If the mention of gyms conjures thoughts for you of clanging weights, grunting monsters, and staring eyeballs, you're not alone. Anxiety surrounding gyms is incredibly common and unfortunately keeps many awesome people out of those environments. You deserve to use the space just as much as anyone else, to reach your fitness goals and take care of your body.
Here are a few simple ways to reduce your stress around gym environments and make the experience a little bit more comfortable so you can get busy crushing it. Nobody should be getting between you and your time at the gym, and these tips will lend a helping hand.
10 Have A Plan
If you're planning on hitting the treadmill for half an hour, have that in mind. If you'd like to do a strength routine, know what you want to do and what equipment you'd like to use. Bring your plan jotted down on a piece of paper if it helps, or on notes in your phone. You can refer to each step as you go along. Having a set idea in your mind of what you want to accomplish helps you have an air of purpose and focus, keeping you confident and calm.
If you're not sure what to do, try a routine from a fitness magazine or blog. Other people will see that you're doing your own thing and you won't need to worry about catching anyone's eye when you're feeling nervous. Use your plan as a handle to hold on to when you feel shaky about your self-esteem or comfort levels.
9 Use Your Earbuds
Your earbuds are your best friend at the gym. Pop them in, whether you're actually listening to music or not - who cares? They act as a barrier to distracting outside noise, including grunting or people dropping weights, which can be startling and intimidating sounds for new gym goers. They also give a signal to chatty patrons that you aren't there to be social, so you can avoid uncomfortable comments or unsolicited advice.
If you enjoy listening to beats while you exercise, choose music that motivates and uplifts you. Create a playlist that will empower you to be your fiercest self and keep you focused on your workout through to the end.
8 Bring A Friend
If you know a person who also experiences feelings of stress, shyness, or discomfort at the gym (and these people are very easy to find), ask them if they'd like to venture in with you. You can have a plan to go for a coffee afterward and chat, decompressing from the feelings of facing your fears. Use them as an anchor when you feel uncomfortable or if there's a person in the gym getting chatty. Just make eye contact with your gym buddy and help will be on the way.
As you go along, you'll notice that things aren't so scary after all and not being alone in the process can make you stronger. Friends are also excellent for accountability - make it a regular date and you'll rarely cancel on your workout.
7 Take Breaks
Everything is more overwhelming without breaks, and going to the gym is no exception. It's not just about resting between sets - your mind needs to rest, too, when you're in an environment that you find stressful. If you trip up on some equipment, have just bravely used the weight room for the first time, or are feeling your confidence faltering a bit, take a quick break. Go grab some water, stretch out on the mats and release your hip flexors, or just take a breather off to the side.
Keeping calm and being gentle with yourself will help you manage the emotions that arise in a gym environment and you will be stronger for it. Breaks also remind you to breathe, which is key to managing your stress and endurance.
6 Wear What You Want
Dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, whether that's a shirt with your favorite superhero on it, or flattering tights that make you feel simply bootilicious. Show as much or as little skin as you want and don't worry about impressing other people.
When you feel good in your outfit, it makes a world of difference. You can let yourself move freely in comfortable clothing and when you feel like yourself, your confidence gets a boost. For some people, bright colors and flashy clothes elevate their spirits and motivate them to push through tough days when it feels like one more rep is impossible. For others, being more low-key and blending in is what gives them the support to confidently follow through on their workout plan. Listen to yourself and dress to care for your emotions and spirit.
5 Set Small Goals
Setting goals is important in creating change through exercise. But sometimes those goals can accidentally put way more pressure on you than you ever deserved. Choosing small goals is the best way to keep yourself coming back for more gym time, working towards those overarching, larger visions (like getting stronger or improving your confidence).
On your first day ever walking into a gym, it's okay for your goal to be doing something - anything - for ten minutes. You walked in, you didn't let anyone intimidate you away from the space, you did it. Set a new goal to try a new machine or piece of equipment next time. More often than not, that ten-minute goal or one piece of equipment will act as a gateway to more and more time and exploration.
4 Hit The Weights
Start small and learn something simple if you're new. This is where online sources come in handy for research before heading to hit the iron. Try something like dumbbell squat presses, fixed barbell rows, or deadlifts to start. Learn to use the squat rack and get comfortable changing your plates.
It can be scary at first, but once you know a few moves and can confidently walk into the weight room and carry out your routine, you'll start to feel invincible. Lifting is incredibly empowering and much less intimidating than you think - just be gentle with yourself, work on your form and start slow. The benefits to your self-esteem and pride are enormous.
3 Bring Comforts
Pack your favorite soap for your post-workout shower, or bring along a nice, calming lotion in your most comforting scent. Have a comfy hoodie to slip on after you're done so that you can feel soothed and rewarded for being a brave boss. The music you play while you work out should be energizing and motivating, but also happy, fun and comforting.
Think kind thoughts about yourself and recognize all of your hard work. Having a yummy snack ready to go or a delicious smoothie prepared makes all the difference in terms of how at-home you'll feel at the gym. Think about what you can slip into your bag to add a little bit of extra self-care to your trip to the gym.
2 Find An Ally
Look around your environment. Is there an awesome woman who's crushing it on the squat rack? Or maybe a cool gym employee who has a warm smile ready for you every time you walk in the door? Or perhaps there's just someone who looks like they're also figuring out how the equipment works and are new to the gym. Whoever you see who makes you feel a little less alone, note them as an ally.
You can't always bring a gym buddy along, and many people prefer to fly solo anyway. But if you can note the people in the building who motivate, inspire or comfort you, it will fuel your drive. There are kind people everywhere who want you to succeed - they might even be on Instagram, and you can check out a new post from them on your way in. Whatever works for you, just remember that the awesome fitness folks far outnumber the meatheads and jerks - you just have to see them.
1 Be Your Own Hero
Don't understand something? Learn how it works. Intimidated by the bros chilling around a vacant bench? Take a deep breath and politely ask them to move so that you can do your chest flyes. Stand up for yourself when necessary, be assertive, and keep learning new moves and being adventurous. You'll feel amazing before you know it.
Your friends will start asking you for help at the gym in no time and you'll be able to pay it forward by empowering others. Show up for yourself every time - think positive thoughts and recognize every achievement, big or small. You are strong and you deserve it.