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10 Tips to Overcome Feeling Intimidated at the Gym

I asked my Instagram followers who loved the gym and who felt intimidated by it. 63% said they found gyms intimidating. I hate the thought of women not pursuing their health and fitness goals because they’re uncomfortable or overwhelmed by the environment that could help them, so let’s do something about that. 

By Marianna

Even as an experienced gym goer and personal trainer, I can still feel intimidated in a gym environment**. In fact, it happened just this morning. I visited a different gym, one that’s had a total refurb since I was last there. I wasn’t 100% sure where I was going, I didn’t know where the right equipment was and when I found what I wanted, it was in an area that was being used by five bigger guys – no ladies in sight. I felt very self-aware, out of my comfort zone and a little timid. Is this something you can relate to?

Have you abandoned a workout or worse, abandoned your whole fitness goals because you’ve felt uncomfortable in the gym? Have you paid for a gym membership and not used it because the thought of going back and making a fool of yourself was too much to bear? It shouldn’t be this way. Gyms are there to improve our health and wellbeing. They should be a place where we emerge confident and happy about what we’ve achieved. How would you exercise if you were fearless? Would your workouts look different? What could you achieve?

If you’re not confident in a gym, here are my top 10 tips to overcome that feeling of intimidation.

1. Determine Your Focus

We can’t change the layout of your gym or who is using it, but a change in focus can dramatically change how we feel. There are two elements to focus. The first is mindset. Consider everyone else there a distraction. Don’t give them your time. Instead, focus on your goal. Why did you come to the gym? What are you going to achieve? Affirm yourself beforehand with thoughts like “this is going to be a great session” “I’m going to have fun today”. Your mind is a powerful tool. Make sure you’re using it positively.

The second element is vision. In this sense I literally mean that you have to choose where you are going to look. When you go to the free weights section are you looking at the other people there, what they’re lifting and whether they’re stronger or leaner than you? If so, shift your focus. If you’re in front of a mirror, focus on your form, on your effort; look at your eyes and do you best work. When you lock in and work hard, everything else fades away.

“Starve your distractions, feed your focus”

2. Arrive Prepared 

You’ve mustered up the motivation to get changed, get to the gym, you arrive and…. ummm… head to the treadmill or whatever feels familiar. You do fifteen minutes on there, ten somewhere else, some bicep curls and then leave wondering what you’ve accomplished. Sound familiar?

We’ll always choose the easiest or most convenient option if we don’t have a plan. Try arriving to the gym with a specific goal or workout in mind. My clients have access to their programmes on their desktops and mobiles. They can access their workouts for the week before they step into the gym so when they get there, they already know what they’re going to do. They’re prepared mentally and practically to have a great session. Checking off the workout as done gives them that sense of achievement and I get to celebrate their hard work with them.  

3. Listen to Your Favourite Tunes or Podcast 

This tip compliments tip number one. If you’re having trouble focusing, filling your ears with the tunes you love can help you zone out. Listening to music helps us create an internal environment that feels familiar. It also motivates us and in most cases, we work harder. I’ve starting listening to podcasts or audio books in the gym. I don’t have much time to read but I’ve got through two books recently by using Audible. I’m working out and learning at the same time! If you enjoy listening to fiction, choosing to only listen to the next instalment whilst at the gym can be a great incentive to go. 

4. Book a Gym Induction

Every gym should offer its members a gym induction. Take advantage of it. It’s a chance to have the equipment demoed, be shown where everything is and ask a PT questions. How good the induction is varies from gym to gym but all the same, ask for one, and if you see a PT on the gym floor don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

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5. Workout with a friend

Having a workout buddy has a number of benefits. The first is that you arrange to meet and that arrangement means you’re more likely to stick to it. The second is moral support. If you’re new to a gym, try and find someone who is more experienced than you. For a one-off your friend doesn’t have to be a member of the gym. Find out about a visitor’s pass. Sometimes you can bring a friend on a free trial. Even if they only come that one time, having someone there with you will help you feel more confident to return on your own.

6. Use Video Demonstrations

For some of us, that feeling of intimidation isn’t linked to the environment or the other people there, it’s a lack of experience with the equipment and exercise. In an ideal world we would all have a personal trainer with us to coach us through each exercise. That’s not always possible, but I’m going to guess that almost all of us have a mobile device. My clients access their workouts on their mobile devices. For each exercise there is a video demonstration and supporting notes. They can view the demos beforehand and again on the gym floor to remind themselves of the technique. They can also send me a video back. Through my app, clients can record themselves performing an exercise and submit it to me for feedback. I’m basically a PT in your pocket!

7. When it Comes to Weights, Start Light

You have nothing to prove. If you’re unsure of how to perform a certain exercise with free weights or you’re getting onto a resistance machine for the first time, don’t worry about starting with a light weight. Think of it as a warm up set, and if you need to stay with that weight, that’s fine too! It’s far better to perfect your form with a lighter weight and then progress, then trying to hoof up a weight that at best, looks awkward or at worse, could injure you.

8. If Possible, Train Off-Peak

I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but trying to hit the gym during off-peak hours can really help with that feeling of being overwhelmed. Nobody loves waiting for equipment or having to change planned workouts last minute, so if you can get to the gym when it’s quieter you’ll be more likely to enjoy the workout. I’ve heard that 2pm is generally the quietest time of the gym (and I do have the odd 1-1 slot at that time if you fancy it!)

If you do need to substitute something in your programme because you can’t get on the equipment, think about the muscle group the original exercise was targeting. If you’re unsure and it was using a resistance machine, the machine will have an image of the muscle being targeted. Look for a machine that targets the same muscle or think about whether you can replicate the movement with free weights.

9. Be Accountable – Call a Friend, Check in with a Coach

It’s just too easy to talk ourselves out of doing something that feels difficult, even when we know it’s good for us. You don’t have to do the hard work alone though, let others support you in your goals and look for those who can help you be accountable. It might be agreeing to call someone on your way into the gym. Before you know it, you’ve had a good chat that has distracted you, and you’re in there, ready to go.

One of the main reasons I choose to work with a coach is the accountability and it’s one of the reasons my online clients choose to work with me rather than buy an off-the-shelf workout programme. It doesn’t matter how cheap or expensive a workout programme is, if there’s no support, you’re unlikely to do it. And believe me, I’ve done this myself too. Good intentions fail and willpower wains, but knowing someone else is on your case is invaluable. Coaches are not there to tell you off (well, I don’t tell my clients off!) they are there to remind you why you’re putting in the work. They’re there to remind you why it’s worth it, why you’re worth it. They’re there to encourage you, to build you up again when you’ve hit a rough patch. They should be your cheerleader, one with compassion and empathy but also tough love if that’s what you need. If that sounds like something you need, please get in touch and let’s talk.

10. Finally, Don’t Play the Comparison Game

I’m sure you’ve heard the quotes “comparison is the thief of joy”, “comparison is a game you always lose”. In many ways this goes back to point one. You have to choose what you’re going to focus on. One of the most destructive focuses we can have is to focus on and compare ourselves with others around us. In the game of comparison we are set up to lose. We assume that everyone else is fitter, younger, more confident, more experienced, comfortable in their own skin… and it compounds our own insecurities. 

Comparison devalues you – your worth and your efforts – and the people around you. You don’t know other people’s stories. Perhaps that big beefcake hogging the squat rack was bullied at school for being skinny and now feels he has to prove his self worth. Maybe the girl with tiny shorts and a crop top who is there every day is battling an eating disorder. Let’s not judge. Let’s not compare. Let’s be kind – to ourselves, to others. Don’t let intimidation hold you back from what you want to achieve. You and your body is worth looking after.

If you’d like to talk through anything raised here, contact me here and we can arrange a call. If you’d like to take advantage of a planned programme in your pocket and video demonstrations, again, please get in touch and we can set this up for you. 

Most of us are practicing bravery, whilst still feeling afraid. I encourage you to practice too and see what you can overcome. 

**Just a note to say that in this article I am referring to feelings of intimidation that come from being in a gym environment due to lack of experience, feelings of overwhelm or thinking less of yourself compared to others. I am not referring to intimidation that might be coming from an individual. If you ever experience this, report it immediately and don’t feel that you have to return to that place. There are plenty of gyms out there. Find one where you’ll be safe.** 

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