So you’ve made the leap and joined a gym. Congratulations! Choosing a gym is a huge step on the road to being more active. But sometimes even more challenging is convincing yourself to go. Even with the best intentions, motivating yourself to go to the gym can be difficult for a variety of reasons.
One challenge a lot of people face that doesn’t often get talked about in regards to fitness is anxiety. Over the years that I’ve been going to gyms, I’ve spoken to several people who have expressed concerns about going themselves because certain aspects make them anxious. I’m going to discuss a few of the ones I’ve heard most often (a couple of which I’ve experienced personally) and make suggestions about how to try to lessen those anxious feelings.
Locker rooms can be scary places. Some of them can be very cramped, dark, damp/humid, or otherwise foreboding. I once went to a gym that had a locker room that felt so claustrophobic to me that I specifically avoiding using it, opting to change in the bathroom at work before heading over for my workout. Some people don’t like the idea of changing out in the open or using a communal shower, so a gym locker room that doesn’t have partitioned showers or changing rooms might make it difficult for them to feel comfortable. In smaller locker rooms, the idea of not being able to find an available locker or space to change could cause anxiety.
- It’s not a bad idea to check out the locker room situation when you’re selecting a gym to see if it’s a place that you’ll feel at ease using. If you have a few options for gyms in your area, the comfort of the locker room can be a good limiting factor in your selection process. If you end up choosing or using a gym that’s great for you besides the locker room, there are a few things you can do either avoid the locker room, or try to find a way to use it that works best for you.
- Scout out the locker room at the times you’re wanting to use the gym. If you’re worried about having enough space or the availability of lockers in which to lock up your things, it might be helpful to get the lay of the land on a day you don’t actually plan to workout. If it looks like the locker room is extra busy at those times, you can consider adjusting your schedule a bit to a time that seems less crowded.
- Give yourself five to ten extra minutes. If you’re taking a class that typically has a lot of attendance it might be worth getting to the gym a bit earlier than you normally would so you can stake your claim on a locker and get changed before the locker room fills up.
- Avoid the locker room entirely. If using the locker room is really uncomfortable for you, do your changing and/or showering at home or the office.
Gyms have a lot of equipment, much of it high tech, and a lot of it differs between gyms. It can be very overwhelming for a person who hasn’t had a gym membership before, or hasn’t used gym equipment frequently or recently. Some gyms have instructions on their machines, but often you’re left to figure it out on your own. So how can you avoid the anxiety of not knowing what you’re doing?
- Consult the Desk Attendant. The lovely people who work the front desk at your gym are often the best resource you can find if you need help with the equipment. After all, they’re in the gym day after day fielding questions from members just like you. It’s their job to make your experience at their gym the best it can be, so they’ll likely be more than happy to give you a hand and answer all your questions.
- Google it. In the age of portable electronic devices and smart phones, you have a visual reference right in your hand. This is especially useful for weight machines as you can typically find videos online that will demonstrate how to properly use them.
- Ask a friend. If you’re new to a gym and you have a friend, colleague, or acquaintance that is also a member, ask if they’ll give you a tour. Chances are if they’ve been a member for a while they’ll have an idea of how things work, either from using the machines themselves or observing other gym goers.
I personally love group fitness. Nothing is more motivating to me than filling up my schedule with weekly classes and get to know the instructor as well as the group of people I will workout with on a recurring basis. Unfortunately that means meeting a whole bunch of new people all at once, which is a nightmare for us introverts. In addition there are a bunch of other unknowns before attending that first class that can make going a little terrifying. When thinking about going to a new class, I will often do the following things to try and quiet my nerves:
- Get there early. Not knowing how many people usually show up at a specific class, it’s good to try and arrive early the first couple of times you attend. This will give you time to find some space for yourself, meet the teacher (a good instructor will be a few minutes early him/herself), and acquire any dumbbells/mats/steps/other equipment you may need for the class while there’s still a good selection left.
- Scope it out. If there’s a way for you to look in on a class while it’s in session without disturbing anyone, it might be helpful to take a look to see what it looks like before attending yourself. Checking it out ahead of time will give you an idea of how many people will be there and see what the class is all about.
- Meet the Instructor. A lot of times the class will be lead by one of the gym’s personal trainers or other employees, so you might have an opportunity to meet with them outside of class. One-on-one you can ask questions about what you can expect during the class and get an idea if it’s something that will work for you.
Some gyms have really nice, big parking lots and some… not so much. My current gym is awesome, but it’s in the cute, historical part of town where I work and, as such, it doesn’t have a lot of available area for parking. More than once I’ve been running late for a class and haven’t been able to park and have wanted to just give up and go home. Worrying about finding parking, particularly during the busier times of day (6:00 – 7:30AM and 5:00 – 6:30PM), can be a major source of anxiety for many gym goers. Some things I’ve done to help me feel better about potential crazy parking situations are:
- Get to the gym early. I know I’ve said this twice before already, but showing up at the gym even five minutes earlier might be able to help you beat the rush.
- Look for other nearby parking options. If your gym’s parking lot fills up quickly there may be some additional public parking within reasonable walking distance that you can use as a backup plan. Be sure to make sure you’re not parking somewhere that requires a permit or has parking restrictions, and remember to pay any fees that may be required. It’s also very important to make sure you’re parking somewhere you feel safe walking to and from, especially if you’ll be doing so in the dark or at dawn/dusk.
- Carpool. If you go to the gym with someone you know it might not be a bad idea to coordinate with them so you can carpool to the gym together. This will not only help you to take up one less parking spot, but it’s good for the environment too.
- Commute without a car. If parking at your gym is limited you might consider getting to the gym without driving. There may be a bus with a convenient route you can use, or if the weather is good and the gym isn’t too far away you could ride your bicycle or even walk/run over. If you bike/walk/run not only will you get to avoid the parking hassle, but you’ll burn some bonus calories as well. Of course it’s important to be safe as well, so be sure to have a light/reflective clothing if you’ll be out in the dark, and don’t commute on foot/by bicycle if you feel your safety could be compromised in any way.
Some of us gym rats can be a little obsessed with workout clothes (I have enough dryfit shirts that I could go two weeks without needing to do laundry), but not everyone is as excited by capris leggings and sports bras as we are. To newer gym goers the idea of figuring out what to wear to workout in is worse than deciding that to wear on a date. For those ladies, consider the following when shopping for your first new gym outfit:
- Comfort is key. Some sports apparel companies will try to tell you that you have to wear specific clothes for certain workouts, but the truth is that it’s more important to be comfortable than anything else. Exercise is hard, and the last thing you need is for the waistband of your pants to be digging into your stomach while you’re doing crunches or your shirt to be riding up with each squat jump. By clothes at fit without worrying what the tag says. The only person who will know that number is you and the cashier who rang you up.
- Try before you buy. Trying things on is also a good idea before you start buying online. Make sure you know what will not only look good but feel good when you’re exercising. Jump around a bit in that dressing room, do some experimental squats or forward bends, make sure those pants will stay up and that bra will keep your gals in place. And don’t feel bad about having to return something if it doesn’t work out. Keeping a pair of workout pants you’ll never wear again doesn’t help anyone.
- Treat yourself. I’ve found that buying a new workout top can reinvigorate my motivation for exercise; I just can’t wait to go show it off at the gym. Dropping $40 on a shirt you’ll only wear for an hour before it needs to be washed might feel like a crazy expense, but if it gets you out there hitting those weights it will be more than worth it.
- You do you. Like exercising in a polo shirt and basketball shorts? Do it! There’s no rule saying you have to wear a fancy technical shirt or compression shorts to get your workout on. Wear whatever makes you feel the most comfortable, motivated, and awesome and forget the haters.
Fear of judgement keeps many people out of the gym. Anxiety or apprehension about being mocked, either openly or secretly, is a very real worry for a lot of men and women who are trying to get into (or back into) fitness. I wish I could say that no one will judge you at the gym, but that’s not always true. It’s a sad fact of life that some people just don’t feel happy about themselves unless they’re judging other people. Since we (unfortunately) can’t send those jerks to live on their own island of insecure bullies, I have one piece of advice for dealing with them:
- Screw ’em. Most of these judgemental meanies keep their opinions to themselves, which means we don’t have to hear it. Their negative, ugly thoughts can rot inside their own heads while we hold our heads high and embark on our healthy, active lifestyles. Don’t let what people might think about you keep you from becoming a better you. It’s easier said than done, but dwelling on what others may be thinking can cause you to feel bad about yourself, and you absolutely don’t deserve that. You’re a wonderful, amazing person who has just as much right to run on a treadmill or practice yoga or pump iron as anyone else. You have the freedom to choose what you wear, how you put up your hair, and what music you listen to, and nobody has the right to tell you that you’re doing it wrong.
Anxiety sucks. Many (if not all) of us deal with it everyday on varying levels, and it can have a very real impact on our lives. Above all else it’s important to be kind and patient with yourself while you try to work past it, and to be sympathetic of other people’s struggles. If you find that your anxiety is making it really difficult to get by all the time, seeking out a therapist is a very good option, and it can be a way great to help you find your balance. Most of all, don’t be afraid. There isn’t a single human on the planet that is perfect, and asking for help does not equal failure of any kind. Take care of yourself, listen to your body and your mind, and always remember to breathe. You can do it!