It’s the start of a new month and you’re lacing on your brand new Nike gym shoes; you have your fresh towel draped over your shoulder and the matching Gymshark set you’re wearing is clinging tightly to your skin like an infant with separation anxiety. After several weeks of enjoying yourself a little too much – inebriated nights out, drowning in bowls of dumplings and breakfasts of mi goreng or avocado toast- you’ve finally decided to muster up the effort to obtain a gym membership. It can be a daunting experience, showing up to the gym for the first time in several months (or, ever), especially if you are feeling self-conscious in your appearance or physical ability. This is particularly the case if you used to be athletic as a teenager, or you were a previous gym-junkie in your early twenties and you have decided to re-ignite your love for exercise. No matter your experience in the gym, stepping into a new space filled with unknown people and equipment can invoke feelings of sheer anxiety and dread.
Change Your Thinking
The first thing you can do to mentally prepare yourself for going to the gym as a newbie is to reframe your perception. You probably feel apprehensive because going to the gym is a new experience for you. It’s likely you have formulated the belief in your mind that the other gym-goers will stare at you and criticise your every move. You think that you have a big red sign stapled to your face saying “I have no idea what I’m doing”. From my experience with various gyms, this is absolutely not the case and, in fact, the opposite is likely to be true. Most people at the gym are focussed on themselves and their own exercises, so it’s very unlikely that anyone will pay you even a moments attention. A swift glance at the new face and possibly even a welcoming smile is probably all you’ll receive from other people. Most other gym-goers also appreciate what it’s like to be new at the gym, because they too had to start somewhere. For me personally, for two years as soon as I arrived to the gym I headed straight for the cardio room, barely glancing sideways at the confusing and intimidating weights and machines. Nowadays I use most machines on a weekly basis and feel pretty comfortable manoeuvring myself around the weights room. The point is, we all have to start somewhere, and most of us remember what it feels like to be at the beginning of our gym journey, so it’s important you change your negative thoughts that everyone is judging you.
Whilst other people won’t be judging you in the gym, you might raise a few eyebrows if you start doing some quirky manoeuvres on the machines in the weights room. A good way to avoid drawing unwanted attention to yourself and ease you into your first gym session is to use your trusty mate Google to research common exercises and equipment. If you explicitly search this you will find a plethora of useful information that will increase your knowledge and allow you to feel more comfortable in the gym environment. Of course no one is expecting you to publish a research paper on the mechanics of the Smith machine, but it only takes a couple of minutes to watch a youtube video or read a blog post about how to use a machine correctly. You won’t becoming an expert by merely observing, but if you are completely unaware of how to use the machines, the internet is an excellent place to start. There is also an abundance of free gym programs for beginners available that you can utilise for some direction and purpose in the gym.
Book a PT Session
When you sign up to a gym, it’s common for the staff to point you in the direction of or introduce you to one of their personal trainers at the gym. If they haven’t done this yet, I would make enquiries with your gym and ask what PTs they have working for their gym that you could speak to. Booking in a session is a brilliant way to make yourself feel more comfortable with the gym. They can give you a tour of the venue itself, provide demonstrations on how to complete all the exercises correctly, and ultimately give you the confidence to get started to know what you’re doing. A PT will also be able to provide you a tailored program that you can rely on for guidance and direction, as opposed to wandering around aimlessly. If you’re already paying for a gym membership and can’t afford a regular PT in addition to the gym fee, even just a one-off 45 minute session can go a long way in getting you started. Alternatively, a lot of gyms offer group classes as part of your membership that you can dip your toes in to make you feel more comfortable in the gym environment.
Take a friend
What better way is there to catch up with your friends than sweating profusely on the exercise bike on a Monday morning at 6am (I can think of about 600 million other ways but anyhoo). Seriously, bringing a friend a long with you to the gym is the perfect excuse to hang out regularly with your friend/s which can be particularly difficult in adulthood. Bringing a friend also provides you with the accountability you need to adhere to your exercise goals and gym attendance. You can choose a friend that is confident in the weights room and they can show you the ropes, or you can bring someone who is in the same boat as you, and you can laugh at your confusion and inexperience as you try to manoeuvre the weights room amongst the bulky and confident gym-veterans.
Just get started
Don’t do what I did and spend the first year of my gym membership going straight to the treadmill, walking for an hour and heading home. Of course that isn’t to say that the cardio room should be avoided, but I strongly urge you to give the weights room a go. Start with basic exercises, requiring minimal equipment such as dumbbell-based workouts. All it takes is to put yourself in the gym environment for a few weeks, and before you know it you’ll be feeling comfortable and confident. Once you implement a consistent and purposeful gym routine, you’ll most likely reap the fantastic benefits of resistance training. Ultimately, you’ll wish you’d took the plunge earlier. Rather than over-thinking it, my advice is to get stuck into it as soon as possible.