Hi everyone! I have a story to tell. Gee fun!
Four years ago, I joined my local Fitness First. The irony is, at that time, I didn’t have a plan to sign up for a gym, nor did I consciously want to lose weight. It just happened that while I was walking down a busy shopping centre, there was a Fitness First booth where back then I could join in with $0 start-up fees. Sound familiar?
Initially, I started going at least four times a week. And then it went down to three, two and after one month of religiously being a ‘gym junkie’ (yes, I totally labelled myself that…), I stopped going at all. My gym membership was on a stall and it was unused. I ended up paying for a few more months before I realised there is nothing in this world that can make me go to the gym — it just ain’t happening. And so I quit.
Fast forward to today, I asked myself — why did that happen? Why is it that people who signed up for a gym membership, stop using it completely after a month?
Was it because they just can’t be bothered?
Was it because they just don’t have the time anymore?
And then it hit me. I was there, four years ago, wanting to start living healthily and lose weight, but was completely and utterly afraid of the gym.
A reader’s email
About two weeks ago, I received an email from a reader who stumbled upon Pretty Awesome Fitness from one of my guest posts. She stuck around and decided it was time to ask me for help — which is in my opinion the right thing for her to do. After responding to her, I thought it’ll be great to share with the rest of the Pretty Awesomes, on a topic that I’m sure will resonate with a lot of you. So I asked her for permission on whether or not I can use her email in this blog post and she agreed. (I changed her name for privacy purposes though. Don’t worry she’s cool with it.) Here’s the copy:
My name is Lisa and I’m from Portland. I’m 39 years old, 5’4″ and weigh 182lbs. Recently, I just joined a gym because I am trying to lose weight and hopefully gain my endurance back to my younger days. It was all great until I walked into the gym the first time and I can remember how it felt! Everyone seemed to be staring at me as though I was wearing hot pink pants. I feel like they were talking about me behind my back and everyone had a training buddy. I was there all alone.
I walked up to the treadmill because that was the only thing that was familiar to me. I thought it was alright until I started to play with the buttons, entered my age and weight and have no clue what I’m doing. I felt like an idiot, Aqilah. I’m never going to step into a gym anymore.
I really want to lose weight. I even made a set of realistic goals but now I feel like my hopes of getting there is diminished. What should I do? How can I not feel terrified?
Please help. I really hope you can reply and I look forward to hearing from you.
If this sounds familiar, great. You’re in for a treat because today I will tell you that there is nothing about a commercial gym you should be afraid of. And today too, you will learn how to not be afraid of the gym — something I wished someone did taught me back then.
It happens to the best of us, but more often than not, it happens at a time when we really don’t want it to. Because being afraid of the gym can kill all your hopes of living healthier, and stop you from making a change to your body and your life. Let’s change that, shall we?
1) It’s all in your mind, my dear
Let’s face it. Going to the gym for the first time in years or in your whole life is quite intimidating. Believe it or not, till this very day, I still feel the same as you do every time I walk into a new gym. It’s normal to feel like everyone’s watching but trust me when I say this — 99% of the time people are too busy with what they’re doing or how their biceps look in the mirror to even think about you.
Most of them might seem to be staring, but their mind is into that last set of deadlifts they’re trying to conquer.
It’s all in your mind. And being afraid is definitely something that is mental.
Often, when we’re trying to do something new for the first time, it is in our body’s natural reaction to be scared. Think about that huge presentation you had to deliver in your first ever corporate job. Or going up to the front of the class to read an essay you wrote over the weekend because your 8th grade English teacher happened to just pick you. It is nerve-wrecking.
But like any other fear, you’ll be glad you did it once you’ve conquered it.
Here’s another thing. Not everyone knows what they’re doing.
In my experience working in the gym and working with other world class trainers (I’m no expert!), I found out that most people don’t even know what they’re doing in the gym. 86% of the time (and I totally made that number up by the way… I’m sure it’s way more) people just copied others or saw something on YouTube or She’s The Man and start replicating it without even knowing why they’re doing it.
The bottomline? Don’t worry about what others are doing. Focus on yourself. If you’re a lady and you’re trying to bust the myth of weight training in women and walk into the weights room full of men, you should be applauded. 95% of the people there should respect you for even trying. The other 5% doesn’t count.
If you’re still really afraid of what others might think of you, try hitting the gym at a time when it’s less crowded. My gym in the suburb right now only gets busy between 6-8am and after 5pm, and I’m pretty sure it’s standard everywhere. If you can, for the first times into your training, try going to the gym at a non-peak hour. That way there’s less pressure and less people looking (although it is really all in your mind).
My advice? Grab your iPod and put on some really awesome music. Once you enter the gym it’s just you, you and you. Your music, unless you’re listening to slow and sappy songs will drive you, create epic endorphins and get you done and dusted with your workout.
2) Learn how to walk into the gym like a boss
Now we’ve got the mental side of things sorted, let’s get physical shall we?
First up. We need to have a plan. Now if you have a goal and I know our dear reader Lisa does, you should have some sort of a plan. If you don’t you can learn how to set a goal here:
That aside, here’s what I would advise you to do on your very first day at the gym (Awww!):
Warm up: 5-10 mins of an exercise or two that raises up your heart rate gradually. I still use the treadmill to warm up and if you want to do the same, click on ‘Quick Start’ or ‘Start’ and increase the speed to something you’re comfortable with. If you’re not confident using the treadmill, jump on a stationary bike. You can pretty much paddle without even pressing anything and still get a good warm up.
Bodyweight squats: As part of the warm up, I like to do 3 sets of 15 squats just to get my lower body joints ready.
Bodyweight push ups: Just like the squats, to warm up the upper body, I do 3 sets of 15 push ups.
Done? Great. Now let’s try two very simple exercises.
Overhead dumbbell presses: 3 sets of 12 reps.
Bent-over dumbbell rows: 3 sets of 12 reps.
Once you’re done with that, cool down with another 5 min walk or cycle. And done! You’ve conquered your first day at the gym.
That’s all good Aqilah, but, how much weight should I start lifting? I’d say if you’re a lady, aim for about 4-7kg for upper body exercises and 8-12kg for lower body. If you’re a man, 8-12kg for upper body and 12-15kg for your lower body is excellent.
Of course, if you start doing dumbbell presses at 5kg and you can only do 8 reps then I’m sure you’re smart enough to decrease the weight. If it feels too easy, don’t be afraid to increase it. You will find that you can lift heavier over time because your strength is improving. And oh, your first day at the gym not too long ago isn’t that bad after all!
Whatever it is, just pick up a weight. Anything will do. Don’t be afraid because no one cares. It is all really in your head.
3) Improve yourself
Remember that terrifying feeling you once had on your first day? It will never come again. Ever. Until maybe perhaps you walk into a new gym but that’s a totally different story. If you’re going to be at that same gym for some time, all other days after the first one will be so much better.
So you lifted a weight too light on your first day? Increase it. You know pressing that button on the rowing machine does not work? You won’t press that again.
You will make mistakes.
And you will feel like it is stupid.
But that is how you get better. That is how you improve yourself. Over time, start watching good videos. Read up about muscle groups. Learn new exercises and don’t be afraid to ask. Letting go of what you’re most afraid of is the only way you can become the better version of yourself. Just get started.
I wished I had someone to tell me this when I first started on my journey to losing weight and I really don’t want any of you to feel that way. The first day for everything is scary but with the right willpower and skill you can conquer it.
And no one is going to laugh at you.
How would you respond?
I shall open this up to you my lovely readers. How would you respond to Lisa? Or to me three years ago? Or to the other millions of people who don’t feel too confident stepping into the gym? How did YOU get started?
Let’s share our answers in the comment section below so we can all learn from each other. We’re here to help, and we can do it together. :)
All the best, with all my love.
P.s. Every now and then I will be selecting some of my readers questions and feature it into the blog posts. It can be about anything but I will pick something that will resonate with all of us the most. It is the best way for us to learn from each other, don’t you think? If you do have any questions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to help and of course, with your approval, open it up for discussion with the rest of the Pretty Awesomes. :)