The Gym is Terrifying! Here are 5 mantras to make you more comfortable

Walking into the gym for the first time can be an intimidating experience. Aside from the dauntingly chiseled bodies, powerful grunts, and sweat-covered equipment, you’re probably wondering ‘What the heck should I even do here?’.

If you’re like most newcomers, you are likely allured by the user-friendliness of the cardio equipment. You hop on the treadmill and set it to the ‘fat loss’ setting. After 20 minutes of what can only be described as monotonous agony, you head over to the stretching mats in the corner and do some crunches. These should help you carve out some abs, right? But wait, you heard that crunches are bad for your neck. But that guy on the other side of the mat is doing crunches and he’s ripped. You decide to do some more and it’s working! Your abs are starting to get sore. But so is your back. That’s probably not good. You look down and see that there is a giant puddle of sweat where the back of your head was nestled. You see a girl across the room with the best shaped butt you’ve ever witnessed. She probably works out like crazy you think. But then why is her mascara still perfect?! Meanwhile you’re pretty sure that your face looks as if you were just chased by a herd of hungry hungry hippos. You self-consciously throw on your hoodie and head into the weight room. You wonder why nobody has any sleeves on their shirts. You lie down on an available bench press and lift the surprisingly heavy bar. Feeling pretty accomplished, you sit up only to realize that a man twice your size is standing over you. “Mind if I work in?” he asks assumedly. “Uh yeah, you can have it. I’m done anyway” you whimper as he grabs the biggest weights in the room and throws them on either end of the bar. You head towards the exit, feeling the stares on your back as you walk out.

One moment stands out to me from the last 5 years of personal training. I was scheduled to do a routine evening-time consultation with a woman in her mid twenties who had just signed up for her first gym membership. She sat down at the consultation desk red in the face and sweating. I asked her if she had just warmed up on some cardio equipment. She started crying, and then told me that she hadn’t in fact done any exercise, but that she was just very worked up from feeling so nervous in this environment. This was an eye-opening moment because I realized just how much anxiety so many people experience in the gym. I’m not sure that I made all these points at that time, but these are all the things I want to say to that woman in hindsight.


  1. It’s ok to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing.

In fact, I would argue that most people in the gym don’t have a very well-developed plan or understand the mechanics of many exercises. Exercise is both very simple and very complex and most people that I see in the gym are pretty much winging it. Allow yourself to experiment with different exercises to see what kind of fun and interesting ways you can move your body.

  1. Most people feel at least a little bit self-conscious in the gym.

You wouldn’t believe the extent to which some of the seemingly ‘fittest’ people pick apart the smallest perceived flaws in their own physiques. Other people are way more fixated on themselves than they are on you and everyone feels at least a little bit like they’re being watched.


  1. Being in less than great shape does not make you inferior.

When I sat with this woman, I got the sense from her that she felt like a bad person because she was out of shape. That she had committed some moral offense. When I asked her if she had exercised before, she took on this look of guilt and whispered that she had not. While there are tons of reasons why exercising will make your body work better, not exercising does not make you morally inferior. Remember that you have just as much of a right to be in the gym as someone who has been going every day for 10 years.


  1. Have some self-compassion.

Remember that you’re trying to learn a new skill and that it’s going to be hard. There are going to be moments where you feel uncomfortable or unsure. You’re going to wonder if you’re doing something wrong or maybe even counter-productive. And there will be times that you will think ‘maybe I’ll just give up on this whole fitness thing’. Understand that those moments are part of the process and that everyone goes through those. Allow yourself to laugh at your mistakes and move forward from there.


  1. People in the gym are kinder and more helpful than you expect.

See that dude in the corner with forearms bigger than your head who is repeatedly slamming that 300lb weight on the ground? I bet if you asked him, he would gladly take 5 minutes to watch you do an exercise and tell you how you could make it better. Remember that everyone was a beginner at some point. Once you start engaging with people, you’ll find that most people at the gym are friendly and happy people who just like picking up heavy stuff.

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