Everyone knows getting a little activity in your day to day is important for your health. So, for the first 18 years of my life, I stuck to activity that didn’t require being around other humans.
See, I was bullied constantly as a kid for my weight. I had a significantly different body type than the other girls I went to school with. I had boobs by the time I was 8, and I started wearing women’s clothes before I even entered middle school. When everyone was shopping at Abercrombie Kids, I had to venture into the Abercrombie & Fitch side of the mall.
I also was never particularly athletic, so when it came to gym class, I was always picked last. The only time I can recall enjoying it was the unit on square dancing. (Can someone tell me why we did that again?) I skipped school every year on the dot when we did the Pacer test — even senior year!
Luckily for my health, I developed a crush on the guy who worked at the gym a few years ago, so I convinced myself to work out about four to five days a week. However, I confined myself to the cardio floor for a long time because I never thought I could go anywhere else — there are men down there! I wore uncomfortable (but hot!) outfits every time I went. I did a full face of hair and makeup even though I knew I’d be taking a shower as soon as I got home.
I was probably the most in-shape I’ve ever been (thanks so much, Dylan!); however, I still didn’t feel confident at the gym unless I was dolled up and running on the elliptical for the fourth time that week. Since then, I’ve discovered where I prefer to work out (in the weight room!) and how I’ve managed to feel comfortable and accepted at the gym. If you’re struggling with it too, here is how I did it:
1. Choose clothes that make you feel comfortable
I’m all about cute workout gear, don’t get me wrong. However, I spent a long time wearing sports bras that showed off my cleavage instead of buying something that actually held me down enough to get it on with the treadmill. I’ve reimagined my workout wardrobe to only include clothes that are comfortable and practical for working out, rather than focusing on impressing the men in the room.
2. Tour the gym
How many times have you been in the gym and have no idea how to use this obscure piece of equipment? I spent about eight months trying to figure out how to lower the pulls on a machine, so I’d only use it if someone my height used it before me (AKA basically never). While you might have toured where the locker rooms, sauna, pool, and weights are at your gym, you might not know exactly how the machines all work. Every gym is different, so your new gym might not have the same mechanics as the one you used in college.
Don’t be afraid to ask the attendants and other people in the gym how things work. It might take a hit to your ego at first, but the next time you’re using the leg press as a pro, you’ll forget all about it.
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3. Try a class
While classes might sound uber intimidating to some, it can boost your gym confidence so fast. First of all, you’d be surprised how many people in a class have no idea what they’re doing or were in your shoes before. This makes it easy to find others to confide in and help you feel at ease when all you want to do is run home and put on Friends instead.
I also love classes because they’re a pretty quick learning curve. While it feels like you have no idea what you’re doing at first, you usually have it down pat after a few classes. You start to recognize people in the class, get to know the instructor, and know some of the moves. Getting comfortable in the gym (and working out in general) is the first way to feel confident.
Another tip: show up early to talk to the instructor. They’ll be able to teach you one-on-one for a moment and will help you throughout the class knowing you’re a newcomer.
4. Create a plan
Instead of walking into the gym and wandering for 20 minutes trying to figure out what you’re going to do, create a plan beforehand. It can be as detailed as how many sets and reps you’ll do, or you can simply write out a couple of go-to exercises to fall back on. You can change it up once you get there based on how you’re feeling, but knowing exactly how you’re going to start and where you’re going to go first (weight room, elliptical, swimming pool) can make all the difference in how you feel when you first walk in.
If you really have no idea, always take your first 10 minutes to do a warm-up walk on the treadmill.
5. Make the perfect playlist
When I first got into working out, I downloaded every workout playlist on Spotify and quickly learned that wasn’t the kind of music that motivated me. EDM and pop aren’t what makes me feel confident, but rap and the entire Justin Bieber discography does! Once I made the perfect playlist for me, I was on a roll. I chose songs that made me feel confident (and hot), and it works!
6. Focus on yourself
Walking through the gym and looking at what Jill is lifting and how fast Sam is sprinting and holy-sh*t-look-at-her-abs is bound to make anyone feel nervous. Stop looking at everyone else. What they’re doing doesn’t affect you or your body or your progress one bit. You work out the hardest and get the best results when you focus on what you’re doing. Paying attention to you allows you to maintain proper form, understand what you’re doing wrong, and get used to your own body. Everyone who looks confident, strong, and happy at the gym knows this, and it is truly the key to success.
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7. Don’t look at the scale
Most gym locker rooms have scales, and I’ve been there one too many times. For as long as I could remember, I’d walk into the gym and immediately head to the scale. I’d tell myself I’d use all that stress and anxiety I had about my weight to fuel my workout — actually, I’d spend my entire workout depressed and feeling like sh*t.
If you have to look at the scale for your doctor or if you’re on a weight loss journey, try to look after your workout. I also recommend using the scale at your doctor or a therapists office. Then, you can talk about how you feel and process those emotions with someone who is there for you and can help.
8. Bring the weights somewhere else
I’ll be honest, I haven’t quite mastered the whole “working out in front of a mirror next to five giant dudes” thing yet. So, I bring a couple of weights into a corner or an empty group fitness room and do my workout there. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it actually makes some extra room for someone else!