A huge component of getting your health on track is exercising consistently. This usually requires you to get out of the house, and most likely your comfort zone, and head to a gym or health club.
If only exercise was as easy as walking into a gym.
Once you get there, there are so many options.
Do I start with cardio or weights?
If cardio, do I use the elliptical, treadmill, stair stepper, rower, or bike?
How long should I be doing this for?
Should I still lift weights afterwards?
If weights, how do I do this?
Can I just use machines? Are there directions?
Will the machines be enough?
How many of each do I do?
Do I do cardio after this?
Should I have eaten beforehand? How long before? What should I have eaten?
For me, all of these questions are easy. I’ve spent the past nine years of my life studying the science behind these questions and figuring it out myself. I’m guessing you don’t have that same experience, and that’s totally fine. As a fitness professional, even I get gym anxiety. I don’t like being around so many people, and sometimes, it’s just too much for me to handle. I also feel the eyes of everyone in the gym, and I also feel the pressure to look and perform a certain way, especially given my background. Most days, I’m cool as a cucumber, and the gym is my safe zone. Some days, I full on panic walking in there and seeing all of the other bodies getting their workout in.
The gym is a place for everyone to work on their health. If you feel uncomfortable in a certain gym, there’s nothing wrong in switching to one that is more your type of environment. There are gyms that cater to elite athletes, ones that cater to crossfit, ones that cater to bros who like to scream and slam weights, and ones that cater to those who are not so comfortable in all of those previous scenarios. You just have to find the right one for you.
Not only is the right environment step one to feeling comfortable in the gym, but knowledge is too. Obviously, I’m not suggesting you head out and get your personal training certification in order to feel somewhat comfortable in the gym, but a little research goes a long way. Before you head into the gym, reading some articles on the basics of fitness (may I recommend the foundations of fitness posts I wrote HERE and HERE), can make you feel much more comfortable. Having a concrete plan of what exercises you are doing, what machines you are heading for, and how long to do all of them is huge. This gives you a set program for yourself to follow, taking the guesswork out of this crazy place. There are plenty of free, generic programs out there for you to follow until you feel comfortable enough to put your own spin on it.
Use the resources that the gym provides. Many gyms offer complimentary personal training assessments as part of the membership. Yes, this can be scary to sit down with a professional when you feel less than an amateur, but remember: their job, above all else, is to improve your health. Don’t allow them to sell you on random shenanigans you don’t need, but don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Ask them to show you a machine, ask for a quick form check, ask them how many reps they thing you should do, the worst they can do is say no. Many gyms also offer exercise classes. This can be a great way to learn a thing or two, without drawing too much attention to yourself. Just be careful with new movements, and don’t push yourself too hard until you know you’re doing it right (this is actually great advice for any new exerciser. Don’t be afraid to start light until you get the hang of it)
If all else fails, put on your headphones, hop on a treadmill, and observe. Tune out all the craziness and hubbub of the gym by putting on your music that you like, and hop on the treadmill, even at a walk. Once you’re on the treadmill, look around you. Watch people at the gym and watch the exercises they’re doing. Watch how they do them, watch the personal trainers and the exercises they give clients. It’s a great way to get yourself familiar with some things you maybe have only seen online.
One of my favorite quotes is “don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” It’s totally fine to be scared as hell of the gym, but don’t let that stop you from getting healthy. It is a large, confusing place, full of lots of other people who seem like they know what they’re doing, and you just missed the memo. Everyone was once a beginner. I promise you, most of those people don’t know much more than you do, they just hide it better. There was a time when I was just wandering around the gym, lost and confused. Now, I’m more comfortable there than pretty much anywhere else. Just like anything else, it takes time. Everyone is there for the same reason, you got this.