For a lot of women, gyms are scary places. I am one of those women. Back in my late teens and twenties, I was a fair weather exerciser-- I always had a membership to the local Crunch or Planet Fitness, but nothing about the experience was fun for me.
I wrote about being scared of gyms this in this post here.
For one, I was never comfortable being in tight, form fitting spandex, so even dressing for the occasion brought more anxiety than you can imagine (or, maybe you can). I hated how I couldn't really hide the lumps and bumps I was used to hiding in regular clothes, and feared intensely that people would stare at everything that jiggled when I moved around.
Secondly, I was so overwhelmed by the machinery in these places that I didn't even bother trying to figure them out. I didn't want to look like the newb or a total bonehead so I would just steer clear altogether, instead finding a treadmill in the back of the room to jog on (for like 8 minutes or until I couldn't take it anymore, whichever came first), or attending group classes. I didn't mind the group classes as much, but I would never call anything about the experience FUN.
The first time I walked into a CrossFit gym in 2012, I was actually feeling pretty confident in my fitness (I mean, after all, I WAS doing P90x and Jillian Michaels and Insanity at home-- I've always much preferred at-home workouts than any gym space), and was looking for more of a challenge. And a challenge, I sure got.
My confidence was quickly crushed as I realized that this shit was hard. Way harder than I was expecting, and I was so weak, less athletic, and uncoordinated, compared to the other kids in class. My love of competition and seeing myself improve ultimately edged out those feelings of insecurity, but even today, I still have pockets of that same anxiety and intimidation.
If I'm a little off my game, more out of shape than usual (like I currently am, TYSM), feeling slow, weak, or otherwise not performing at my best-of-the-best capability, I still feel that same exact insecurity start to talk to me:
This is embarrassing; people are watching you flail; this should be easier; how is she already done?; everyone is shocked by how out of shape you are; I'm finishing dead last; this is so embarrassing that I can't do muscle ups anymore; god, I suck at this.
Most of the time, I keep those thoughts at bay, and truly love some fun competition, the feeling of being challenged, getting my ass kicked, and knowing I have a lot to work on. But sometimes, they not only appear, they take over.
Before I know it I'll feel a lump in my throat, my heart drop in utter defeat, and tears form, as I sink into a deep disappointment with myself. Yeah, it happens to me too. In fact, it happened to me this week.
If you've ever felt that same thought train move through your mind as you are working out, if you've ever felt like you need to get in shape before you join a gym, if you feel disappointed that you "only" did the scaled weight, if you feel like you "lose" or suck every time you WOD with the class, or if you feel like all eyes are on you, judging your athleticism, body, fitness or life choices when you're in the gym, this post is for you.
Here are 5 ways to quiet that insecurity dragon and start to enjoy the experience of working out:
1. FIND YOUR WHY. Having a reason to exercise, beyond the weight loss or aesthetic considerations, is imperative to understanding the value of the experience. Are you there to win every workout? Or are you there because it clears your mind and allows you a sense of freedom? I listed my reasons why I train in this Instagram post if you need some ideas.
Find the REAL stuff that you love about moving your body, your sport, classes, program or gym, and write that shit down if you need to. Memorize it, believe it, and remind yourself of it when you're getting sucked into the not-good-enough vortex.
2. SHOP AROUND. Standing alone in a florescent lit room filled with scary machinery I didn't understand was not for me. Running on a hamster wheel was not for me. I found something (CrossFit) that excited me, scared me in the good way, and kept my interest: you need to find yours.
Try different sports or activities (barre, yoga, weightlifting, powerlifting, pilates, etc) and take note of what actually fires you up and you want more of. Once you've found your sport of choice, make sure you find the right gym with the right coaches and people! This is critical to keep you feeling inspired, supported, capable, and most importantly: eager to learn and improve, and want to come back for more.
Wanting to be better at something you truly enjoy helps keep you grounded, focused, and playing the long game, versus feeling crushed every time you can't do something. Plus, having a community of people rooting for you is always a nice pick-me-up that can be *just* the safety net you need when you're feeling less than awesome.
If it's not FUN, you're doing it wrong. Find your people.
3. ENTER INTO YOUR WORKOUTS WITH AN INTENTION. Before the workout begins, give yourself an intention. This will change from day to day based on how you're feeling (sore? PMS'ing? Strong AF? Exhausted?), so check in with yourself and think about what you want most out of this specific workout, on this day.
Maybe you feel like going 100% full throttle today, and you want to test that limit. Maybe your intention is to make it through the run without stopping. Maybe your intention is to attempt the RX weight, or maybe you simply want to move, so you scale down.
This helps you to remember that you are on your own journey, and this moment is yours. You are here training for reasons that no one else needs to understand, compete with, or judge. Think of your why, consider how your body and mind feels, and give yourself a focus for each workout.
When the workout is over, think about what what well for you, what you were proud of, and what you loved the most. Don't dock points to yourself because you scaled, you finished last, or any other comparison-focused note. What was awesome about it for YOU?
4. ACCEPT THAT VALLEYS COME WITH THE PEAKS. As I just mentioned, you are on a journey here, and it is your own. Like any process or path, it won't always be smooth sailing, PRs, high fives, and winning the leaderboard. Some seasons allow you to push, grow and improve, and some seasons require that you maintain, ease off, or change courses.
Not every day will be stellar, and if you are expecting that, then you may be disappointed when you have an off day (or week. Or month). Understand that this is natural part of the cycle, and take it in stride. And most importantly:
5. KEEP SHOWING UP. Whatever you do, don't let those voices in your head win! Keep showing up. If you haven't found your flavor of exercise yet, revisit #2. If you don't know what you're doing when you're there, revisit #1 and #3. If you feel like you've been having an "off day" for 4 months now, revisit #4 and accept the season you are in.
But keep. showing. up. This effort is paramount to showing yourself that you are bigger than those stupid voices, that you value what you get from working out more than your insecurities, and that you are working with yourself in your own best interest, instead of against yourself. It might take a while to get over the initial hump and find your rhythm, but whatever you do, don't throw in the towel. Get yourself back on the horse!
Feeling the fear and doing it anyway is the number one way to build confidence in yourself. Even if the outcome isn't exactly what you hoped for, you will still feel pride for facing something that scared you, and doing your best.
Fun, pride, and better self esteem is on the other side of those fears. Do what you need to do to get yourself in the door, keep your why at the forefront of your mind, move with intention, appreciate your own, unique journey, lean on your support system, and take the off days in stride.
And don't ever, ever, EVER, let anyone ever make you feel like you don't belong in these spaces. And that includes yourself. You belong anywhere you want to be, so don't ever forget that.
I hope that these steps help you conquer the all too common gymtimidation, whether it's something you struggle with a lot, or something that may have caught you off guard in one particularly awful workout. We ALL deal with these feelings sometimes so know that you are certainly not alone. Working out, moving your body, getting stronger, and challenging yourself should (and can be!) be FUN!
I want to hear from you: Do you have a tactic you use to edge out those voices insecurity and defeat? Share in the comments below!