For most people, particularly when you first start going, the gym can be an intimidating environment. There seem to be so many people around that “look better then me” or you just tend to feel self-conscious about how you are dressed, how to use the various equipment, or that that you use small weights. I felt this way for a very long time. In fact, I ran a marathon before I ever set foot in a gym on a regular basis because I felt so intimidated. But here’s the truth about the gym environment.
1. Nobody cares who you are or what you can lift. While I’m very comfortable in the gym now, I still remember being an overweight beginner when I first stepped foot in a commercial gym. I felt like all eyes were on me, judging my bad habits over the last few years, criticizing my form, and I felt like they didn’t want me to be there. Remember that the gym isn’t just for “fit” people, it’s for everyone. While individual goals differ, the most important thing is that everyone goes to the gym for the same reason, to be healthy.
And don’t worry about how much you can lift. The absolute biggest mistake a new gym-goer can make is trying to lift weights that are too heavy. Yes, it feels awesome to put up a heavy weight, but it isn’t necessary. In fact, power-lifters often lift significantly more weight than bodybuilders, yet bodybuilders often have much better physiques. So don’t be self-conscious about what you look like or how much weight you are lifting.
2. Very few people really “know” what they are doing. Most of the people that go to the gym are brand new to lifting weights, too. Men, in particular, like to talk about how much they know about working out, but in reality they haven’t lifted a barbell since the high school field house, and they didn’t know anything then, either. So don’t worry about how much knowledge you have when you first start out, just focus on the basics.
3. Most people are helpful and friendly. If you are not sure how to use a particular piece of equipment, just ask someone. But don’t ask just anybody. The person that talks a lot about their routine is probably not the person you want to get advice from. Sure, they know a lot about their personal routine, but that is all they know. Take a look around for the person that is working hard and has a look of confidence and intense focus on their face but mostly keeps to themselves. They may not necessarily even be the “most fit” person in the gym, but this is the person that probably knows what they are doing.
4. Us the equipment to your advantage, but also follow good gym etiquette. Don’t curl in the squat rack (don’t dead-lift, either), re-rack you weight when you are done, if you move a bench make sure you put it back, and be sure to wipe the bench down when you are done with it. That’s the nice thing to do. But also don’t be afraid to use the equipment that is available. If you don’t like the way a utility bench is positioned, move it, just put it back when you are done. Believe it or not it is perfectly acceptable to drag a set of dumbbells across the gym to use in combination with the dip station. If someone gives you a weird look don’t worry about it; they are probably thinking to themselves “what a great idea, I should try that!” Following good etiquette helps you feel more confident because it is easy to walk around the gym feeling like everything you are doing is wrong.
5. Try something new during every visit. There are a lot of different machines in the gym and a lot of them are different machines for the same muscle group. This is because everyone responds to exercise in different ways and to accommodate different training goals and training preferences. While some of these machines look complicated, you never know when you will find your new favorite exercise that just seems to work really well for you. So don’t be afraid to try something new. You can usually figure out how a machine works by looking at the diagram, but again, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Nobody was “born” knowing how to work every machine in the gym. With a little research, you might know how to use the machines more properly than anyone else in the gym.