I was 22 when I got my first gym membership.
This was post college. I had just moved to Nashville where the currency is biscuits and butter. My new roommate had just lost 80 pounds by exercising and switching her diet (translate: cutting out teenage overindulgences on pizza, burgers and anything you can heat up in a microwave) and I decided maybe I would give it a try too. She looked happy and she was an ordinary person!
But maybe you’re like me. I had long avoided the gym for a lot of reasons.
I was self conscious. I had no idea what half of the equipment did or how it worked.
I had been disappointed by a lack of results in the past.
I realized that the hard part wasn’t just the workout. For me, it was just as tough getting through the front door because of all the baggage I carried about my body, the perception of others, a myriad of things.
But I went. And these were some of the things I learned from experience and from my fellow gym goers:
1. No one is looking at you.
I was very concerned about embarrassing myself but I found that, most times, everyone is mostly concerned about not embarrassing themselves either. They’re watching their own footwork. They’re watching their posture. Because it is hard to count, breathe, remember all the moves AND watch every step a stranger takes is very difficult to do, most people aren’t focused on what you’re doing. So don’t be afraid to look a little silly. I also found that looking like I was unsure about a piece of equipment or something I was doing in a cardio class prompted someone to step over who could help me. If the people looking at what am doing are people who can help me get better, I’m not opposed. You don’t have to know how every piece of machinery works on Day 1. You don’t have to take every single group fitness class. You can start simple, start where you feel comfortable and go from there. You can also set up an appointment with a personal trainer or find an experienced buddy to help you with your new endeavor.
2. You can go slow.
While I’ve been going to a gym more than 8 years now, I just started running a little over a year ago. I am short and in no way dainty. When I started working out, I still stayed far away from running because it seemed the most intimidating. When my work schedule changed, I decided to just attempt running because it was a thing I could do at home in the afternoons and get right back to work. I started with a partner who was also new to running. I gave the disclaimer that I wasn’t going to run fast. I wasn’t going to try and impress anyone. I was going to take it slow. The goal for me this time was never to look like a fit model or to run a marathon or even to get my mile down to a certain time. The goal was just to keep going because, while I have zero desire to be a competitive athlete, I do have a desire to keep my heart healthy and even brisk walking can help do that. A year later, I am still running (not exceptionally fast or far) because I discovered I loved it. Knowing I can run if I need to has helped with so much of the self consciousness I had in fitness classes and even my every day life. I stopped being afraid to hustle.
3. You’ll be surprised.
When you’ve never really exercised, the images in your head can sometimes be very unflattering. You imagine you’re going to be the person laying on the floor in the back of the class puking, red-faced. It can be images like that which keep you from even trying. But then you take your first Zumba class or you do 20 minutes on a treadmill at your own pace and you realize that your body might fight you at first, but it is actually a pretty amazing piece of machinery. It is designed to move and adapt. I found that I was more agile than I expected to be. I picked up on steps after only a few classes and could go longer and harder than I anticipated. Before even seeing any numbers go down on the scale, I was already proud just knowing I could walk into a class and walk back out at the end. I never expected I would be able to do that. The images you have in your head about being the slowest, the worst, the one hanging on for dear life… what if that wasn’t the case? What if you were just delaying the discovery that you in fact ARE capable, you CAN do it, you ARE awesome?
Now, I am not a doctor and everyone should consult a physician before trying anything out of the ordinary. Be sensitive to your body and listen to it when it says it needs a break. What I am encouraging is that you not let fear keep you out of the gym. You have the opportunity to start anew everyday and this could be the day you discover that you a healthy life doesn’t have to be a pipe dream.