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The Five Tips to Overcoming Scary Gym Paranoia

Crushing gym paranoia at Hostyle ConditioningPin

Remember the first time you first walked into the gym?  How did those first few moments feel?  It was either a wondrous and fascinating experience or else it was like walking into a torture chamber filled with a variety of complex machinery, unfamiliar people who were all in far better shape than you and kept staring at you as if you were growing a second head out of your shoulder.  Sound familiar?  This is a case of gym paranoia and it’s more common than you might think.

If you’ve struggled with losing weight your whole life, were never very athletic or involved in sports and have never participated in any physical activity short of taking the stairs at work because the elevator went out again, then the latter scenario probably fits.

In looking around the typical gym environment you have the “meatheads” hoisting up heavy weights in the squat rack and slamming weights down on the floor.  The “fluffy bunnies” are powering their way through a variety of cardio machines, hardly breaking a sweat and yet they still look fabulous, and then you have the regulars that walk around soaking you in with their eyeballs inherently telling you that you don’t belong.  Or at least so it seems.

The gym can be a very intimidating and frustrating experience for many individuals.  Especially those whom it would benefit the most.  So how can you get past the emotional trauma associated with the average person entering into the gym for the first time?

 Solutions to Gym Paranoia

Choosing a good gym:  Choose a gym that fits your needs is also going to be a big part of the process.  Bigger commercial gyms are generally not going to be ideal for the average gym goer who has little experience or low self-esteem.  Most gyms are setup so newer members get an orientation or are shuttled right into a personal training program or at least have an orientation setup; however, this often does not ease a members fears when they come in by themselves.

One should definitely seek a gym that is open and caring towards new members.  One that has an orientation process or offers at least an assessment for newer members to get them started.  You can often tell the quality of the gym simply by the front desk staff, as these are the first people to greet you as you walk in the door.  If they are smiling and learn your name you can tell this is a good gym.

Start with What You Know:  If you’re a newbie, don’t be intimidated, as everyone has to start somewhere.  Even the loudest and most aggressive gym goers had to start somewhere. So just start with what you know how to do.  Almost everyone has probably seen a treadmill before and should be able to walk.  This is an easy way to start any fitness program.  Even if you’re unfamiliar with the gym you can probably start a walking program without serious effort and at the same time you can get to know the gym, the members and the staff at the same time.  The most important thing is to get started and get comfortable with your new environment.

They’ll be time enough to get into those uncomfortable resistance training programs later.  The most important part is to get into the habit of going to the gym and doing something.  Even if it’s tying your shoes and sauntering around the gym.

Get Started in a Class:  Gyms that have group classes are an excellent way to break into fitness without the frustration of going at it alone.  If you find one that offers a descent class that fits your schedule and your budget this can be the easiest way to get started in fitness with some social support built into the program.  Trust me, some of Hostyle Conditionings classes are packed with people and the regulars often have their own spots on the floor.  It’s very common to develop close ties with these people.

More people find that hard exercise is easier with a large group of people also enduring the suck than going at it by themselves.

Find a Buddy:  It sounds like a no brainer, but if you have a friend or partner that is willing to go with you to the gym it’ll be that much easier.  Social participation is a big thing in the gym environment and it’s even easier if you’re starting off at about the same fitness level.

The only downside to this is the level of commitment of your partner and scheduling times.  Ensure when you choose a partner, choose wisely as you won’t have much success if you and your partner are always at ends with scheduling or if you both have low motivation.  Best case scenario choose someone whom is slightly better than you so that they can push you to a higher level.

Hire A Trainer:  One of the biggest recommendations to help ensure your success is to simply hire a coach who knows what they’re doing.  This can avoid spending a lot of time being frustrated and alone in the gym, plus it ensures you’re going to be exercising safely.  Hiring the right coach can be frustrating at times, but within the first session with a trainer you can generally decide if this is the right coach for you.  Trainers are a dime a dozen, but the biggest bonus to having a trainer is simply to help keep you motivated and accountable to someone.  Plus they can help reassure your fears of exercising.  Here’s a recent post from Hostyle Conditioning that we put together about hiring a coach.

No matter how intimidating the gym environment can be the end state is to get you into shape and into a better quality of life.  If you spend a little time and get situated in your new environment you’ll find that you’ll not only move better, feel better and enhance your overall body but you may even make some new friends in the process.  Don’t be afraid of the gym, just find a good one!

Jess Howland
Jess Howland
Jess Howland is a Veteran US Army Captain serving as Master of Youth Awesomeness and Strength Coach for Hostyle Conditioning in Orleans, ON. Jess holds a BS degree in Exercise Science from Oregon State University, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), among other training and nutritional certifications. A simple country boy turned lifetime fitness enthusiast and passionate trainer, who inspires everyone he meets to be involved in fitness, strength training and optimal nutrition in support of his personal motto Be Strong, Be Fast, and Be Resilient. Known for his high intensity, hybrid programs and never ending pursuit of fitness endeavors his former colleagues call him by his nickname CAPTAIN SMASH (CPT SMASH) or just SMASH. Jess coaches a wide variety of people as he believes in Hostyle Conditioning’s mission of transforming the ordinary lives of men and women into leading extraordinary lives that are improved through a blend of hybrid strength training and dynamic cardio conditioning. Jess has established himself as a lead trainer in Youth Strength and Conditioning, as well as specialty programming for special populations as military, police/firefighter, nurses and strength sport competitors. As a professional coach, Jess loves what he does to provide purpose, direction and motivation to those who feel that they need help in getting to from A (current fitness level) to B (goal fitness level).

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  1. I used to have such confidence (and knowledge!) of how to use a gym effectively. It has been years since I have been in one as “growing up” got in the way! I would feel quite intimidated with new fitness ideas, equipment and my body, which is very different than when I was in high school and uni!

  2. Dear Brenda,

    It’s not that fitness and the gym has changed so much Brenda! Squats are still squats. Deadlifts are still deadlifts. The ‘old school’ methods of training still work quite well. In fact most of the training protocols today are going back to the older ways of lifting barbells and dumbbells, even kettlebells which are much older than the fancy new machines which do little more than isolate muscles and make it ‘easier’ to work out.

    New fitness ideas are always emerging, but more often than not they’re just a spin off of something basic that has been done before. Nothing is new, it just goes out of style.

    Other than that physioball crap, luckily that’s a fad that is slowly dying out.



  3. I just started going back to the gym a month ago, and while “starting with what you know” was definitely the strategy I used to get through the feelings of discomfort, I feel like I never let go of it. I feel like it’s holding me back now and I need to just dive into the new equipment, machines, and routines that I find intimidating!

  4. Dear Heidi,

    Thanks for compliment! Just so happens I know a few great personal trainers! Check out an option for you to see where you’re at: http://hostyleconditioning.com/service/assessment/

    @ Victoria: Good for you for starting back up in the gym. Those feelings of not-knowing will never go away if you don’t try, because you’re right, you need to keep pushing your body to adapt to other things.

    In fact it’s one reason I have a job. If you don’t know how to modify the program yourself and are uncomfortable experimenting…get some help. I suggest getting a couple of training sessions just to get something new.

    I’ve had multiple clients that simply train once a week or once a month just to get something new or keep on progressing. They’re fine with the long slow and steady pace, but just need something to keep them motivated and change the workout a bit to keep on making progress.

    Look at it this way, you’d probably pay for someone to cut your hair right? But you could do it yourself too? Which is more worthwhile to you, having someone who knows what they’re doing cut your hair, or trying to cut your hair with scissors, a trimmer, and two-way mirrors?



  5. Thank you for the tips! This momma needs to get into better shape and I have always felt uber intimidated with even the thought of a gym.


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