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11 Tips to Banish Gym-timidation and Boost Confidence

You walk into your gym, all fired up to try that awesome new HIIT Rowing Workout you read about… Until you notice that the cardio area has been overtaken by a group of the fittest girls you’ve ever seen, all wearing trendy neon spandex and dripping sweat as they row, run, and cycle at a pace you couldn’t hit even in your wildest dreams. Sure, there are still rowing machines open, but your confidence has evaporated and you head off to the comfort of your usual weight machines, lamely promising yourself that you’ll try that new workout tomorrow—when the gym is a little emptier.

Gym-timidation is a fact of life. Whether you’re nervous about trying a different class than usual, walking into a brand-new gym, or even just picking up a pair of dumbbells in a section of the gym usually dominated by the muscle-bound bros, insecurity can get the best of everyone. So we asked top trainers for the best tips on how to push past self-doubt and rock your workout—every time.

Do Your Research
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If you’re starting fresh and have a few options, look for smaller gyms or studios, suggests Sara Jespersen, co-owner and fitness director of Trumi Training. “Smaller gyms tend to cater to people new to the fitness scene, so you’ll automatically feel more at ease. Plus, you won’t need a map to navigate the space.” Boutique gyms—like barre or spin studios—also make newcomers feel at ease, adds certified personal trainer Amie Hoff, president of Hoff Fitness. No smaller or boutique gyms near you? Read the reviews of the bigger fitness centers, and opt for ones with a reputation for being welcoming. (Check out 7 Other Things to Consider When Choosing a Gym.) Also smart: taking advantage of the free training session most gyms offer to newcomers.

Dress the Part
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You know when we don’t feel gym-timidated? When we know we look freakin’ amazing. “Any time you try something new, put yourself together in a way that makes you feel proud and confident,” suggests Jespersen. “Perhaps it’s a great headband, those knee-high socks that just won’t quit, or your new sneakers. Something that makes you feel perfectly you.” (Take a hint from these 18 Celebrities Who Look Amazing in Workout Clothes.)

Walk In Prepared
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Having a complete plan before you walk into the gym will boost your confidence, making it easier to ignore gym-timidation, says personal trainer Jenny Skoog. “Write it down and commit to each rep, set, and exercise. You don’t go to the grocery store without a list, right?” (We’ve got you covered with our training plans.)

Remember: Everyone's Been There
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In Sam Smith’s words, you’re not the only one. “We all—even men and women in killer shape—can feel uncomfortable in the gym at times,” says Hoff. Even more reassuring: everyone’s so worried about themselves that they’re hardly paying attention to you—seriously. “While you may feel like people are noticing that you don’t have a clue how to operate the machines, where the steam room is, or know your bicep from your tricep, trust me—no one is watching or really cares.”

Know Who To Ask
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Want to try the free weights, but feel gym-timidated by the crowd of bros who hang out in that area? “Get the right people in your corner,” suggests Jespersen. “When you check in, tell whoever’s at the desk that you’d like to try some free weights and need a friendly trainer who’s good with beginners to give you a quick intro. It’s an industry secret that all trainers do this for free,” she divulges. Or just ask a friendly-looking gym-goer—most would be happy to help. (Plus, Asking for Help Makes You Seem Smarter!) Maybe avoid the ones wearing headphones, though, a sure sign that they’re in the zone and not up for chit-chat.

Time It Right
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Know your gym’s busiest periods (usually weekdays between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.), and if you’re feeling super-insecure about a move or machine you want to try, consider going at a slower time, suggests Felicia Stoler, a registered dietician and exercise physiologist, and author of Living Skinny in Fat Genes

Bring a Friend
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Nothing can make you feel more secure than having a buddy by your side, says Hoff. Just make sure you both have the same goal in mind: to have a great workout. Otherwise, you might end up chatting instead of sweating, or psyching each other out instead of up. (Or bring your man along: Your Relationship Is Linked to Your Health.)

Give Advance Warning
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Don’t wait for the instructor of a class you’re trying for the first time to ask if there are any newcomers to pipe up, warns Hoff—otherwise you’ll feel conspicuous, and you’re not really giving the woman in charge much time to feel you out. A better bet: show up five to 10 minutes early and tell her then. Also ask if there’s a veteran in the class that you could stand by to follow, suggests Jespersen. “They’ll introduce you to the perfect person to help you navigate your first workout without feeling alone, and that person will probably encourage you along the way.” (Check out more beginner exercise tips.) 

Survey the Scene
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Whether you’re going to a new gym or finally taking a stab at a new-to-you piece of equipment, it’s perfectly fine to hang back at first and scope things out before diving in. Stoler recommends starting by walking on the treadmill or using a stationary bike at a low resistance for five to 10 minutes while you gather your bearings and check out the lay of the land. Just set yourself a firm time limit and stick to it. (While you warm up, try listening to this playlist to Kickstart Your Workout.)

Go Easy on Yourself
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Switching things up is intimidating enough, so don’t also worry about lifting super-heavy weights or nailing every move when you’re trying something different, says Stoler. Use lighter weights for your first set or go for the modified poses in classes until you feel comfortable with your form—then dial up the intensity. (Learn more about When to Use Heavy Weights vs. Light Weights.)

Get In and Get Out
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You’re dying to try some weighted goblet squats (or one of these dumbbell workouts), but the free weight room seems to be where all the “big bros” congregate, and all that testosterone makes you nervous. The solution: walk in, grab the weights you need, and walk out to an emptier area or one where you feel more comfortable, suggest Hoff. Chances are, no one will miss them. Just be sure to replace them when you’re done.

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