Gymtimidation is absolutely a made up word, but the feeling is real.
Gyms are, by nature, intimidating places.
There’s loud music. Loud grunting. Super fit people wearing super loud singlets with slogans like GAINZ OVER EVERYTHING and SLAY THE DAY. To enter one for the first time and not feel a bit nervy would be odd.
You can and should, however, find solace in the fact that every single person who has decided to get fit has had to endure that awkward what the flippen heck am I doing phase of starting at the gym.
I’ll never forget my first few times inside the shred shed.
I was freshly 18, and joined begrudgingly on the advice on my then-boyfriend. It was around the time that fitness models started lighting up Instagram; their flexed abs and strong thighs were becoming the new ‘ideal’ and I didn’t want my flat behind to get, well, left behind.
If I had to describe my body back then, I’d say I was skinny fat. I had less tone than a carton of vanilla custard, and even less stamina and/or cardiovascular fitness. Growing up, I’d never been one to pursue sports; I preferred watching my Sims WooHoo for hours on end as I washed down Honey Soy Chicken Red Rock Deli chips (best flav) with apple juice.
My boyfriend drove me to his local gym and gave me the grand tour. He took me directly to the epicentre of uncomfortableness: the weights section. He taught me how to benchpress, deadlift and squat. I was terrible but enthusiastic about my impending rippedness.
Two weeks later, we split up.
Not only was I devo; I was devo and now the proud member of a gym I had approximately zero idea how to utilise.
Luckily, teenage me loved drama, so the thought of bumping into my ex at the gym became motivation. I showed up, every day, with absolutely no plan of what I’d do or how I’d do it. I’d just jump on a strategically-placed elliptical (with a full view of who was coming in and out of the premises), workout, and wait.
I did this for about a month, and quickly grew tired of the gym, because there’s only so much elipticaling one young woman can take before her brain revolts. I wanted to get back into the weights section and push myself, but I didn’t feel as if I had a place there. It was filled with dudes, and without my dude chaperone, I felt like an annoying phoney.
Embarrassing admissions aside, an article outlining all the ways you can combat those first few awkward trips to the shred shed would have been really helpful. So we wrote one. Here it is.
First things first, there are three things you should never step foot inside a gym without.
These are a towel, a water bottle and deodorised armpits.
That final one can’t be stressed enough. Wearing deo seems like adulting 101 but the amount of (real talk, usually blokes) who rock up to the gym without adequate protection against smelling like a skunk is genuinely frightening.
If you’re getting your heart rate up, you’re probably gonna be sweating, so take the steps to ensure it doesn’t smell and your fellow gym-goers will thank you.
SQUIZ THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA
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Before you think about joining a gym, it’s best to give them a stalk as you would a potential partner.
It’s a really good way of sussing the vibe of a place. You’ll get a good idea of the set up, what people do in every area of the gym and what kind of clientele go there. It can go both ways: you might find the place looks a little too polished and isn’t your speed, or you’ll see they’re terrible at social media and you’ll probably feel comfortable and not intimidated.
WARM UP OUTSIDE FIRST
If you get super nervous just before you walk into somewhere new, try warming up outside before you go in.
It could be as simple as parking a block or so away and walking to the gym to get your heart pumping and muscles relaxed. That way, when you first step on the elliptical, bike or into a class, you’re feeling a little more limber and ready, and won’t suffer an awkwardly loud cracking knee.
ASK FOR A TOUR
A tour around the gym is something you get when you’re first thinking of signing up, but it’s worth asking for a more thorough run-through once you sign all the papers.
Don’t be shy in asking for a personal trainer to take you through the space and show you how any and/or all of the machines work. It’s part of their duty of care to you as a patron. It will also prevent you from doing highly embarrassing things like inconveniently stretching in a little cramped corner of the weights section because you didn’t realise there was a complete stretching area just beyond a wall.
BRING A MATE
When in doubt, call up that irritatingly health-obsessed mate of yours and put them to good use.
People who like healthy things usually like telling you about it, and your fit mate will be overjoyed to teach you a thing or two about why the cable rear delt fly is such a killer machine, bro.
GET AROUND THAT FREE PERSONAL TRAINING SESSION
Most gyms will throw in a free personal training session when you first sign up. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s also a chance for the trainer to get you to spend more money with them, so use this to your advantage.
Blow off the whole ‘what do you want to achieve’ section of the PT lesson and instead ask them to take you through every machine – even the really complicated ones you don’t reckon you’ll use – and show you how to do it all yourself.
After a month or so of regular gym patronage, you might get a little restless or bored. If you’re doing the same routine day in, day out, you might experience a thing called plateau (physically or mentally). This is usually when people drop off and go back to their non-gymming ways.
It’s a good idea to treat your week at the gym as you would your meals on a Sunday. Prep them! Sit down with the timetable and plan out classes you’d actually like to try.
Never done reformer pilates? Google it, figure out what kind of intensity it’ll be and plan what day you reckon you’ll be down for it. You haven’t been to the gym all week but there’s only a sweat BodyAttack class on Friday morning and you don’t want to ruin your blow dry? You won’t go.
Fail to plan and you’ll find it very easy to come up with excuses not to go.
REMEMBER, NO ONE’S LOOKING AT YOU
… And no one cares what you’re doing.
When you feel self-conscious about something, you might feel as though the whole world is noticing and judging you. The fact of the matter is, they aren’t. They don’t care. In all probability, the only thing they’re concerned about is what people are thinking about them.
No one is looking at your ill-fitting, sweaty grey t-shirt, or your thighs. No one cares if you’re bench pressing 5 kgs or 50 kgs. They’re probably just worrying about themselves and whether or not other people can hear the S Club 7 they’re blasting through their headphones. We promise.
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AAMI Health Insurance is issued by nib health funds limited ABN 83 000 124 381 (nib) a registered private health insurer and is arranged by Suncorp Insurance Ventures as an authorised agent of nib for which it receives commission.Image: Getty Images / mihailomilovanovic