I still remember the first time I walked into a gym for my first workout flying solo.
I was in 6th grade and about 11 years old.
I had been begging my mom to let me go to the gym with her for a couple of months - mostly because I was self-conscious about my weight and thought it would make me a better athlete.
Our agreement was that I could go to the gym with her, but I had to first meet with a personal trainer so she could feel comfortable that I would be safe while I was there and have some idea of what I was doing.
On a side note the trainer she setup my appointments with ended up being the first person to give me a job at a gym and later give me my first opportunity to be a personal trainer.
It’s funny how all the dots connect looking backwards.
I did get lucky though having a mom who cared so much that she was willing to pay for time with a trainer and I got lucky that I got a good one.
Having those appointments made my introduction to the gym much easier.
But I still remember how nervous and self-conscious I was going in for my first workout all by myself.
I didn’t know what to expect and I was by far the youngest person on the floor by probably a good 10 years.
Everyone is moving with purpose with their headphones in or standing in groups around a piece of equipment as they rotate in and out on sets.
It all makes you feel like you don’t belong, you are out of place, and everyone can see it.
I’m not really sure what allowed me to get over those feelings of intimidation when I first started working out.
I think part of it was I just wanted to be there and the other part was that my sister and mom were going to workout anyways so I might as well be there being productive too.
Either way I became a regular on the gym floor in the afternoons every day of the week
It took me a while but I eventually worked up the courage and developed enough of a sense of belonging to start engaging some of the other regulars.
And what I discovered was that all that anxiety and intimidation I felt when I started was all really driven by my own worst imaginations of being ridiculed and rejected.
Most of the regulars I interacted with on a daily basis were nice, genuine, and fun people.
They all had something they were in the gym working on and were happy to have another person in their small informal community.
They weren’t arrogant, judgemental, rude, or mean.
Almost all of them were much older than myself and much further along in their fitness “careers.”
They could have been bothered or annoyed that this 11 or 12 year old kid was taking up time on the leg press or cable fly machine, but instead they were gracious, friendly, and willing to give a spot when I needed one.
And I would be lying if I said that none of them offered me some training advice or tips that I still don’t carry with me today.
I’m telling you this experience as much for your benefit as for mine.
Because it reminds me of how intimidating starting an exercise routine can be and how much courage it takes for people to just show up and put themselves out there like that.
It reminds me to be friendly and welcoming whenever I do find myself in a gym setting because you never know what kind of positive impact that could have on someone’s fitness journey.
It helps me relate to how someone going to the gym for the first time feels or how someone feels going to their first personal training appointment.
Maybe right now you are that someone.
And if that is true I’d like to help you overcome those feelings.
I want to tell you as someone who has been there and done it that everything is going to be okay.
No one wants you to fail.
Everyone wants you to succeed and achieve your goals.
You have nothing and no one to be scared of at the gym.
Everyone else is there for similar reasons you are - they have things they are trying to improve and achieve.
These feelings you have are going to subside and the uncomfortable is going to become comfortable.
And here are three things I would recommend you do to help make that process a bit easier.
Make friends with the folks at the front desk.
These people literally spend hours greeting members every day of every week.
That much interaction allows for a lot of spontaneous conversations and exchanges.
They will inevitably be the people who knows each person’s background which will help you get a better understanding of who your fellow gym regulars are.
This might help you identify people you may feel more comfortable befriending because you both share similar jobs, interests, or lifestyles.
When you make eye contact with someone smile and acknowledge them.
I’ll preface this one by saying you should practice some self-awareness here.
You don’t want to come off as the creepy dude or girl who stairs all the time, but you also don’t want to be seen as the rude and unfriendly person at the gym.
I’m just encouraging you that when you have the chance acknowledge the other people around you.
You will be surprised how this changes the way people behave towards you and makes it much more likely that you or them will be strike up a conversation between sets or on the way in or out of the gym.
Don’t avoid using equipment because someone else is using it.
This is by far my favorite advice.
You should always take advantage of someone using a piece of equipment you need as an opportunity to introduce yourself and get their name.
It doesn’t have to be complicated or formal.
Just simply walk up, attempt to catch their eye contact, and say “excuse me, do you mind if I work in with you?”
Then as you are taking turns switching in and out sets be sure to offer your name and a handshake.
They will inevitably reciprocate and boom you now have someone in the gym that you know by name.
This can be the beginning of a great friendship built around each other’s shared enjoyment or need for the gym and building multiple friendships like this make going to the gym much less worrisome.
Happy moving and heavy lifting!
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training