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How to Deal with Gym Intimidation, with Kelly Lenahan

  • By Sarah Al-Khayyal

How to Deal with Gym Intimidation, with Kelly Lenahan

Let’s give a warm welcome to DNDL athlete Kelly Lenahan (@kelly.lenahan), who authored this guest post. At some point in all of our lives, we are either the newbie or the veteran at the gym. Gym intimidation is a very real experience, and folks in both positions can do a few things to build bonds and create an inviting environment for themselves and others. Today Kelly is sharing some of her top tips for handling gym intimidation!

We’ve all been there before, walking into a new gym and being painfully aware of the fact that we are now the “new kid on the playground”. For some of us this feeling of being new and in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by unfamiliar people, keeps us from being comfortable enough to train properly or concentrate on our workouts. And if you’re an avid gym goer, you might become aware of an influx of new people in your home gym, especially around the new year.

As a personal trainer and coach, gym intimidation is something I come across extremely often. It’s also something I’ve dealt with myself. I remember going into the gym for the very first time and bee-lining for the cardio machines. Cardio machines are what I knew how to use, you just hop on the elliptical and start moving, easy peasy! No one would watch me or judge me, and you can’t really mess up cardio, right?

Weeks went by and as I did my cardio, I’d watch the regular gym goers go through their workouts. I’d take mental notes on how to do certain movements, and I’d admire the women who had enough courage and confidence to go into the weights section and lift beside all the “bros”. Over time I realized that the elliptical and stationary bike were not going to help me reach my goals of growing muscle or getting strong, so I had to suck it up. I ventured out onto the weight room floor, and 5 years later… I now coach women and teach them how to become badass, confident forces.

So what are some ways that we can be more welcoming to new people in the gym, or become more comfortable if we’re the “new kid” ourselves? Through my own experience and the experience of those around me, I’ve compiled some helpful tips on how to conquer the “new kid” feeling that we all get at a new gym, as well as advice for what to do when you see new people coming into your home gym:

1. Take advantage of gym tours!

Often times gyms offer tours to new members to familiarize them with where equipment is, what things are used for, etc. One of the biggest intimidations of a new workout space is not knowing where things are, so take advantage of this if you’re able! If there’s no gym tour offered, take some time before your first workout to walk around the gym and get familiar with where everything is. If this is too awkward for you, look up the gym layout on social media or online on the gym’s website. Google maps often has pictures of the inside of gyms as well.


2. Have a plan going in!

Being nervous and not having a workout plan in place can lead to you wandering around aimlessly and not getting as much done as you’d like. Having a plan in place can be done in multiple ways. Hiring a personal trainer at the gym for a couple months can be extremely helpful for both familiarizing yourself with the gym and with a workout plan. If this isn’t feasible for you, try looking up some workouts online, jotting them down in your phone’s notes or on a notepad you can bring with you to the gym. Also try looking up YouTube videos on how to do each movement so you’re not nervous about doing something wrong.


3. Be approachable!

This goes for the “new kid” as well as the gym veteran who sees newcomers. Simple things like smiling at new people, introducing yourself to staff or gym regulars, offering to spot them/asking for a spot, or just saying “hi, how’re you?” can go a long way. If you’re new to a gym, try to avoid wearing headphones for the first few weeks you go (I know, this is hard for some!). Showing that you’re open to communication from others can open the door for building friendships. And if you’re a gym vet, maybe leave your headphones off for a bit when you see new people around you. Make a comment to them, joke, give a compliment on their outfit, offer any type of friendly communication that allows them to know you’re open and friendly.


4. Gym partner!

Bring a friend with you to the gym, even if they’re new to it as well. Having someone familiar with you can help put you at ease, allow you to relax a bit, and possibly spark conversations with others around you.


5. Consistency!

Be consistent about going. The more you show your face, the more others will be familiar with you and be comfortable talking to you (and vice versa). If you are introduced to someone, make sure you say hi to them or at least smile and wave each time you see them. You don’t have to be best friends, but acknowledging each other helps form a more comfortable environment.


Finally, realize that every person started somewhere! Be teachable and allow others to give you advice if they offer it (even if you don’t need it). And if you’re a gym vet, be kind about offering advice, being mindful that you do not know that person’s history or workout knowledge. Ask before you give a tip or form advice, don’t just throw it at someone. Ultimately just be friendly to those around you, and don’t take yourself or others too seriously. Have fun and remember that everyone is there for the same reason!

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