Getting Started at the Gym

For many people, going into a gym setting is well outside of their comfort zone. Since 2020, many people have found ways to exercise outside or online. But exercising as part of a group or community is very beneficial for mental health. Even if you’re an introvert (like me!) here are some ideas for dipping your toe into the gym environment.
If loud music, large groups and hyper-fit people are not your speed, try a smaller space first. Visit a small studio (and support a local small business) that offers personal training, fitness coaching, yoga, pilates, tai chi or small group classes. These can be less intimidating and help you get used to the in-person experience. And you will get hands-on instruction and cueing that you can’t get with an online class. Everyone can use a professional’s help at times.
If you don’t know how to use the equipment, it can make you want to stick with what you know. Instead of just doing the familiar routine, get some guidance. You can ask the owner, a trainer or coach, or even just a “gym regular” (most of whom are happy to help you).
Get a program or routine written out for you. After being shown the ropes, have a focus and purpose to each workout. That doesn’t mean repeating the same routine each day (you’ll get bored quickly). Have a plan of action, as well as what activities you’ll include on each workout day (cardio, stretching, strength training, mind/body).
Different people are motivated by different things. If you aren’t naturally inclined to exercise, having a trainer or workout buddy waiting for you can help you prioritize getting there (and not letting life get in the way, which it will). Treat your workouts like doctor’s appointments; you wouldn’t cancel unless it was an emergency, so schedule them into your day at a time that makes the most sense to you. And if you have a busy schedule, break it down into bite-sized pieces and fit your workout in where you can.
Remember that even the fittest person at the gym was once a newbie. Just like any new experience, once you get more familiar with the setting, people and equipment, it will feel much more natural. And as part of a group, you will find most people to be welcoming and inclusive. It’s okay to start where you are, try different things and find what suits you.
Focus on the immediate benefits of exercise to keep you coming back. Setting long-term goals is important, but don’t forget about the benefits post-workout such as feeling better physically, mentally and emotionally. Creating a stronger and more capable body will benefit your self-esteem, and stretching or mind/body exercises (meditation, yoga, etc.) will leave you calmer throughout the rest of your day.
Track your progress. Especially with strength training (lifting weights) and cardiovascular exercise, keeping a record on paper or digitally will keep you motivated when you see how much you’ve improved.
Surround yourself with like-minded people. If you tend to stick with what the crowd is doing, spending more time with people who live a healthy lifestyle will help keep you eating well and exercising rather than binge-watching TV on the couch with junk food. Friends and family members may not understand the changes you’re making, and that’s okay; this is your life and journey.
Eliminate black-or-white thinking. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a workout, feel tired or sluggish, eat unhealthy food, and so on. Give yourself some grace, and remember that consistency (doing it over the course of weeks, months and years) is what will set you up for the healthiest lifestyle possible.
Develop rapport with the instructor, trainer or coach, as well as others in the group. If the vibe doesn’t suit you, or you just don’t “click” with the leader, it’s okay to keep searching for the right fit. Chances are the other person is aware as well, and it’s okay to politely ask for recommendations to another place.
Have a financial commitment. This sounds self-serving coming from someone who makes a living as a personal trainer, but I’ve heard countless times that having an appointment (someone waiting for them) and having invested money (that would be lost if they cancel) is a high motivating factor to help with consistency.
Don’t be afraid to try different things. People ask me what the best type of exercise is and my answer is always this: the one you will do! Your preferred style will probably change over the course of your life, but finding enjoyment in moving your body will help you create and maintain good habits for life.

Lori Vance
Body Image Fitness, LLC

Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a healthcare professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.

Getting Started at the Gym

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