The gym can feel pretty intimidating at first—especially when it’s crowded with fitness fanatics who look like they were born curling dumbbells. What’s worse is that many first-timers often feel they’re being judged for not being as advanced. If you resonate with this, the first thing to remember is that you’re not alone.
Chelsea Miller, model and fitness junkie, shared her experience with The Thirty:
“I was highly intimidated by the gym atmosphere and my perception of the people who went there. I managed to get through the hardest part… walking through the door. But my fear kept me from reaching my full potential,” she said. “For the first six to eight months, I only used machines that I knew how to use and cardio equipment. I felt like everyone was constantly watching me, judging how well I used machines, how fast I ran, and how long I stayed on the treadmill. I was embarrassed, uncomfortable and lacking confidence.”
If this sounds familiar, you’re not out of luck because the second thing to remember is: there’s hope. There are many things you can do to make the gym feel more comfortable and welcoming and we’re sharing five that you can start using today.
1. Go with a friend
Many studies show that working out with a friend is key to adherence and overall weight loss success. Bringing a friend to the gym is also one of the best ways to make the experience more comfortable. It’s even better if your friend is familiar with the gym and can teach you about the equipment, which is likely something that’s making you nervous or stressed.
When working out with a friend, however, it’s easy to get distracted. To avoid this, set a few ground rules:
- Talking is OK between sets, but stick to a rest time, like 60 seconds. Use the timer on your phone to keep track so you don’t talk away the entire session. Avoid talking during the actual exercise so you can focus and prevent injury.
- Doing your own thing is fine. If one of you wants to bike and the other wants to run on the treadmill, do it. This is about your workout, and the two of you simply provide comfort and support as needed.
Finally, don’t let your gym buddy hold you back. If they’re continually late, or canceling on you, find someone else to go with. This person can act as an accountability partner too. If they keep throwing off your session, or bailing altogether, though, they’re not the best person to help you move forward.
2. Work with a trainer (for free!)
Most gyms offer a free training sessions to all new members. Don’t pass this up! If you’re not comfortable in the gym, it’s the perfect way to get your bearings. The best part is, most will allow you to claim the free session if you never took advantage of the opportunity when you first started, even if that was a few months previous.
To get the most from your session, come prepared with what you want to know. Do you want to get feedback on form? Do you need to learn how to use the machines? Are you seeking help setting up a basic weekly fitness plan? The session will likely fall into the 45- to 60-minute range, so having your intentions clear before will allow you to glean the most value.
3. Start with classes
Most gyms offer group exercise classes. These are a great way to get comfortable with the space and environment for a few reasons:
- Someone else is telling you what to do. If you’re still learning exercises, this is helpful before heading onto the open fitness floor.
- You’re with other people so the focus isn’t on you.
- You can get feedback on form from the instructor. They’ll likely be doing this already, so you won’t need to raise your hand or call yourself out if you want help.
While most classes will get your hear trate up and give you a great workout, choose the ones that help you address what you’re most nervous about. If you’ve never lifted weights, find a weight lifting class. If you want to increase your endurance so you’re not out of breath on the treadmill, take a cardio class. Most teachers are also personal trainers at that gym, so if you like the class, you can schedule one-on-one sessions with them as well.
4. Copy other people
If you’re not sure which exercises to do, watch the people around you. This is a great way to learn new moves and get a feel for how to use the equipment. One caveat is that not everyone is using proper form in the gym. More often than not, they’re also using way too much weight.
If you’re not sure about your form, check with a trainer. Most are able to step to the side and demonstrate something if you ask. They want you to be as safe as possible, and proper form is an important part of that.
It’s always best to start with minimal weight as well. This gives you a chance to practice the movement without resistance. When you’re ready, you can increase weight until you feel your muscles working.
5. Find the secret spots
Many large gyms have smaller rooms off to the side for stretching and floor work. These areas are usually less busy than the main gym, so you may be more comfortable trying new exercises in that space. The only catch is you may need to gather equipment from around the gym and carry it in with you.
These larger gyms also often have large fitness rooms for classes. When classes aren’t in session, however, the space is open for use by members. Like the smaller rooms, there are usually fewer people in here, which may also feel make the experience more comfortable.
The gym can be intimidating for so many reasons, but that doesn’t mean you can’t adjust and make it a space that feels safe and happy. Use these tips to get more comfortable with the gym and make your fitness goals a reality once and for all.