Do you struggle with gym anxiety or not sure what to do when you’re there? I used to be terrified of going to the gym. I knew nothing about equipment or how to structure workouts (which I’m still new to). I was worried about what the gym rats would think about a fresh, clueless member, especially during the new year. I hired a personal trainer in December so I could learn all of these things and not be so lost. I wanted to be ready to be released into the wild by the time my contract was over. Here are some things I have learned so far about the gym. These are things I wish I knew years ago, I may have walked into a gym much sooner.
- Are people watching me? What will they think? In my experience, people will see and acknowledge you, but no one is staring at you. They don’t care, they just want to work out and go home. People at the gym typically mind their own business, and are sometimes willing to help when asked. There may be communication in situations where you and someone else need the same piece of equipment, just be polite like you would in any other situation; they will be polite back.
- Weight machines are your friend. I used to be intimidated by the weight machines. I had no idea how to use them, and what if I had bad form while using them? I was told by a personal trainer to not worry about form, because a machine is supposed to assist you with proper form (as long as the settings are proportionate for your height).
- Plan accordingly. If you have a strength and cardio regimen, you may want to look into the cardio classes at your local gym and plan do to them both in one trip. I have a spin class that I go to three times a week, and I will do my strength training before the class. Its easier for me to go to the gym three times than four or five. I like cardio after strength because you use up glycogen (fuel) stored in the muscles while strength training; after glycogen is used up, your body will burn fat as energy when you do the cardio. So, when you put these two together, you’re getting more bang for your buck.
- Getting to the gym on time and early enough to get my full workout in required some changes. It’s not simply “Go to gym, workout, go home,” there’s a couple more steps. The night before my gym session, I will pack my necessities. The contents of my bag depend on what I’m doing at the gym the next day. I will always pack two 32oz water bottles, a protein shake or BCAAs, earbuds, a pack of LastTissues (perfect for the stationary bike), and a sweat towel. If I am going to yoga or doing cardio that’s not cycling, I will bring my big gym bag that can hold a yoga mat and a spare pair of shoes. Speaking of shoes, you’re going to want to use different shoes for different activities. For strength training, or exercises that your feet need to feel grounded, go for shoes with a more flat sole. Think of skate shoes. For cardio, you will need a shoe that has arch support and some type of shock absorption. I use running shoes because that’s the only other cardio I do. For something like Zumba, there are special shoes for it with an anatomy that can withstand the dance-like moves. You make lateral movements (side to side), pivot on the ball of your foot, etc. Please look into the equipment needed before starting a workout to avoid injury!
- After my bag is packed and everything is ready to go, I will go to bed early so I make it there on time in the morning. When I have a 1/2 hour workout planned, I try to get there an hour before cycle class starts. I take into account the time it takes to get there, warm up, complete each set, time between sets, cleaning off equipment when I’m done and be there early for class so I can adjust my bike to my preferred settings. It is always a good idea to show up early to a cardio class, especially if its your first time. You can get to know the instructor, the equipment being used, and get a quick rundown of what you’ll be doing.
- Check out the classes they offer, if any! Fitness classes are great because they are a welcoming and supportive environment. They are a fun way to get a great workout in, the instructor may have a bangin’ playlist and a variety of challenging sequences! They also go by faster than doing cardio by yourself. 50 minutes in cycle class does not feel like a long time compared to 30 minutes on a treadmill by yourself.
- Your strength workout does not to be a complicated one hour event. I used to think that I had to perform 32 exercises that worked exactly 47 muscles all the way to failure for two hours to get a good strength building workout. A workout doesn’t have to take forever, and you can do anything from eight to ten exercises with 10-12 reps per workout. An effective workout is one that helps you get to your goal, and it doesn’t take that much to build muscle when you’re brand new to the game. When I started to workout “properly,” I felt a bit of culture shock because I was used to doing 30 reps of something per set. When I work out now, I feel like it goes by fast and like I’m not doing much, but I will feel just as sore as when I would overdo it. I have noticed that I’m getting stronger, and I’m doing less reps than before! If you want a little extra in your workout, you can always do the move slowly and increase the amount of time muscles spend under tension. “Pulsing” is also an option.
- Your split does not have to be complicated. Your split is how you split up your exercises for the week. I used to guess, I would plan out 4-5 days to workout and made a YouTube playlist for that day. I collected so many videos and I was so overwhelmed. I would get sore, rest for two days and get confused on which workout to do next. If I did an arm and ab workout two days ago, should I do the full body scheduled for today, or the leg workout I had planned right after? I would get decision fatigue and fall off the wagon. Now, I typically do a push day, pull day, and body weight day. You can keep it this simple without much guesswork because of push and pull. Each muscle has one job, to flex and move your bone in the direction you need it to. Your “pushing” and “pulling” muscles are usually opposing on the same ligament (biceps pull, triceps push). This method has been effective for me so far.
- If possible, get a personal trainer. They are very helpful for not only learning how to use the equipment, but some may offer nutrition advice. When working out by myself at home, I never pushed myself as hard as my trainer has, which is why I never saw results on my own. They can also act as a “gym buddy” if you’re scared to go to the gym alone, its make a great training wheel for others who are scared to go. A personal trainer will have the tools to help you expedite your results. If you can’t get a personal trainer, YouTube has a lot of videos showing how to use equipment and example workouts. Some gyms will have employees who are qualified to show you how to use equipment too!
If you are still intimidated by going to the gym, keep in mind that it is filled with likeminded individuals who most likely have similar goals. They, too, have faced their worries and doubts about going for the first or second time. Remember to have fun with it! I hope these little tidbits help you feel more prepared for the gym, whether its your first, second, fifth, tenth or hundredth time. [The exercise tips will be the depth of my fitness “advice,” I am not a professional, I am not qualified to assist with working out.]
What is your experience with gyms? Are you just starting out, pretty experienced? Is there anything that is holding you back after reading this? Let me know!