The gym is a place that a small, strange group of people define as their “sanctuary” — but for most of us it’s an anxiety inducing labyrinth that brings out the worst of our insecurities.
You get to the gym, and you feel accomplished for getting off of your ass in the first place. But that brief sense of satisfaction is fast fleeting. Now, you actually have to work out.
That machine’s taken, that one’s broken, and you have no idea how to use the other one. You’re lost, and overwhelmed, and you regret coming in the first place.
You find a mat somewhere and start stretching. That should be easy enough, right? Then a girl that looks like she does paid Instagram posts for Bang Energy plops down 4 feet from you, using all of these elastics, oddly shaped weights and other equipment, and you feel like Spongebob next to Larry the Lobster in that one episode.
Okay, enough of that. You make your way to the treadmill. You speedwalk for 7 minutes, jog for 3, “cool down” for 5 more and make your way to a different section of the gym. You finally find something open that you know how to use. And then you make eye contact with someone with biceps the size of your head, and you’re doubting yourself all over again. “Oh my god, I’m doing this wrong.” “I look like an idiot.”
That was a little over the top, but in one way or another it captures all too many beginner experiences at the gym. You decide you want to make a change and become more healthy and active, but it comes with an entirely new set of challenges that you didn’t anticipate.
It was easier for me to start working out because I started out using the gym in my apartment. And sure, there were people that clearly knew what there were doing, but it wasn’t intimidating at all. At the time, I didn’t live in an apartment full of hot young professionals, so I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. I could go in pajamas and smoking slippers if I felt like it. But more important than what I was wearing, I had time to get comfortable at the gym without the fear of being judged.
What I liked about the gym at my old apartment was that I had 24/7 access to it. So I could go at 11 at night or 2 in the morning when I knew no one would be there. One of the only downfalls to my new apartment was that their “gym” was just a room full of treadmills, and with the body I have and the body I want, I need to focus on weight training. So I actually had to buy a membership at a real gym that closed around midnight.
When I was taking advantage of the free trials in my area, I was usually going right after work when the gyms were most crowded. One was busy, but the other one was absolutely overwhelming. It was a legit zoo. I think I left less than 20 minutes into my work out, telling myself I’d come back in the early hours of the morning. One step in getting over gym anxiety is going when it’s as empty as possible — so in most cases that’s as it’s opening or an hour or so before it’s closing.
A lot of gym rats swear on free weights like their lives depend on it, but starting out with machines as opposed to free weights helped me get comfortable at my new gym, because while you might not know how to adjust something here and there, most of them are pretty hard to get wrong. They even tell you what part of your body you’re targeting. Move your arms this way. Move your legs that way. Voila. And while in theory, lifting weights isn’t much different, it’s a lot easier to screw up your form and have a counterproductive work out.
This may seem obvious, but just be observant. When I see a girl with a really nice body that looks like she knows what she’s doing, I pay attention to her routine and take mental notes. And I like to save work out videos from Instagram and YouTube fit chicks that give me a better idea of what kind of work outs I should be focusing on.
Lastly, I want to say that while it’s completely natural to feel insecure at the gym when you first start going, the truth is that whether you’re using a janitor’s closet with 2 mats and a jump rope or joining Equinox, no one is paying attention to you. Especially not the fit bros and flat tummy tea models going nuts in the free weight section. People are at the gym to improve themselves, not mock you or make fun of you. And even on the off chance someone smirks at you or looks at you funny, it’s what — 5 seconds of being kind of embarrassed? Everyone starts somewhere, and the fear of looking stupid is going to hinder you far more than a couple of awkward work outs will.