Walking into a gym for the first time can be one of the most intimidating, uncomfortable feelings there is. I remember the first time I walked into a gym on my own in my senior year of high school. I had no idea what to do, or how to use anything even if I did figure out what to do. It felt like all eyes were on me. When I tried to figure out how to change the height of a cable attachment or adjust the seat on a machine, and it took more than 30 seconds, I could feel myself getting flushed because I was so embarrassed I couldn't figure it out. I felt dumb and assumed someone was for sure watching and judging. I didn't really know enough about exercise form to know how bad it was, but I knew it was probably wrong and that made me feel even more dumb. I would eventually go straight to one of two cardio machines and just go as long as I could. Later, I'd start to venture into the weight section, but only if it was completely empty.
Fast forward a couple years to college... I got more serious about my health and far more conscious of the extra pounds I'd put on, and was insistent on making it to the gym a certain number of days per week. I ventured into all types of fitness those four years: new sports, lifting, crossfit, running, etc. Sounds like I was comfortable in a gym at this point, right? Wrong. I knew what I was doing now, but I would still go in and think someone is watching and judging; someone is looking at exactly the things I'm insecure about. I started to love working out, and love the gym, but I was still uncomfortable if there were other people nearby.
Fast forward again... I'm now a personal trainer. I have an exercise science degree & a few certifications, I've taught all kinds of classes and trained all kinds of people. I love fitness, I love movement. So now you're definitely thinking I've overcome all that nonsense at this point... Still wrong.
I've overcome how those feelings affect me, but I've not completely stopped thinking these thoughts..
There are still so many days I have thoughts about what other people are thinking. So many days I consider maybe changing what I had planned to do because there are people already in that area. So many days I've been straight up uncomfortable in the gym, even recently. Now here's the difference, I don't let those thoughts consume me. I don't let those thoughts turn into feelings that change my plans in the gym or keep me from doing my workout.
It has taken me years to come to the following conclusion - and I'm warning you, it's a tough pill to swallow:
I don't think gym intimidation is intimidation at all. I think at it's root, gym intimidation is just pride and comparison.
What I mean is:
- Isn't it actually nonsense to believe that everyone in this place (that likely doesn't even know me) is watching me, and thinking about me? That's a pride issue, sister!!!
- Isn't it actually so ridiculous to think I should be able to walk up to a piece of equipment I've never used before, and know how to use it, or use it well? That's a pride issue.
- Isn't it actually so unreasonable to expect myself to know how to perfectly plan and execute an entire workout that I've never done before? That I've never been taught? That's a pride issue.
- Who am I looking at or listening to that makes me think I should look a certain way, have a certain shape, be a certain size? That's a comparison issue.
- Who am I wishing I was more like, instead of being grateful for how God made me? That's a comparison issue.
- Who do I think about that literally stirs negative feelings in me about my own body? That's a comparison issue.
- Why do I believe, because of her "perfect body," she must be so much happier and more confident than me? That's a comparison issue.
Listen y'all, I've been in gyms since 2011... how is it that I can still have this so called "gym intimidation?" I'll tell you, it's because I still have pride, and I still compare myself to others.
Maybe this isn't what you wanted to hear, maybe you wanted to hear that those thoughts and feelings will disappear if you just keep showing up and chugging along. Maybe you want to hear tips like just turn your music up louder, or wear a hat so you can't see who's around, or go find a corner nobody is in. But, I would be doing you a disservice if I said that, because it hasn't been true for me, and I don't think those things are really helping the root of the discomfort.
If you're still with me this far, it's likely something has resonated with you... If so, here are some things that have helped me and may help you:
- Go with a friend. Working out with someone helps take the focus off of you.
- Invest in a workout program or someone to help you, and don't be ashamed if you need help! There are so many people who'd love to help you (me included)!
- Remind yourself that you don't have to know it all and again, that it is OK to ask for help.
- On the flip side, if you're able, be willing to offer help to others in the gym!!!
- Whatever you're looking at that makes you have negative thoughts and feelings about your own body, stop looking at it! If you're justifying your comparison by calling it "inspiration," you're digging your own grave of self-hatred - OUCH!
- Instead of letting yourself believe some other girl in the gym is totally perfect, and letting her presence intimidate you, go talk to her. Maybe it's just an encouraging comment in passing, maybe it's fully introducing yourself, whatever feels right for you. Friends are less "intimidating" than strangers.
- Make comparison fuel your JOY! Comparing isn't always a bad thing, it's how and why you compare. Read more on leading your comparisons in the right direction (away from envy and self-pity).
- See your pride for what it is; all about me. We really need to check ourselves on this, we all have pride sneak up in our lives. Ask God to show you where you are prideful, and how you can have more humility.