"I'd love to see articles written to encourage and educate folks to exercise. It's hard to make the first step when you're afraid, don't know what to do, or feel like you don't fit in." - P
I have a confession - whenever I go to a gym that isn't the one where I work, like when I'm on vacation - which, more confession time, is very seldom (the going to the gym part, not the vacationing. When I'm on vacation, I'm on vacation), I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I walk into a space and don't know what to do. Guys, I tell people what to do in a gym for a living. Every day. And yet I freeze and find myself on a familiar piece of cardio equipment rather than confidently doing my thing. For most people, even those like me who spend more time at a gym than at home, being in a gym can be terrifying, or at the very least, uncomfortable.
When it comes to building up enough confidence to join (and subsequently go to) a gym, we are our own worst enemies. I've met multiple people who literally cried in the parking lot a few times before stepping foot inside and signing up. I'm sure there are countless others I haven't met because they only made it to the crying step and never actually entered the building. The thing is, it's scary. You're allowed to be afraid. We're all afraid of things: the unknown, looking stupid, hurting ourselves, looking stupid, failing, and did I mention looking stupid? The good news is that there there are ways to get past your fear, or at least be successful in the midst of it. You CAN switch from being a couch potato to being a gym rat. How?
Take a class: As an instructor, all I want from you is to stay safe and to keep moving. It doesn't even have to be the same movement or the same speed as anyone else (as long as you aren't disrupting the group too much. More on that in a second.) Get to the class early enough to introduce yourself to the instructor and claim a spot in the back or the side where you can still see what they are doing. Remember, everyone was a beginner at some point - including the instructor. For instance, I teach fitness dance classes but I am not good at Step Aerobics. To the point where I was messing up so bad in a class once that the person behind me picked up their step and moved it across the room so they wouldn't be distracted (or punch me - I didn't check in with them after to see how they actually felt.)
Sign up for an event: Training for something can give you just enough confidence to feel like you belong. When someone asks why you've joined the gym you can say, I'm training for a 5K, or the Prouty, or to be able to ski/swim/paddle etc... This strategy has worked for me. And in case you just felt an entirely new set of fears thinking about training for an event, you should know that I have finished last or second to the last in more than one 5K and triathlon. Do you think less of me? Or do you think, holy crap she finished a triathlon?! Even if I hadn't finished, why should I care what you think? (Except for the fact that I just asked you.) At least I tried. We spend too much time worrying about what other people think and not enough time living the way we want to. Remember, no matter how slow you're going, you're still lapping everyone still on the couch.
Enlist a friend: I happen to like to work out solo but a lot of people really love to make their workouts social. You have that sense of security that a buddy can provide (safety in numbers after all) as well as someone to hold you accountable to actually go. If you know Susie is getting up and meeting you there you have added incentive to get yourself there as well. (Susie will never know how much you cursed at her as you dragged yourself out of bed. Believe me, she's cursing you as well.)
Find a time that works for you: Not every hour at the gym is the same. The energy and population of a gym changes dramatically throughout the day. If you have flexibility, try different times and days. Mondays at 5pm are generally insane because people are working to make up for the weekend. However, by Friday things quiet down and you can practically have the place to yourself. Know what energy works for you and schedule your workouts accordingly.
Find a gym that works for you: Not every gym is the same. Try out a few and see what you like. Location and price are big decision factors but so are amenities, class offerings, and the general energy of the place. Most gyms will offer a trial period. Take that time to actually try it and see if you feel comfortable.
Hire a trainer: You don't have to commit to 3 million sessions to get a lot out of a trainer. Be honest and tell them you'd like to learn how to be safe. At the same time, don't expect miracles. Trainers spend years learning all about the human body to be able to do what they do. In fact, we can spend years just learning about your body. In a few sessions we can give you some tips and tricks to help you feel confident and understand how to move but it will require some work on your part, especially if you have underlying issues and injuries.
Ultimately, only you can get you through the door. But with a strategy in hand and an awareness of your fears, you'll get there. And keep going back.
More about Amy: A short interview
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Have a question you'd like to "ask the trainer."? Email Amy at RVCAmy at gmail dot com