Every January, countless people make the resolution to start hitting up the gym. But adopting a new lifestyle habit can feel like an overwhelming task, especially when it involves an investment of time and money. Even if you’ve been able to make it work, and you are getting there a few times a week, then congrats, that’s huge!
It can take some time before you really feel comfortable in this new environment.
The reality is that a lot of fitness spaces can feel intimidating and uncomfortable, especially at first, when you are new to working out and aren’t quite sure what to expect.
“This is true for just about everyone who doesn’t already have an intentional movement practice that they enjoy; this can be even more true for anyone whose body doesn’t fit within the norms of fitness culture, whether due to their size, gender identity or presentation, orientation, age, disability, et cetera,”
But pushing through that initial trepidation can pay off with huge rewards as you begin to eke out your own niche in that space.
To help you feel more at home and ready to kick ass at the gym this year, GHN asked some of the GHN Sponsored Athlete Team, Affiliated Trainers, Partnered Fitness Instructors, and GHN Customers who are gym regulars to share their best gym tips on how to carve out your own spot and feel like you belong. (And to be clear, it’s not on you to overcome the systemic barriers to feeling included. These are just tips to help get you a little more hype for your workout!)
1. Pick one thing and get really good at it.
One reason you may feel out of place at the gym is that you’re not quite sure you’re doing things correctly and that other people are picking up on it. Picking one thing that you can work on over and over again at the gym until you feel like you’ve mastered it. Continue to start your workouts with that for a confidence boost, but then move on to attempting another new-to-you exercise. You’ll have that self-assurance behind you from already getting really good at one thing to bolster you.
2. Wear clothes you feel comfortable in
Feeling comfortable and confident in the clothes you’re wearing can go a long way, so go ahead and treat yourself to a new workout outfit, or that pair of leggings you’ve been eyeing up.
3. Make friends with the front desk staff.
Ever feel slightly envious of those subtle “hello” nods the gym regulars give each other when they arrive? Don’t worry, once you start coming in more and more, other exercisers will likely start giving you the nod too. But until then, don’t underestimate the push power of a friendly welcome from the worker at the front desk.
4. Walk in with a plan.
Knowing what you want to do in advance can help you streamline your gym time and make you feel less aimless.
It’s good to remain a bit flexible, though, to accommodate how you’re feeling that day. Planning workouts for the day ends up seeming a little unrealistic once you get to the gym. Why? Maybe you don't have much energy or the piece of equipment you wanted to use is in high demand. Modify some exercises & get your workout done!.
5. Set a start and end time for your session.
Speaking of having a workout plan, set a hard start and hard stop for your routine. For example, go in at 5 p.m. and plan to be out the door by 5:45 p.m. This will help keep you focused and tuned in to your workout versus wasting time watching others, aimlessly doing the elliptical, or wandering. You don’t need to kill yourself at the gym or be there for two-plus hours to see results. Setting time boundaries can help reinforce that and actually encourage you to get going in the first place, since you’ll know you’ll be right back home soon.
6. Learn the high-traffic times, so you're not in for a surprise
Times like weekdays before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. tend to be pretty high-traffic, no matter what gym you’re in. And for good reason, they generally tend to be the most convenient (like when people are getting out of work). But because they tend to be more packed, you may end up feeling more anxious doing your thing with all those people around. If the only time you can go is when the gym is packed, do a little homework beforehand to come up with workouts you can do if the equipment you need might be taken. For instance, instead of doing a machine-based circuit, maybe you can sub those exercises with ones you can use dumbbells for instead, there’s usually some floor space to use free weights, regardless of how packed the gym is. Or if the cardio machines are all in use, maybe the TRX area is free. Plan out some moves in advance that can help you take advantage of equipment that’s more available.
7. Sign up for group fitness classes.
Simply getting enough nerve to walk through the door can be a huge step in fighting gym intimidation, says Summers. One great way to make sure you make it there? Sign up in advance for a gym class. Plus, signing up for a class is a great way to give yourself a financial incentive to resist backing out of your workout if you start to second-guess yourself.
8. Enlist a buddy, or make new one.
Everyone knows it’s way easier to do intimidating things, like taking on that always-sticking cable machine to finally adjust it to your height. When you’ve got a friend you love and trust by your side.
If you can find a friend or partner to be your workout buddy, you’ll be much more likely to stay accountable, and working out will be a lot more fun. If you can’t persuade a friend to take on the gym-buddy role? You’re not destined for a lifetime of lonely workouts: There are tons of people already at the gym who are likely in a similar situation. Try out some group classes where you can meet some new workout pals and feed off of the energy of the room. Plus, when you get to know the other regulars at your gym, it can make the whole experience more fun, giving you another reason to want to go to the gym regularly.
9. Invest in a few sessions with a personal trainer.
If it is within someone’s means, working with a trainer can be a game changer in terms of someone’s ability to feel comfortable within a fitness environment, even if it’s only for a few sessions. Working with a trainer short-term can help you feel confident that you are engaged in a movement practice that is right for you, and can take away a lot of the guesswork that can go into showing up at the gym without a plan.
Plus, you don’t have to worry that it’ll seem like you’re ditching your trainer once you’ve gotten everything down: It’s 100% okay to tell a trainer that you are interested in working with them just long enough to learn a movement routine that fits your body’s needs and your goals well enough to do it independently.
Most gyms offer a free first session with a trainer or a discount on a package if you’re a new member, so ask about what promotions they have and what they can do for you as someone who’s new and hoping to get comfortable with their facility.
10. Take comparing yourself to others off the table.
It’s easy to walk into a gym and compare yourself to the other gym goers, but it’s not fair to compare your day one to someone else with years of experience.
Remember, everyone was a beginner at some point and felt just as uncertain as you, keep reminding yourself of that every time you walk into the gym.
And if you must play the comparison game, make it all about you, the present you, who is crushing your workout even after a hectic afternoon, compared to the previous version of you, who may not have made it there. Seeing how your new, positive habits stack up can show you how far you've come and give you the confidence to keep moving forward.
11. Find an online community to help you feel supported.
To help you feel comfortable in your gym, you might benefit from reaching out to some people outside of it. It can be really helpful to have a support community that you contact if you feel intimidated about starting at your gym, or any time in your fitness journey.
12. Remind yourself: You belong there.
When your nerves are firing and your heart is racing, repeat this affirming and 1,000% accurate mantra: You belong there!
You belong to the gym just like everyone else there. You pay the same amount of money. You have the right to all the areas and equipment. If you’re ever feeling intimidated, remind yourself it’s your space too. You belong!
Even with the best tips out there, it may be that the gym won't ever be a comfortable environment for some people. The sizeism, ableism, and transphobia within the fitness industry is a real and widespread problem. If you truly feel uncomfortable in your gym, despite trying the gym tips above, tap your support community for suggestions for facilities in your area that are more welcoming and accepting.