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Gymtimidation

Like many of my posts, this one has been floating around in my mind for a couple months.  I know many people avoid the gym because it is intimidating, so I'd like to share my thoughts about this phenomenon.  First of all, obviously going to the gym isn't the only intimidating thing in life, and many of these thoughts are things that easily translate to any other of these intimidating things.

So I'd like to share some of my personal experiences with gyms.  The first time I recall ever going into a weight room to use it was my first year of college.  I had PE classes all through K-12, but I don't remember ever using the weight room--just group sports, etc.  I recall being intimidated by all the machines.  Some of them I could figure out on my own, but many of them I just stared at and couldn't possibly conceive how it was meant to be used.  Fortunately, I occasionally went with friends and one friend was very familiar with all the equipment so he could help.  So, knowing how to use the gym equipment can certainly be an intimidating aspect of going.

One other thing I often hear people talk about in regards to fear of gym attendance is their own appearance or fitness level.  I don't personally relate to this one very much.  I was always thin growing up and the belly I have now is not only there intentionally but I enjoy having it, so it doesn't make me self-conscious.  Also, as a side note, I have to point out that the few times I went to the gym in Utah I only saw very fit, athletic-looking people yet every time I've gone here in Atlanta I see all body types, so I feel pretty average (there are several people fatter than me every time I go).

So, I would like to address these concerns.  And my personal opinion is that the best way to address fears is to face them head-on, to be aware of reality and to prepare yourself to deal with reality.  The fact of the matter is that many of your fears are grounded in reality.  If you're afraid people at the gym will judge you for how you look, you're probably right.  There probably are people who will judge you for being fat or for being weak when you go to the gym.  But, from my experience, these people are not very common and even when they are judgmental, they'll most likely keep it to themselves.  I've never heard anyone audibly say anything judgmental to or about me while I've been at the gym.  I'm sure it happens from time to time, but another thing to keep in mind is that people at the gym aren't there for other people--they're there for themselves.  They're worried about what people think of them, about reaching their own goals, etc.  And as you go to the gym you'll find that many people are actually very helpful.  So, yes, this is a rational fear.  But it should not stop you from going.  If someone at the gym expects everyone else at the gym to be fit from day 1, then that's their problem for not understanding how gyms work.  I've seen people at all different levels of fitness at the gym.  The important thing is not where you are right now but where you are headed.  Staying home will put you on the path of growing less fit and workout out will put you on the path of growing more fit.

Knowing what to do at the gym is also another big obstacle for beginners.  As I mentioned, when I first went there were so many weird looking machines.  And looking over at the dumbbells I didn't even have a clue where to start.  At least on newer machines there are often instructions printed so you can figure out what to do, but with dumbbells and barbells you basically have to know what you're doing.  I used the gym at my school for a year or so, then I went to Snap Fitness for 2 year, and now I'm at LA Fitness.  When I signed up at LA, I also signed up for their personal trainer program.  Even after going to the gym for a couple years, there are lots of things I'm learning from having a trainer.  So if you're unsure of what to do at the gym, I would definitely recommend using a trainer.  Personal trainers know what they're doing.  They know how to help you.  They can build a workout for you.  They can push you harder than you might push yourself.  And they can certainly help alleviate the fear of not knowing what to do when you go to the gym.  Another option is to go with a friend who is more familiar, so they can help you out.

Yet another fear of going to the gym is not being fit.  This is undoubtedly an irrational fear.  It is also a self-perpetuating fear.  The longer you avoid exercise the less fit you will be.  You don't need to be able to run a mile or lift the biggest weight or jump rope for an hour in order to do any exercise.  If you let the fear of your fitness level prevent you from working out, you will never achieve the level of fitness you seek.  You start where you are and build from there.  If you can walk a mile, walk a mile.  If you can run for a mile, run a mile.  Don't place unrealistically high expectations on yourself and then get frustrated when you can't meet them.

If you go to the gym, there will be people there who are more fit than you.  There will be people who are leaner, people who are stronger, people who are more athletic.  There will also be people who are fatter, people who are less athletic, people who are struggling.  The gym isn't only for sexy, athletic people.  It is for anyone who wants to go.  It is for people who have no upper body strength. It is for people who are weak, flabby, and out of shape.  It is for growing more fit, not for already being fit.  Yes, it can be scary when you see the athletic people there and you compare yourself to them.  But seeing the athletic people can be motivation to become that athletic yourself, just as much as it can be intimidation to never return to the gym.  How you react is up to you.  You can be paralyzed in fear or enabled to action.

One last bit of advice is something that people always told me when I was young.  My church leaders, friends' parents, my own parents, etc.  They'd look at me and say (usually has they were groaning in pain from something or other) "Never get old."  I'd laugh at them and think to myself "that's a mathematical impossibility."  But I think even then I knew why they were saying it.  Now that I'm getting to my middle age myself, I can add my own words to this.  The older you get the harder it will be to get or stay in shape.  It is much easier to be fit when you are young.  It is much more difficult when you're older.  When I was in high school I could run 5 miles.  I can't do that now because it has been so long since I have tried running that far.  In fact, it's been at least a year since I've run any more than one mile at a time.  And when I do run a mile now it takes me about 10 minutes.  If you wait it will only get more difficult to increase your fitness level.  So if you plan to go to the gym, the time to start going is now.  Not because it's the new year, but because you're younger now than you'll be in the future.

In closing, I just want to say a word about my personal fitness goals (and I think having a goal is an important part of going to the gym).  I don't mind having a belly--in fact, I rather like it.  So whether I lose fat or not isn't important to me.  What is important is my health and mobility.  I would like to be able to jog up two flights of stairs without being short of breath.  I want to be more flexible.  I want to improve my swimming speed.  Right now it takes me one minute to go one way down the pool.  I would like to decrease that to 45 seconds.  And one long-term goal I have is to be able to do the human flag.  So set a goal, and go reach it.  And stop being scared of the gym.

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