Let’s face it, gyms can be intimidating places! Common media stereotypes of fitness facilities imagine gyms as places where everyone is super fit and definitely going to judge those who “don’t belong”. For individuals who haven’t worked out in a long time and feel they are out of shape, those who have never been to a gym, or people who want to try a brand new fitness endeavor (like lifting weights!), walking into a gym might be a daunting experience.
Fear of the unknown generally motivates the unwelcome feelings accompanying each situation. I’m here to let you in on a few secrets…the idea that gyms are full of beautiful and outrageously fit people who are jerks is (for the most part) completely false. Every person at the gym has been new to fitness at some point. Not only that, there are a lot of people in every gym who don’t really know what they’re doing either! That goes for all types of gyms—big chain gyms, CrossFit gyms, hardcore gyms. Each type is filled with people of all skill and ability levels and has more people who would be willing to be kind and offer advice than people who would be judgy or otherwise unfriendly.
Let me tell you a story. Recently I visited Austin, TX to scout apartments and gyms before moving to the city. I trained at a great old school bodybuilding/ Olympic weightlifting/ powerlifting gym (hi, Hyde Park Gym!) and overheard a woman and her trainer outside talking on my way out. It was her first time there and she was clearly very nervous, embarrassed, and intimidated. He was trying to calm her fears and make her feel more comfortable about being there.
Particularly at a specialty gym like Hyde Park, it can appear that everyone is experienced and athletic. Like I said before, at EVERY gym, there are many people who aren’t really all that knowledgeable. Typically, there are members of all skill levels who are training. Each person there has been new to the gym before and intimidated or nervous by a new environment, in some capacity. Personally, when I was new to working out, there were many times that I parked and then left the gym without going in because the lot was crowded and I was nervous about being judged or feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing. When I transitioned to more serious gyms, the same feelings creeped in. “What if someone thinks I look stupid or don’t know what I’m doing?” Even training at new gyms now (after six years of lifting and training others!) I’ll still get occasional butterflies.
We all want to fit in and feel like we belong. Feeling unsure of ourselves or like we don’t know what we’re doing is awkward and uncomfortable. But how else do you move past those feelings without pushing through them until you are comfortable? You don’t. You must push through the uncomfortable to start feeling at ease.
My overall advice? Keep going back until you feel more relaxed in your new environment. After a few visits or maybe a few weeks or months, you WILL eventually feel comfortable. Seek out articles or how-to videos online or on social media for training help. If you’re more outgoing, ask a friendly gym employee/trainer or a member. Most people would be glad to share information to help you feel safer and more competent. I love to answer questions or help someone new—and no question is a dumb question! (How do you adjust this dang machine?!)
Lastly, remember that we have all been a beginner to fitness at some point. The most fit people in the gym have a commitment and dedication to the process over a long period of time. These people understand how hard becoming and staying fit is and will celebrate anyone who is there, putting in the work. You belong and have just as much of a right to be there as anyone else.
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