When you walk into the gym, what do you expect to see? Huge, muscular dudes grunting as they lift weights? Tiny girls in Lycra shorts and tank tops bopping away on the Stairmaster? Buff trainers yelling at their clients to give them 10 more?
And there’s you. Ten pounds, 50 pounds, 100 pounds overweight. Not sure where to start. Not sure where everything’s located. But really, really sure you want to be anywhere but where you are.
I’m here to tell you something: None of those people notice you. Most of the people at the gym are so into their own workout, whatever’s on the TV screen in front of them or, let’s face it, themselves, that they barely notice you. Trust me. You are just another person at the gym to them.
I completely understand how going to the gym can be daunting to someone who isn’t familiar with the layout or who feels out of place because they’re out of shape. You don’t want to embarrass yourself. You don’t want to be a sweaty, red, huffing and puffing mess in front of others.
But let me tell you. You’ll get over it. Fast.
Once you get in there and find things you like to do — run, walk, elliptical, spinning, dance aerobics, swimming — you will find people who give you a little nod, a little smile, and you’ll start to feel more comfortable. Whether you start out simply walking for 30 min., or you try something more strenuous like kickboxing, the point is that you’re there and you’re trying. You’ll be surprised how quickly you start to feel proud of yourself for just making the effort. And that pride? It will give you courage.
Here are some reminders to keep in mind if you’re a gym newbie, or you’re trying to work up the courage to get back to the gym:
1. Come prepared. Bring a towel and a water bottle and appropriate attire and shoes. Most people wear earbuds so they can listen to their own music.
2. Be courteous of others by wiping down the machines. Yeah, not everyone does it. But you should be one of the gym-goers that does.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask the staff to give you a tour on your first visit (they usually will do this automatically) or explain a piece of equipment that you’re unfamiliar with. That’s what they’re there for! Not just to swipe your key card.
4. Start slow. No one expects you to run like Flo Jo or lift like a Stallone right away! On the treadmill, work on your speed or incline or length of time/distance in increments. With weights, check out videos on YouTube or search moves to do on Pinterest and take your phone with you so you can get a reminder of how to do them properly. And with classes, most instructors provide alternatives so you can kick the intensity up a notch, or keep it at a lower level as you get used to the moves.
5. Find a gym buddy. If you’re always at the gym at a certain time, or you always take Zumba at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, say hello to someone. That person will most likely turn into someone you chat with once in a while, and he or she will notice if you’re not there — in other words, hold you accountable if you miss class. This will keep you going back, and you may even meet someone with who you can try a new class with or ask questions.
6. If you’re a woman, take advantage of the female-only area if your gym has one. You may feel more comfortable starting out here at first, where you can lift weights and do cardio without the bros around. But, honestly, venturing into the larger weight room is pretty empowering. Girls can lift, too!
These are just some basic tips if you are trying to get back into the groove at a gym or trying one out for the first time. While I understand the intimidation factor, sometimes you just have to suck it up and say: “I’m doing this for me, for my health, so be damned with everyone else!”
Have you ever felt intimidated at the gym? What other questions do you have about using a gym’s facilities or gym etiquette?