Once upon a time, I had a first-time client who arrived at her very first personal training appointment decked out in the latest and cutest workout outfit, replete with makeup, lots of jewelry, lots of perfume, and a shocked and horrified expression when she began to sweat.


As soon as she was out of breath, then the complaining and excuses began. Clearly, she was not mentally prepared for her first training appointment. The intent of this article is to help those who are new to exercising, new to working with a trainer, or new to the gym environment ease their fears, as well as give some tips on how to be more comfortable in the gym.


gym, newbie, new gym


The First Step

Anxious about your first appearance at a gym? You are not alone. In fact, there is an actual term for gym anxiety - gym-timidation. According to Zoe Wilder’s article 9 Tips for Feeling More Confident at the Gym Because Gym-timidation IS a Thing But Shouldn’t Be, there are three top reasons people suffer from gym-timidation:


  1. Feeling unfit
  2. Being worried about what other people think of your workout
  3. The fear of not knowing what you are doing


If these issues are holding you back from the gym, you can ease your fears with some “be” prep work.


Be Confident

We already know that many people are intimidated at gyms, and we even know why. Yet, I continue to hear about this intimidation, especially from women. Even though I personally am comfortable in a gym, and even though I know what I am doing, I can certainly empathize. When people reveal to me that they are gym-timidated, I like to tell them this story:


I was lifting free weights in a Marine Corps gym early on a Saturday morning. The gym was packed with Marines. I had my headphones in, was in my lifting groove, and was minding my own business, when a Marine approached me.


"Some enthusiastic gym-goers like to offer technique advice or form advice to new gym members - some advice will be correct and some will not." 

He interrupted my lift by gesturing to me. I finished my lift, but not understanding him, I pulled one of my earphones out. His statement to me? “Hey, I need those weights you’re using to finish my third set. I’m in a hurry, and I need them now.”


Lots of responses to that comment flashed through my mind, but I settled on, “I’m almost finished with my warm-up lifts, but you’re welcome to work in with me.” Needless to say, he didn’t. Be confident. You have every right to be in the gym, and you have every right to use the equipment in the gym.


Be Curious

Don’t know how to use a machine or don’t know how to properly execute a lift? Ask a trainer on the gym floor, sign up for some personal training, or take some beginner classes to help you get started. As well, most gym-goers don’t mind helping (such as spotting a lift) or sharing information when asked for help.


gym, newbie, personal trainer


But, proceed with caution. People with headphones usually don’t want to be disturbed (see above). As you will also see, some enthusiastic gym-goers like to offer technique advice or form advice to new gym members - some advice will be correct and some will not. 


Be Acquainted

Get to know your gym through an orientation with a staff member. Most gyms offer a free orientation with your membership, which may include an initial fitness assessment, a tour through the facilities, an introduction to various machines, and an explanation of the classes. It is important to schedule this orientation as soon as you sign up for your membership, as it will help alleviate some of the fears you may have.


A Bit Extra

Now that you are mentally set and your “be” prep is complete, there’s only one thing left - a gym workout. Still feeling slightly uneasy about this whole gym thing? Read on for some advice that will help you feel more comfortable.


Don’t watch others in order to copy their movements or their workouts. You may think you are being smooth and surreptitious, but people really do notice if you are copying their workouts, and while imitation may be the highest form of flattery, it is downright annoying (and quite possibly just strange). As well, just because someone is working out, it doesn’t mean his or her form or technique is correct. If you copy incorrect form or an incorrect technique, you are risking injury.  


gym, newbie, gym etiquette


Don’t compare yourself to others and/or don’t compare your workout to other workouts. As a new gym-goer, less is more. You don’t want to be so sore that you are incapacitated and can’t move for a week. This defeats the whole purpose of going to the gym to become fitter, yet I see this all the time. People are so enthusiastic about getting to the gym that they overdo it, hate it, and never come back. It is absolutely okay to lift light weights when you first start, even if you are next to someone lifting heavy weights. Have you ever seen the battle of the treadmill? This is where two people are battling to see who can go faster and longer on the treadmill. Don’t do this. It is okay to walk or jog on a treadmill when you first start. Ease into your workout routine so you actually enjoy it and come back for more. 


Don’t wander around aimlessly. Have a workout in mind before you go to the gym. If you go to the gym during peak hours, chances are you will have to wait for equipment. Make sure you have a plan B, such as substitute exercises or a different order of your exercises. One of the first things I do when I get to the gym is to take a quick walk around the equipment I will be using to see what is available. If I need to, I can rework the order of my routine before I begin, rather than having to stop and go during my workout. If you don’t have a plan, you will waste your precious time.


"Ease into your workout routine so you actually enjoy it and come back for more." 

Do not forget to wipe down the equipment. All equipment, machines, weights, jump ropes, etc. are included in this - wipe them down before and after use. Scoff all you want at this piece of advice, but people cough, sneeze, and sweat (among other things) on the equipment. People do come to the gym when they are sick and people don’t always wipe the equipment down after they use it. Trust me on this. 


Bring your own water bottle. I have seen people spit in water fountains and throw up in water fountains. For those two reasons alone, try not to, really try not to, use the water fountain. Water fountains = germ fountains.


You Got This

Armed with the knowledge of what to do and what not to do at a gym, let your gym-timidation be a thing of the past. The more you go to the gym, the less intimidating it is.


What is your good advice for someone with gym-timidation? Please post to the comments below.


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1. Zoe Wilder. “9 Tips for Feeling More Confident at the Gym because Gymtimidation is a Thing But it Shouldn’t Be,” Bustle, July 14, 2015. Accessed Aug 24, 2015.


Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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