But are you going to let them stop you from getting fit?
I’m talking about the problem many overweight women have with going to a gym. They feel incredibly self-conscious in health clubs that appear to be overstocked with glistening, physically perfect specimens of manhood and womankind. They sense they’re being watched, judged, and deemed unworthy. They simply can’t relax and just work out.
If that describes you, I completely understand your fear. But I also believe that most gyms are much less hostile than you might think.
If you’re self-conscious about joining a health club, here are some strategies that could help–and the most important is choosing the right facility in the first place.
Know what you’re getting into
Investigate thoroughly before joining any club. Every gym has its own personality, and I recommend that anyone seeking membership check out at least three or four facilities before making a decision. (For one thing, this will allow you to get a better price: you can find out which gyms are having the best specials, then play them against each other to encourage your sales rep to sweeten the deal.)
On the day or days you’ll be checking out the gyms, wear something that makes you feel confident: that blouse everyone says is a great color for you, your favorite jeans, those shoes that make you feel like a million bucks.
Visit gyms during the time of day you’re most likely to work out: the crowd at 6 a.m. will probably be very different from the after-work bunch.
If you’re especially susceptible to sales pressure, take a friend along for moral support. And rehearse your lines before you go: “I’ll be making a decision within a few weeks, but today I just want to learn as much as possible about your facility.”
Walk around each gym with an open mind. What kind of people do you see? What age groups? What’s their fitness level? A gym whose members come in all ages, shapes, and sizes is likely to be a more laid-back place than one that caters to elite athletes.
How does the gym feel? Yes, I know you’re intimidated just being there, but try to pick up on the vibe. Are the people at the front desk warm and friendly? Are employees smiling? Do the customers look like people you could get to know?
What kinds of classes are offered? Are they primarily for ninjas, or is there a range for people of all ages and fitness levels?
What kinds of qualifications do the trainers have? This is a tricky topic because many gyms will hire just about any warm body, send her on a weekend course, and call her a trainer. The best gyms will have at least a few trainers with credentials from NSCA, ACSM, NASM, or ACE, to name a few of the best certifying organizations.
And while you’re gym shopping, don’t forget the good old YMCA. Its facilities are often among the friendliest, most inclusive health clubs around.
Put your best foot forward
Let’s say you’ve summoned your courage and begun a gym membership. The first couple of visits will be the most difficult, until you learn your way around and start to feel like you belong.
If you need some new gym togs, this is a great time to shop. It’s amazing how a few new tops and bottoms can get you psyched up.
Don’t forget to put on some confidence too. You know the saying “fake it till you make it”? It’s great advice here. You’ll be nervous inside, but work on walking tall and reminding yourself that you have a right to be there.
It may feel like people are staring—and sure, it’s possible that your new gym has a jerk or two among its members. But the most likely scenario is that the majority of people aren’t paying you a whole lot of attention. It’s also likely that others there have noticed you’re new and are silently cheering you on. Honestly.
In order to ease into your membership, talk to the staff about the least busy times at the club. Those might be the most comfy times for you to work out until you gain confidence.
Don’t be afraid to ask the staff to demonstrate how the machines work. And consider hiring a trainer for at least a few sessions so that you can get accustomed to the major pieces of equipment.
Think about joining a group class right away. After a session or two, you’ll start making friends and feeling more at home in the club.
Challenge your self-talk
Joining a gym may have been a major step outside your comfort zone. Of course, that’s where all the possibilities for growth are!
When you find yourself jumping back on your hamster wheel of negative thoughts, try to catch yourself and recognize that they’re just, well, thoughts. You know—stuff like “That guy is staring at me. He probably doesn’t think I belong here. I shouldn’t have worn these tights—they make my butt look big. That size 2 woman looks really snooty . . .”
In fact, you don’t really know what’s going on in other people’s heads. And even if you did, would it matter? Maybe the snooty-looking buff woman in the corner had a really horrible day. Maybe the guy who looked at you was thinking about how much you remind him of his cousin. And even if your tights do make your butt look big, who cares? Do you really think anyone is going to remember that for more than two seconds?
Your thoughts aren’t reality. And you can talk back to them. Keep reminding yourself that yes, you do belong there. Combat negative thoughts by remembering every small victory: the day you added five minutes on the elliptical trainer or 10 pounds on the leg press; that tired but proud feeling you had after spin class last week; the fact that you’ve joined a gym at all.
If you’re willing to take the risk of joining a good health club, I guarantee you’re going to believe it was worth it. A few months from now, you can be the friendly face welcoming a shy new member to your favorite gym.
Â Interested in solid, successful strategies for fat loss? You’re invited to my free teleseminar at 7 p.m. EDT Tuesday, July 10—”The 7 Weight-Loss Secrets Women Over 40 Must Know.” Register here!