Two months ago, I started going to the gym. It was terrifying.
I’ve never lifted weights before, save for a few weeks one summer in high school, and I’m about 30 pounds overweight, with pockets of fat slapped in various places around my body.
My first day at the gym, a Ronda Rousey look-alike was strutting around doing exercises on literally every machine. JJ Watt was posted up by the mirror doing bicep curls with 120 pound dumbbells in each hand.
I walked over, picked up some twenty-five-pounds weights, and started doing chest presses like a child.
Before signing up for my membership, Kalyn assured me there would be lots of people like me there. Overweight, not used to working out, feeling awkward. She told me there was nothing to be nervous about. No one is going to think bad thoughts about me.
While she was wrong about the there-will-be-people-like-me-there part (we forgot that we live in the fittest state in the country—whoops!), I think she was right about the no-one-is-going-to-think-bad-of-you part.
So far, I haven’t been made fun of, no has thrown shade at me, and I honestly haven’t even caught anyone looking at me weird.
The temptation, now, is to be like, “See, everything was fine! There was no need to be anxious.” But I don’t think that’s a great way to look at things.
Even though I now have substantial evidence pointing towards there being a reasonable amount of certainty that I won’t be made fun of at the gym, I still get anxious before going and I feel it while I’m there.
Anxiety is rarely birthed out of a need to feel it—if we only got anxiety when there was a need to feel anxious, it wouldn’t really be anxiety, right? It would just be a normal response.
And to a certain extent, anxiety is a normal response. It is the logical outcome when we have experienced trauma or pain or when our brain chemistry is out of whack.
So I’m not saying that we shouldn’t feel anxious about going to the gym.
Rather, I’m saying it’s ok to feel anxious about going to the gym, and it’s ok to feel awkward while you’re there. It’s also a good thing to go to the gym, and it might not be as scary as you think (at least it wasn’t as scary as I thought).
If you’re like me and are thinking about going to a gym but are feeling anxious about it because you have never been to one before, here are a couple quick tips that have seemed to work well for me so far:
- Get a free pass. Most gyms will give you a free day or week pass if you are thinking about becoming a member. Go with a friend and check a couple gyms out. You don’t even need to work out, just walk around and see if you think you could be comfortable there.
- Sign up. Once you find a gym you like, sign up. Pay money. That will keep you going back even when you don’t feel like it.
- Get a personal trainer. A lot of big gyms have personal trainers on staff. Pay for a few sessions with one before you start working out on your own (sometimes places even give you a couple free sessions as a bonus for becoming a member). They will teach you which exercises to be doing and how to do them properly.
- Start small. I started by going to the gym for about 30 minutes three times a week. Now I’m going for longer, but those short sessions were key to building a habit at the start.
Even though I’ve only been going for two months, it has helped me. I’m feeling less anxious, I’m getting stronger, I’m more energetic, and I’m generally feeling better about myself.
If you’re making peace with anxiety, exercise is something you can’t do without. It has made all the difference in my life.