Have you ever thought, “I’ll start at the gym when I’m Fitter or Stronger, or I can’t go to a gym. I’m not pretty enough.

Feeling intimidated by the gym is a genuine sensation. Research has found that fear of judgement tops the list of reasons why women aged 14 to 40 don’t exercise, even though arguably we’re a group of people who would benefit from and enjoy it most. 

Aggressive, outdated marketing and business strategies deter plenty of people — fat, thin, old, young, different classes, and different races — from ever even setting foot in the gym. “You aren’t like these people,” these messages whisper, in the hope that you’ll be inspired to part with your money to “be like them.” How often do you see gyms with images like the above used in their marketing? I’ll put my hand up. I’ve used images like this in the past, but not anymore.

When you’re fighting that tiny voice that says you don’t belong, before you even walk through the doors, facing down the free weights section in a shared space, starts feeling like scaling Mt. Everest.

But the gym can be a fantastic place once you do go. Trust Me, you can meet some wonderful people!

If you want to overcome your hesitation and get to the gym, these tips will help you get comfortable with the idea of working out in front of (and perhaps even with) other people.

1. Pick the right gym.

You may have to visit a few gyms before you find one that you’re even remotely comfortable with before you part with cash, and that’s OK. You can also consider an independent gym since these tend to have a smaller, more close-knit community of people.
If it’s possible for you to go to the gym during less-crowded off-peak times, then you may be more comfortable and not have to wait for equipment. Cosmo UK’s study says that 84 percent of women felt too intimidated to talk to the equipment hoggers and would instead end their workout than wait. Heading into a smaller gym at a less busy time helps avoid that possibility and lets you focus on yourself. As you gain confidence and begin to feel more comfortable, who knows? You may meet some new friends, start to visit the gym at busier times or change gyms altogether as you start to figure out what you really enjoy and how you want to train.

2. Have a solid plan before you go.

Research first — will you be meeting with a Coach or following a workout plan? Many coaches will offer a phone or email consultation beforehand and give you an idea of what to expect. Trying new moves? Practice the basic mechanics at home so you can get comfortable with how your body is going to feel while moving. Is there lingo you need to learn? Chances are someone has already covered that ground for you somewhere on the Internet (That’s my article for next Monday). Take advantage of available resources before you set foot in the gym.

3. When you get there, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Introduce yourself. Even if a Personal Trainer/Coach isn’t on the agenda for the moment, gyms usually offer an introductory gym tour including the facilities and equipment. Some gyms go even further by offering a complimentary session with a trainer, which can really help you understand specific equipment in your gym. Either way, don’t be afraid to ask what a piece of equipment is for and how to use it safely. I’m always willing to show you how to use equipment, I’d rather you use it safely than guess how to use it and hurt yourself.
Nobody is born knowing how to swing a kettlebell or perform a back squat. Expect the learning curve and know that everyone else went through this, too.

4. Pick interesting exercises.

If you’re focused on doing something that really interests you or you find it tricky, but achievable, you’re less likely to have time to focus on negative emotions. It’s challenging, and you’re also not likely to get bored with your routine.

5. Find your mindset.

Write down your reasons for wanting to go to the gym, maybe on the inside of your workout log or diary, and look at them frequently. If you’re not working with a coach exclusively, pick out a fantastic playlist and put on some secure headphones to help focus you on what you’re doing.

Finally, pick out workout clothes that make you feel comfortable and excited to train (You are allowed to be excited) and keep you safe. You know, something that won’t try to strangle you when it gets caught in the rowing machine. Try on your outfit and work through your workout moves at home. If you aren’t adjusting your clothing every few minutes, you can keep yourself focused on working out.

Finally, remember that there are people in gyms that support everything you’re doing right now. You’ve shown up, bought the membership, brought a right-sized towel and drink bottle and have every right to be there as much as the physique competitor and the powerlifter or the barbie dolls.

You may feel intimidated but remember: you do belong.

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