Hang in there...
Stepping into the gym is like being the new kid in school. You’re thrilled and terrified in equal measure and not quite sure where you fit in. Seeing someone lift twice their bodyweight, or running 10k without breaking a sweat, can be more than a little intimidating for the uninitiated – so here's how to feel confident when you step into your new playground.
A survey from Sport England found that the main source of ‘gymtimidation’, the pangs of fear derived from hitting the gym, was a fear of being judged. Manifested as either a perceived derision of your fitness levels or scrutiny of your understandable lack of knowledge, gymtimidation is the main reason people in this country avoid exercise.
If you are new to the gym, or returning after a while away, then these concerns might ring true for you. But know that you are certainly not alone – a number of surveys have found that the dropout rate after 8 weeks is 80%, with most citing not feeling comfortable as their main reason for giving up.
Through simply deciding that you want to join you have taken a massive step and the first few weeks of any gym routine are about cultivating good habits, bolstering your confidence and ultimately making it stick. So here are a few things to help ensure gymtimidation doesn’t get the best of you.
Do your homework
One in five men said that their biggest fear at the gym was not knowing what they were doing, and many people state the reason that they don’t try free weights or machines is for fear of looking foolish. But even if you haven’t the foggiest, you probably will have some idea of what you want to achieve. By learning more about this aim, and how to achieve it, you can swat up at home in a no pressure environment.
Try blogs and flick through magazines such as Women’s Health, Men’s Health and Health & Fitness, or try the NHS website for a no-frills guide to exercise. By getting accustomed to things like good form on different machines, and what exercise will achieve what goal, very little will catch you off guard when you do decide to venture in.
It’s natural to feel like your every move in the gym is being scrutinised, and the added pressure of believing there to be an unspoken dress code can really add to this. The reality is that you should never be compelled to wear anything other than what you want to, so ignore the compulsion to imitate those more fixated on the mirror than the treadmill.
The perfect outfit is one that allows you to move freely, is comfortable and eases any self-consciousness. Treating yourself to new workout gear has been shown to improve your chances of using it regularly – both Uniqlo and H&M have ranges that are both functional and flattering – but a comfy Tee and shorts, paired with your favourite trainers will suit for most.
Knowing that you’re under the watchful eye of an instructor acts as a safety blanket whilst you take your first baby steps, and whilst training with a PT is excellent, signing yourself up for a group class can prove a quick fix without having to commit to numerous sessions.
Most gyms will offer a number of sessions as part of your membership, and chances are you will be inclined to give at least one a go – even if it’s just to find out what anti-gravity yoga actually is. If you’re still reluctant many gyms will offer beginner classes, where the pace is slowed and you can be instructed directly. It’s a great means to build confidence, with the bonus of knowing that the people around you are all in the same situation.
Easy gold stars
For your first visit, set yourself simple goals – it’s a big step to take and you don’t want to leave the session disheartened or frustrated. Write down three to five small tasks you know you can achieve. Nothing much more difficult than jogging for five minutes, completing five sit ups or trying five new pieces of equipment. It’s essentially a cheat; The sense of satisfaction and familiarisation gained from it will help you…
Make yourself at home
Most health clubs, including Virgin Active, will offer an initial training-cum-induction session with a Personal Trainer who will help to define your goals, walk you around the gym floor and lay out a plan for your workouts. Sitting down over coffee and talking through what you want to achieve will fix it firmly in your mind and calm any nerves.
This session will also give you a hands-on understanding of where you will be spending the majority of your time, where the cardio machines and free weights are kept, and a demonstration of how to use them, even where to fill your water bottle – it’ s a huge help when settling in.
Those who work on the gym floor every day only want to help you with this, so use them. Even after your initial sessions, trainers and PTs, who aren’t with clients, will be more than happy to answer your questions, instruct you on new exercises and help you get better.