The Gym. Simply hearing that word fills many with a new sense of panic, and a sudden new love for working overtime or sleeping in.
Does the mere prospect of signing up at your local sports centre terrify you?
Do you keep paying a monthly membership even though you haven't lifted a dumbbell in months?
Does your stomach go queasy every time you step onto the gym floor?
I feel your pain. I spent years walking around the gym feeling absolutely terrified, feeling judged, feeling small, feeling stupid.
I know few people that are fully comfortable in a gym environment, especially not newcomers.
It's a pretty stressful place to be: everyone is trying to look their best, while being at their most vulnerable and (if they are working hard enough) red-faced and dripping with sweat.
You can sometimes feel as if you are exercising in front of an audience. A beefed-up, oiled-up, jacked-up, eyeing-you-up audience.
Well believe me, you are not alone.
The Most Common Fears
In 1998, an IHRSA study determined 4 of the most common fears that stop people from coming to the gym:
1. Insecurity about their looks
Thanks to many years of unrealistic marketing featuring oiled-up muscle men and ultra-thin models, we have all come to think that gyms are filled with that type of people.
Most people feel insecure about the way they look. And the thought to have to parade themselves in front of the horde of Adonis' fills many with dread. It stops people from signing up, and it stops people from exercising.
2. Fear of looking stupid
Ever seen someone fall off a treadmill? Trip on a dumbbell? Need emergency help with a heavy barbell?
Many gym-goers have inner fears of getting themselves into embarrassing situations. They fear getting it wrong, looking stupid, or even hurting themselves.
And so they hold back, they avoid many exercises, they stick to their comfort zone.
And they don't make any progress...
3. Fear of isolation
The gym can be a great social place: many friendships are made and relationships are built within the dumbbell racks. Some gyms have even seen the odd wedding or two.
At the same time, it can be pretty darn isolating. People can feel alone, stranded in the middle of the crowd. No one to talk to. No one to connect with. Just a blur of sweaty, red-faced fitness buffs minding their own business, iPods blaring in the ears.
New members especially worry that they will be seen as the newcomer while everyone else knows each other already. They fear that they will be left to their own devices, while the rest of the crowd, already "in-the-know", will stare judgmentally.
4. Fear of looking like they don't know what they are doing
For many people, the gym floor is a daunting room full of machines, of contraptions and of unknown torture devices, like a steel jungle with leg presses for trees and dumbbell racks for bushes.
Attempting new exercises is a frightening prospective. Infinite number of things could go wrong. An infinite number of opportunities to show others that they have no idea what they are doing.
Many people fear looking like a newbie and being judged for it. And so they stay within their comfort zone, they repeat the same workouts over and over again.
Ever noticed how the same people will use the same equipment at each session? Sometimes down to the exact same treadmill? Are you one of those?
How to Feel Comfortable in the Gym
1. Consider other options
First things first: before you go out and sign up at the nearest gym, take a step back and ask yourself if you really want and need to be going there.
What do you really want your body to do? What do you want to achieve?
You may be pursuing a specific body shape goal, or you may just want to increase your activity levels for your health and wellbeing.
Gyms are by no means the end-all and be-all of exercise. There are plenty of other options to choose from: sports clubs, PT studios, outdoor bootcamps, etc that will provide workouts in less crowded and more enjoyable environments.
2. Stop thinking about what others think of you
This is something that holds so many of us back, at the gym but also in all aspects of our lives.
How many times do you not express yourself or not take action for fear of what others may think of you?
We are all guilty of this, at some point or another. We worry about how we are being perceived, about what the others may see. We feel the looks upon us as we walk around; we can even sense their judgemental thoughts.
Know what I am talking about? Want to know how to overcome that?
Here's not one but two insights:
- People don't think about you as much as you think they do. Yes they may look at what you are doing. Yes they may blankly stare at you then look away when your eyes meet. But everyone is far too engrossed trying to look good themselves that they really don't have that much time to be thinking about you! (A bit of research to back this up: An American study showed that when a high school student entered a room with an embarrassing t-shirt on, only 25% of his classmates noticed it, while the student was convinced that over 50% had.)
- We project our inner thoughts onto the outer world and the people around us. So if you get a nagging sense of being watched and judged, then you're most likely judging yourself first - then projecting that judgement onto others. Stop judging yourself and caring whether you are doing things right or wrong, and this fear will disappear.
Which leads us nicely to insight number 3:
3. Be Authentic
Many of us are afflicted by the common disease of Comparison. We look at others for approval, for validation, and we constantly measure ourselves against other people.
When we compare ourselves and find a gap between us and others, this then reinforces another disease that many of us suffer from: the "I Suck" syndrome.
You see, by comparing yourself to others, you are in fact telling yourself that you are not good enough as you are, right now in the present moment. That you need to change, to be more like that guy in the corner, to be better - in order to feel good about yourself.
You are more than good enough. In fact, you are awesome as you are.
There is no one like you on the earth, so how could you compare yourself to any other?
Be yourself, be authentic. Ask if you don't know what a machine does, or how to perform a specific exercise. Laugh at yourself if you fall over or trip. Don't try to be someone you are not - that will just lead to unhappiness (and in this case, possibly injury!)
Even the buff and the beautiful were newbies not so long ago. It's OK not to know it all, to get it wrong, to make mistakes (I fell off a rower just a few weeks ago!). In fact, the more you accept that the happier you will be.
4. Build Your Power Zone
What is the Power Zone? The Power Zone is one step beyond your comfort zone: it's when you feel a bit stretched, challenged, yet energetic and determined.
At each workout, focus on doing 1 new thing that will take you outside of your comfort zone: talk to a stranger, ask the staff for help, try out a new machine or exercise.
Each session is an opportunity to extend your Power Zone one step further. As you do so, your Comfort zone will get bigger and bigger, until you feel completely at ease on the gym floor.
Now it's your turn: use the 4 insights above the next time you go to the Gym. Then leave a comment below with your results.
And further down the line, why not extend your knowledge and insights to others. Look out for newbies, give them advice and suggestions (such as reading this blog post), and share your new found love for the Gym.
In the meanwhile, if you enjoyed this post, please LIKE it and SHARE it.
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Love & Health,