many people, but understanding how to use the machines and what muscles they tax will make them much less threatening. There are many helpful YouTube tutorial and fitness sites that tell you exactly how to use machines and how to perfect your form.
It doesn’t even end there. If you don’t know how to do a certain exercise in a circuit workout routine, such as one of the ones highlighted above, simply research it beforehand. If you don’t know how to tackle a certain cardio machine, look that up as well. Take advantage of the Internet, because once you get to the gym, you may be out of luck when it comes to resources unless you enlist someone else working out at the gym or an employee.
Here’s an example of a YouTube video that could teach you how to do a burpee, a popular exercise listed on the aforementioned circuit workout.
5. Schedule a Session With a Personal Trainer or Employee
Your other option is to let an expert teach you how to use all of the machines and map out a fitness routine that is right for you. A lot of the time, when new members sign up for a gym, the fitness center offers the opportunity for a personal trainer session, and if your wallet allows it, you should consider taking advantage of the option. One training session can make you feel more at home at the gym, and more relaxed about the idea of returning when you’re on your own.
What’s more, even if you don’t have the funds to support a personal trainer addiction, when you sign up at a new gym, ask an employee to show you the ropes so you know where everything is. This is required of fitness centers, and workers may even offer the option before you ask for it, but make sure you don’t shy away when the opportunity presents itself. You might initially feel awkward following an employee around the gym, but a few minutes of discomfort is much better than a lifetime of confusion at the gym.
6. Bring a Friend to the Gym
Or, last option: simply bring a friend to the gym. He or she may not know as much as a personal trainer or gym employee, but a friend will at least put you at ease, and give you someone whom you can direct your questions to or imitate if he or she knows what he’s doing. A lot of people like to lift weights together, go on cardio machines alongside each other, and motivate each other to get to the gym. In that way, a gym buddy is key, especially if you’re feeling nervous about visiting a fitness center for the first time. Bringing a friend is an easy way to instantly alleviate the discomfort.
7. Be Confident
Lastly, the best look you can adopt when visiting a gym for the first time and trying to overcome anxiety is one of confidence, because as long as you look like you know what you’re doing, you’re golden. Confidence is everything, and before long, you’ll trick yourself into actually feeling self-assured even before you realize it.
The important thing to recognize about the gym is that far fewer people are paying attention to you than you actually think. Most of the time, everyone is concentrated on their own workouts and are simply trying to get through their own routines so they can go home. That means that believe it or not, nine times out of ten, no one is interested in wasting the energy in judging you. Everyone has been a newbie at the gym before, and everyone gets that. Put in your headphones, pull out your gym routine, and hop on a machine. The hardest part about going to the gym for the first time is getting yourself there, but once you get inside the doors and realize that everyone there is in their own world, you’ll likely see that there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place.