The first time going to a public gym can be a tall order.
I remember my first time…
It was a World Gym in Milford, Massachusetts. Real rugged kind of place. There was a whole lot of muscle packed into that small building next door to a K-Mart.
Anyways, starting my fitness journey was an emotional experience. As I’m sure it will be for you. It takes persistence and the acceptance that you will suck at it before it gets any better.
Such is life. You can never be good at anything without being a novice first. The sooner you realize that, the faster you can start moving in a positive direction.
Flash forward 10 years, I now train a lot of beginners. Normal people that want to learn how to exercise are my speciality. This experience has given me some insights into the public gym setting. Specifically, how to make people more comfortable and confident.
I want to help you get over these mental barriers that keep your from exercising in public.
1. Find Your Tribe
Public gyms are a like the jungle.
People gather in packs like wild animals to form their own communities. As a newcomer, it can be tough to feel accepted on the gym floor, especially if you don’t have the slightest idea as to what you should be doing.
So when looking for your tribe consider…
Timing – What hours are your available? What kinds of people are exercising during these times?
Methods – Does the gym offer classes? Bootcamps? General resistance training education?
Sidebar: This could be a great opportunity to do your initial assessment with a personal trainer. These are offered at most commercial gyms and offer a valuable way to build some forward momentum.
I’m not saying you have to immediately identify with these people. You may not want to make friends at all. That’s cool, too. Many of my clients felt this way initially, even to the point that they’d ignore people all together, but once they found the right circle they valued the gym far more than a place just to exercise.
2. Ask for Help
But…Craig please no! I can do this all by myself.
That’s what you think.
Nobody wants to feel incompetent but you’ll have to let go of that ego to reap the benefits of the gym.
If you don’t know how to use a piece of equipment or exercise then ask someone. Preferably a member of the gym staff that has more education compared to your buddy that can half rep 1000 pounds on the leg press.
Another option is to seek out an experienced gym member that is willing to assist you. By in large this move is the most successful. You wouldn’t expect it but the super buff, intense gym goers are usually the nicest and most helpful people in the gym. They understand what it was like to begin a training program and therefore love nothing more than to give advice.
Here’s a sample (real) conversation:
Beginner: Hi there, my name is Craig. I noticed you were doing (insert exercise) and would really like to incorporate (said movement) into my own training.
Gym Goer: Hi Craig, I’m Lisa. Yes, I love this movement as it has significantly helped with my quad development.
Craig: That’s what I’m looking for! Would you mind if I worked in with you so you could show me the proper technique?
Not only did you just make a friend but you’ll learn a new exercise in the process! Not all conversations will go this smoothly but take a shot at it. I can’t tell you how many connections I made by approaching someone training hard in the gym.
3. Be Friendly
When I was 17 I thought I was the cat’s pajamas. I was untouchable in the gym. This mindset led me to be standoffish and rude. Don’t be like me.
The gym regulars all know each other. You don’t want word to pass around that you’re a sourpuss. This will show others that you’re not worth talking to. This is a surefire way to alienate yourself from the tribesmen.
Remember that common courtesy is 100% free. It doesn’t take much to be a decent human being. The gym is a space for growth and learning. Everybody is fighting a different battle, including you.
So…help others. Give someone a spot. Let another person work in your set with you. And wipe down your equipment! Don’t be gross.
When you’re on the gym floor, set the example. As scary as it sounds you WILL gain confidence and humility from it.
4. Try Everything
I am a massive proponent for resistance training. It might be one of the most potent anti-aging mechanisms available to us.
When you join the gym for the first time you’ll be introduced to a myriad of exercise modalities. There are bootcamps, cardio, resistance training, boxing and much more. While resistance training will be the effective long-term solution, there is still value in experimenting with different modes of exercise.
Part of the reason I included this last is to help tie in the other 3 strategies. It is through this experimentation process that you can find your tribe, ask for help, and be a friend to others. You can develop a social network of like minded people that are there to help you.
Wrapping It Up
The fastest way to eliminate your gym anxiety is to incorporate these 4 strategies. Find your tribe to help develop a connection to the gym. Ask for help in order to further your education and try new exercises. Be friendly and likable so that the right people will be attracted to you.
The gym doesn’t have to be a scary place. In fact it is the exact opposite. It is where people go to become a better version of themselves.
Yourself included. Now go be great.