For anyone taking their first steps to working out, the gym can be a frightening place. When I first began properly exercising a few years ago I was terrified by the bright lights, pounding music, and complicated contraptions promising to build muscles I didn’t even know I had. With fitness fanatics seeming to know exactly what they were doing and dominating everything from the weight machines to the studio, I felt too daunted to do much more than a cursory run on the treadmill before shuffling back to the changing room. God forbid I should ever even venture close to the weights section, crammed full of grunting men heaving the kind of barbells I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to lift off the rack, never mind hoist above my head.
Gyms can be incredibly exclusionary environments, particularly for anyone who doesn’t feel clued up on fitness or who doesn’t fit into society’s vision of what a gym-goer looks like. If you aren’t young and toned, one peek around the changing room door can be enough to send you scampering.
This is particularly unfortunate considering that only 23% of Americans meet the recommended amount of exercise, which is said to be around 150 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity per week in addition to at least two sessions of muscle-strengthening activities.
Women are disproportionately affected and are consistently less active than their male counterparts throughout their lives. Studies suggest that a lack of confidence and a tendency to feel self-conscious when exercising is a key cause of this issue. Gym intimidation is real, and it has major health implications.
Those who are able to meet recommended health milestones will benefit from a whole host of perks. In addition to preventing obesity and improving heart health and blood pressure, exercise also boosts energy, promotes better sleep, and stimulates brain chemicals that can leave you happier, less anxious, and feeling more confident. Moreover, the gym can be a great place to simply relax, enjoy yourself, and even socialize. Don’t let being intimidated by that gym babe with the perfect deadlift form put you off from reaping these incredible advantages.
If you’re planning on putting in some serious gym sessions this year but are nervous about getting started, these tips will help you face the fear.
Try out classes
If you’re new to exercise, classes can be a great way to get started. You’ll be able to try out new things under the watchful eye of an instructor and usually within a mixed-ability group. They are also a chance to figure out what you enjoy — most gyms offer everything from Zumba to Pilates, as well as more intense cardio and strength classes. With all of the options, you’re sure to find something that makes you genuinely look forward to getting your gym kit out.
If you’re hoping that classes will be a starting point for more independent training, pick a class that utilizes gym equipment and incorporates a variety of exercises. A circuit or weight training class will include a host of different moves, and a trainer will be on hand to demonstrate and correct your form if needed. Once you’re feeling confident enough, you can take your new skills out on the gym floor and design your own routine based on the exercises you enjoy most.
Find a fitness influencer you can relate to and follow them
If you have no idea where to get started and don’t feel confident asking for help, social media can be a surprisingly useful tool. There are fitness influencers from all walks of life and with a range of body types and fitness goals that can inspire you. Find a page that you feel aligns most closely with your own aims and hit the follow button.
You’ll find that most influencers post videos and photos explaining how to use equipment and demonstrating the correct posture for exercises. Many will even share full routines and gym sessions that you can adapt and try out yourself. That’s not to mention the major #gyminspo you’ll get from seeing women you can relate to killing it in their sessions. I love Jessamyn Stanley, who advocates yoga for all body types and posts some great vinyasa flow videos; and Grace Fit UK, whose super relatable content is all about those booty gains.
Find a workout buddy
Sometimes there’s safety in numbers. Roping in a friend to join you at the gym may help to alleviate some of your nerves — it’s even better if they’re a seasoned gym-goer and can show you some moves.
Even if your companion is as clueless as you are, bringing a buddy along to the gym has a whole host of benefits. You’ll feel less self-conscious with someone to laugh off trying new things out with, you can figure out equipment together, and you can do some partnered workouts as a fun and sociable way to make the most out of your membership.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
See those personal trainers hanging around? They’re there to help you! Don’t be afraid to ask a member of gym staff to explain how to use a machine or to check your form — they’ll probably be pleased that you’re giving them a break from tidying up the dumbbells.
If you’d like more tailored attention and have the funds to do so, then you can also enlist the help of a personal trainer. This doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment or a regular part of your routine — I personally shudder at the thought of having someone shouting encouragement as I sweat my way through another set of burpees twice a week. Most trainers will be happy to arrange a one-off session to figure out a personal workout plan that you can do in your own time. You’ll feel much more confident knowing that your gym session has a professional seal of approval.
Remember that people probably aren’t paying attention to you
Everyone in the gym is focused on their own workout, and as much as it might seem like people are staring, the fact is they simply aren’t. And if someone spots you, so what? Everyone was once a gym newbie and most people won’t judge you, even if you are looking slightly unsure. You should also be aware that there are a multitude of ways that you can use gym equipment, so people won’t necessarily assume that you’re doing something wrong if you’re trying things out and aren’t totally sure what to do.
If you’re not quite ready to break out of your comfort zone, stick to things that you feel safe doing and see how often you hone in on someone else. The likelihood is that you’ll barely notice other gym-goers — and they’ll barely notice you either.
Whatever your gym journey looks like, remember that even stepping foot in a new and potentially intimidating environment is a massive achievement. Focus on your goals, and most importantly, have fun. You’ll soon feel right at home.