I used to hate the gym. I got anxiety just thinking about working out in front of other people. Working out at home? no problem. Riding my bike 100 plus miles? No big deal. Swimming in open water? Done! Lifting weights in the weight room of a crowded gym? NOPE! I would probably rather poke my eye out.

Have you ever felt that you didn’t belong somewhere because you weren’t fit enough? Have you ever said “oh I could never go to the gym”? Have you ever felt like a gym imposter?

I’ve been a member of several different gyms over the years, and have never felt truly comfortable in one until a few months ago. I’m a fitness professional and I feel uncomfortable. This is literally my job! Something I went to school for years to learn not to mention hours spent on trainings and certifications. Yet my fears kept me from enjoying the space, learning and testing new things and ultimately held me back from my goals. Now I confidently walk into the gym, get to work and leave feeling accomplished. The best part? I truly enjoy it and I never thought I’d say that.

So how did I finally conquer my fears? Read on for my tips to help you overcome your fears, accomplish your goals and own it at the gym.

Headphones and a great playlist will get you far in life! Take a deep breath and look around the gym. No, really, truly look around. 99% of the people in the gym are so focused on what they are doing that they could care less about what you’re doing. So put your headphones on, turn up your favorite song and get to work.

Wear proper clothing and footwear. Jeans and flip flops have no place in the gym. Wear tennis shoes, gym pants or shorts that fit well, a t-shirt or tank top, a good sports bra and take a towel if your gym doesn’t supply them. You can get great fitness gear for cheap, Old Navy is always having sales on their gear and it actually holds up. Fabletics, Victoria’s Secret, and H&M also have reasonably priced athletic apparel. You can also check out thrift stores for gently used items, I’ve found like new gear and stuff with the tags still on. They are a treasure trove of stuff, especially with all that Marie Kondo-ing going on.

Start slowly and get a feel for things. Too scared to hit the free weights? Walk on a treadmill for a few minutes, or try the stair stepper for the first time, preferably one with a view of the weights. Look around, get a feel for what others are doing. Scope out the racks, dumbbells and cable machines. Make a mental note of where things are, it’ll make it so much easier when you decide to go do some bicep curls and need to find the 10 pound weights.

Ask for help. The staff is there to make you feel comfortable, and should be able to offer a few suggestions to get you started, or at the very least show you where things are. Smile and strike up a conversation, that person pumping out bicep curls and shoulder presses, could be a new friend, or might even take the time to show you a few things. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

Go in with a plan. The gym is not the place to sit on a machine and mindlessly scroll Instagram looking for a workout or inspiration. Do you think Serena Williams/Kara Goucher/Beyoncé wing it when they go to the gym? No they walk in like the rockstars they are with a plan and do the work. They don’t give a f*ck what anyone thinks and you shouldn’t either. Whether its cardio day or leg day, write out your workout on a piece of paper, print a workout, or have an app that tells you exactly what to do.

Take a class. Many gyms offer classes, everything from spin to aqua fit to body pump. Some classes are more suited to beginners, and most gyms will note this on the schedule. Again, ask the front desk staff what classes might suit your needs best. If you are a total beginner or have an injury, get to the class early and talk to the instructor. They can offer tips and modifications for you if you talk to them ahead of time, also don’t be afraid to ask questions and give feedback after the class.

Hire a personal trainer. A lot of gyms offer a free personal training session when you join. Take advantage of it even if you have no initial desire to hire one long term. They can show you around, offer suggestions on what machines/classes/equipment suit your needs and abilities, and show you a few things.

Get a friend/family member/spouse to join you. Having someone to talk to, laugh with and spot you is key. Find someone that will drag you out of bed at 5am or meet you for spin class. Don’t have anyone? Go to the gym at the same time everyday, you’ll likely see the same people, strike up a convo and ask if they want to meet you tomorrow to try that body pump class. There are also hundreds of virtual fitness communities with thousands of people doing the exact same thing you are, join one or several. Post that sweaty selfie and tag me, I’m always here to give you virtual high fives.

You can conquer your fear of the gym. Believe that you can. Decide that you will. Now go out there and own that gym!

Still not sure where to start? My F.I.T. app & virtual training delivers an affordable and customized online training plan, with stats tracking, meal plan options, in app messaging, and video instructions straight to your phone. I also offer one on one sessions in your home or office, bringing a personalized and effective workout to you without the hassle of driving to and from the gym. 

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