When I first started seriously working out this past summer, one of the biggest challenges I faced wasn’t on the weight floor—it was in my head. I could not get past the paranoid thoughts that people were watching me and critiquing my every move. I brought my weights to a private class studio to work out in there, but I was self-conscious even picking up the weights to bring them to that room. Is there a proper way to pick up weights? Is that guy who’s benching a hundred pounds silently laughing at my 7.5-lb dumbbell? Are the personal trainers mentally correcting my technique and form? I just could not get past my thoughts.
After a while, I began to venture out of my hiding hole in the back studio. After all, some of the exercises I was doing required machines, which were the ones I dreaded the most, of course. I did not want to do a rope hammer curl with a ten-pound weight while the guy next to me did the same exercise, but with seventy-five pounds.
Eventually, I got over myself. Below I’ve listed some things that helped me overcome my stress and self-consciousness at the gym. Feel free to take notes and add your own in the comments section!
- Dress the part.
Once, I planned on heading to the gym after work. I brought my gym clothes with me in a bag and changed after my shift was done….only to realize that I left my Nikes at home! I only had my work shoes with me, and that day I had been wearing black beaded Minnetonka moccasins. I wanted to run home to grab my shoes, but I knew that if I went home, I wouldn’t leave.
So, I headed to the gym with my moccasins and did my workout in those.
Granted, this might not be the safest option, depending on the workout you’ve planned for the day. If you’re planning on riding the stationary bike, I wouldn’t recommend this, as the laces can become untied, and this poses a safety hazard. I was working out biceps and back that day, so I wasn’t concerned.
My point is that if you feel good, chances are, you’ll look good. The most popular setback I hear about this is that workout clothes are expensive! This is when I become the World’s Biggest Thrift Store Advocate. Honestly, almost all of my workout clothes I got at thrift stores or on supersale. For example, I have a pair of maroon prana brand yoga pants I love that I bought at a used boutique for $10, and I also have a pair of black Calvin Klein yoga pants I got on sale for $20 at Macy’s.
If you feel good, you’ll look good.
When I want to support a non-profit I love but know I might not wear a typical t-shirt, I look to see if they have any of their designs on a flowy tank top or t-shirt. These are great for the gym, because they’re breathable and comfortable. I also wear a pair of Nike shoes that I really love. This is something I would consider a splurge on, because the support in your shoe will make or break your workout.
Essentially, if you want to appear confident, feel confident in your outfit. If nothing else, at least you look the part!
- Know your workout in advance.
What are you working out today? If you plan as much as you can before you arrive at the gym, you’ll be less likely to quit early and more likely to feel prepared. I know that every time I’ve gone to the gym without knowing in advance what I’d like to work out, I feel lost—and I know that I look lost, too.
If you don’t come to the gym prepared, you’ll feel and LOOK lost.
I love to do a five minute warm-up walking at 3 mph on the treadmill, and then some stretching/foam rolling for a cool down at the end.
The workouts I do are based on opposing muscle groups. I might work glutes in one exercise, and then calves the next. Perhaps I’ll do some bicep curls, and then I’ll do an exercise that focuses on back muscles.
If you’re a preworkout kind of person (I’m not, but if you are, all the power to you!), know when you’re going to take the preworkout; how long before you hit the gym?
Finally, bring a water bottle; earbuds; and a journal if you want to write down your weights, mile time, or any other information. I keep my journal in my car so I never forget it!
- Do your research.
When I was first starting out, I did a lot of research regarding form and technique on bodybuilding.com. They have fantastic videos of both men and women performing a specific exercise, and they include things to avoid, insider tips and tricks, and other super important information! The workout plans I like to do (from laurengleisberg.com) are almost always accompanied by a photo of Lauren doing the workout herself.
Try it out at home without weights first! If you can master the technique of a tricep kickback or sumo squat without any weights, it’ll be a piece of cake when you begin adding weights!
And, as always, start small. If it’s your first time ever doing a bicep curl, don’t grab the 40-puound dumbbell; start with something more reasonable (y’all, I started at three pounds, #NoShame). It’s always better to lift smaller and protect your body than go all out and risk pulling a muscle, or anything worse. I always try to lift enough that I’ll be sore the next day, but not sorry the next day, if you know what I mean!
- Act like you know what you’re doing.
This is the biggest thing for me! The first few times I ventured onto the weight floor, I was surrounded by superstrong men who were beet red, veins popping and sweat flying. There weren’t very many women, if at all! I felt completely out of place. But I followed the first three rules listed above, and I knew that I was prepared. Smile through the pain (of feeling superawkward!) So I walked out onto the weight floor and started lifting. And eventually, I did know what I was doing. Fake it ‘til ya make it, am I right?!
Finally, if you’re really self-conscious, I have a few extra tips for you.
- Don’t feel bad about bringing weights into a studio to have some privacy while you figure everything out! Exercising is a very vulnerable thing to do, and it’s definitely scary the first few times.
- If you’re scared, bring a friend! A lot of gyms have free or inexpensive guest passes. Consider connecting with someone online, or working out at home with a friend first.
- Never feel bad about the amount of weight (or lack thereof) you’re lifting. This is a biggie! I’m a super weak individual, and I’m the first to admit it! I am a lover of the 5-15 lb weights section, lol. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
- Get some pump-up music flowing! I have a Spotify playlist called “move it” full of songs I love lifting to. I also love listening to Podcasts–my favorite is called “Beautiful Anonymous”. Random people call in and tell their life story to the host for an hour, and it’s so funny and exciting! I often find myself laughing out loud while doing a leg curl or whatever.
- Remember that everyone in the gym started out somewhere. Even if every single person looks like a pro, know that a) they’re most likely not, and b) you will look like that one day, too!
What are some of your tips for gym confidence? What gets you supermotivated? I’d love to hear—shoot me a message or write in the comments below!
Encouragement via Instagram is always the best (shameless plug: my handle is @freedom_thru_fitness!). Check out some of my favorite #Fitstagram hashtags: #FitFam, #RiseAndGrind, #StrongNotSkinny, #CollegeFitness, and #GirlsWhoLift.