It’s a mini victory any time I make it to the gym after work instead of heading home and nosediving into bed, TV controller in hand. Of course, I say “mini” victory, because getting there is only half the battle.
Once I’m at the gym, all decked out in my “I’ll be there in a Prosecco” tank, a negative inner monologue kicks in. I hate it. And it’s completely brought on by my own insecurities. Maybe you know what I’m talking about? It’s the perfect storm of your own self-doubt coming to head with an abundant visual display of people and activities that are so easy to compare yourself to. So what should be a positive, healthy fitness routine that lifts me up often ends up bringing me down.
From what I hear, I’m not the only one this happens to. So here we go. Ten toxic thoughts we all have at the gym, and more importantly, what we can each do to change the conversation in our own heads.
1. I don’t fit in here. And everyone can tell.
This is a very common mind trap. You tell yourself that you’re “just not a gym-goer,” cursing the fact that you aren’t one of those short-shorted runners, sports-bra-clad yogis, or Beats-sporting heavy-lifters. And while that may be true, it doesn’t matter. If you’re a member of a gym, you pay to be there. You’re just as much a club member as everyone else, and your goals mean just as much too.
How to help: First things first, it’s important to find a gym that is both accessible and comfortable for you. Make some new workout buddies, or bring one from work or home. Dive in headfirst — remember, every part of your life was once new and uncomfortable: You once had a first day at your job, a first night in your now-homey apartment, and a first date with your partner. You can’t be a pro without first starting as a beginner!
2. I wish my ass looked that good in shorts.
It’s so easy to fall into a negative pit of comparison at the gym. I’m often afraid to squat at the gym, and I even sometimes get nervous that I look too jiggly while I run. That’s CRAZY! Just know that the way your body looks is not the primary reason you should exercise — remind yourself that strengthening your healthy body is what’s most important. Your body is beautiful for what it can do, not for how it looks in the process.
You can’t be a pro without first starting as a beginner.
How to help: Buy yourself some seriously cute workout gear. Now that athleisure is so popular, there are cheap (and not-so-cheap) options available pretty much everywhere you already buy clothes. When you’re excited about what you’re wearing, you’re more likely to feel confident no matter what you’re doing. And be sure to buy it in the right size – well-fitting gear is always more flattering.
3. I could eat at least twelve pizzas right now.
If you’re not properly fueled up before a workout, that grumbly stomach will majorly distract you from your sweat sesh. What’s even worse? A hungry and tired body is more likely to reach for instant gratification post-workout (think: sugary snacks or a convenient call to the neighborhood pizza delivery place), therefore negating the hard work you just put in.
How to help: To solve both the problem of mid-workout distraction AND negative post-workout choices, fuel up about an hour before you hit the gym. Munch on something that will give you sustainable energy without the bloat. Stay away from salt and artificial sugar, and keep the focus on oats, fruit, or protein!
4. She’s way faster than I am.
Again, comparison is the thief of joy, so putting yourself down isn’t helping anyone – and it’s definitely hurting you.
Challenge yourself to go faster, longer, and harder than you could a few months ago.
How to help: If you’re naturally competitive, use a fellow exerciser as motivation (I have a friend who doesn’t let herself get off a treadmill until both people on either side of her are finished!). If that’s not your scene, just remind yourself that you may not be the fastest, but you’re going faster than you would be if you hadn’t made it to the gym at all. Even better? Challenge yourself to go faster, longer, and harder than you could a few months ago.
5. I need to lose at least ten more pounds before I get naked in the locker room.
While it’s perfectly natural to feel modest, ask yourself why it is that you don’t want to change in front of others. Be honest with yourself; is the reason you don’t want to change in the public that you don’t think your body measures up to others? If so, you’re in major need of a reminder that your body is beautiful EXACTLY WHERE IT’S AT.
How to help: You may never be a big open-room-changer, and that’s okay. But if your reasoning is born out of insecurity, just start small. You may be surprised by how empowered you feel.
6. Maybe I should give up my treadmill to someone who can run faster than a 13-minute mile…
I generally go to the gym right after work, which is when everyone and their mom goes to the gym. The cardio section is often so crowded that I feel like a major inconvenience to my fellow exercisers. Remember, you are just as important as everyone else, and your workout is just as great of a priority.
How to help: Exercise at less crowded times, or choose a machine that doesn’t face the door. Even easier: Plug in those headphones, turn up the Beyoncé, and don’t let the haters keep you from doing you.
7. I don’t know how the hell to use this weight machine, and everyone is watching me try to figure it out.
It’s a tale as old as time: The weight room is crowded with juiced-up bros, and you’re feeling a little nervous about joining them. But fear not – most guys are just there to work out, not to judge. Hold that head high, and don’t let the fear of a few guys keep you from the workout your body deserves.
Remind yourself that YOU could be just the motivation someone else needs.
How to help: If you’re genuinely afraid you’re not using the weights/machines correctly, there are a few things you can do. Most machines have simple instructions online, and a lot of fitness sites and magazines feature weight workout step-by-step guides. When I joined a new gym, I asked my fitness-savvy brother to accompany me the first few times to show me the ropes. If you’re still freaked out there’s hope: some gyms now feature weight rooms for women only.
8. I guess I’ll just hop on the elliptical today (for the billionth time).
While there are undeniable benefits of aerobic elliptical workouts, it can get old fast. Many people stick with what they know so they don’t look silly attempting something new, but then find themselves in a fitness rut.
How to help: Regardless of which cardio machine is your favorite, it’s beneficial to try out different ones. Your gym probably has an entire section full of different options: rowing machines, treadmills, bikes, stair climbers, and more. So even if you don’t like to hit the weight room, there are always ways to keep your workout fresh. The key to not getting bored of working out is switching it up, so make yourself a rule – for example, try one fitness class a week, or venture into the weight room or basketball court at least as often. You’ll be surprised how much fun you can have at the gym (My life was forever changed when I discovered dance cycle on a whim!).
9. I heard a rumor that there’s a yoga class here – but there’s no way I’m zen enough for that.
It’s definitely scary to try a new workout by yourself, but there’s no better way to find a fave new fitness trend than to just dive in.
How to help: Grab a buddy! Anything can seem less intimidating with your bestie (or spouse, mom, boyfriend, sister, or roommate!) by your side. I’m not above bribing my roomies with queso and margs after a new spin class, so you shouldn’t be either.
10. I hate how crowded the stretching mat is… What a great excuse for to skip the stretch today!
While it’s easy to tell yourself that stretching isn’t important, it’s perhaps the most important part of your trip to the gym. Those extra few minutes prevent injury and burnout, so don’t let any excuse get in your way!
How to help: It’s a gym – everyone there will understand. Find any corner you can with some stretching room – I like to use my gym’s spin studio when there aren’t classes in session! If your fear is those extra prying eyes, it’s easy to find a solution to that as well. Look for an unused classroom, or even head back to the locker room. But before you run away from potential viewers, remind yourself that YOU could be just the motivation someone else needs – stretch out loud and proud, girlfriend, and you just might inspire someone else to do the same.