I heard so many of my girlfriends over time utter the words "I'm scared of going to the gym", "I'll go if my friend goes", "I'm worried someone will laugh at me".
So I wanted to share my experience with you and why I love being the worst at my new gym.
The fitness industry has absolutely boomed over the last couple of decades. The number of gym memberships and fitness societies have grown year on year (2020 aside, of course), but so many of us are still scared of going or that we're going to look out of place, or be laughed at.
You're not alone. However, you quickly realise that everyone's just concentrating on themselves, listening to something on their phone or possibly planning the rest of their day. They are honestly not concerned with what other people are doing. (As long as you're not turning up in a chicken costume or running backwards on a treadmill, I think you'll slip under the radar pretty easily.)
Taking a friend can be one really good way of getting over that initial anxiety, especially if they can show you some machines or exercises that you're a little unsure about. However, please don't let that stop you or delay you from going if you haven't found someone to go with. I, personally, have pretty much always started a new gym on my own. There have been no problems.
My most intimidating gym
What is the most intimidating gym to go to? Like the king of gyms? The top of the chain? For me... that was CrossFit.
I have never really been scared of going to a new gym before. I'm not sure why. I’m certainly no body-builder, I go about two or three times a week normally and I don’t have a personal training qualification (like it seems 50% of the world seems to have these days).
Don't get me wrong, I get scared of returning to the gym after a long period without it. Scared of what my body will feel like the next day, and the day after that... and possibly even the day after that. However, I've never been scared of joining a new place.
However, I've seen these CrossFit videos online where both the men and the women look ripped! Muscles bulging from places I didn't even realise we had muscles. (Can you tell I didn't do a PT course?) And they do the craziest things, their physical ability seems almost unbelievable. This. Looks. Intimidating.
Nonetheless, there was something about it that slightly appealed to me. And before you start thinking, oh she's just another CrossFit W**ker who's going to go on about how much she loves CrossFit. Hold your horses.
I don't ever see myself tracking macros, batch-cooking chicken and rice packed lunches for myself, giving up wine or even taking part in any CrossFit competitions. But I was bored of my current run-of-the-mill gym.
I was a member of a decent, large, clean gym in London. Full of people my age, had great classes and up-to-date equipment. However, I was tired of going to more and more classes, completing them fairly easily yet not getting any results. I tried following some of the latest workouts released on social media released by PT influencers (because, there was no way I could afford £250 for personal training). I maybe got marginally better over the whole year or so I was at this gym but I had now definitely hit the ceiling. Many of us join a gym for a number of different reasons, but my main reason was to be pushed and improve my fitness. So I wondered, how do I get better now?
And, again, I'm not exactly an athlete. I am extremely average in the gym. Just average. My face would be next to the word 'Average' it in the dictionary.
I wanted to find a gym where everyone was better than a me
CrossFit appealed to me because EVERYONE looks like they're better than me. By quite a bit. For example, I couldn't even do any of the things they were doing. Yet I was a little drawn to this. Not because I wanted to be able to do what they do. I knew I wouldn't be able to even come close. But they were all about progression and improving. A definitely step up in training.
I know that environments like this normally bring on thoughts like "What if everyone laughs at me?", "what if I don't look like stupid?", "what if I can't do it?" I had these thoughts. I'd never been to a CrossFit before, I didn't know how they worked or if I'd be laughed out of the class. (Again, this has never happened, so calmed myself right beck down.) Yet I was surprised that I was still so excited to start and to improve my athletic ability.
If you surround yourself with people who are at the level you want to be at, they will only bring you up to this standard and push you. (A philosophy which you can apply to every aspect in life I guess.) Which is what I needed and was looking for. I had previously been at a gym where I nailed the very average classes and there was nowhere else to go. So I went to this new one. Alone.
They were like class environment gyms, where you are all in it together and doing the same thing. But they weren't so big that you were getting lost in the crowd and not getting held accountable. It felt like group personal training, they also weren't these massive machine-like people you saw on TV. And guess what? I totally loved being the worst there. Which I was, or certainly one of the worst.
Another shocking thing, no-one laughed! In fact, I laughed a lot more at myself. Whether it's being in this more class-like environment, or that I was new to it, all I received was encouraging words from the people who’d been doing it for years. It felt great!
I can also confirm, I left every single session with an incredibly sore body! Which is exactly what I was looking for. I could finally feel like I was going to a gym, spending less time there if anything, and feel myself getting stronger and fitter with every single visit.
To this day I still can't do many (if any) new moves I couldn't do when I first joined in August 2018. I'm still for the life of me can't do a handstand. But I was stronger and faster at the moves I can do. And I'm building confidence to try the ones I can't.
Scared of Post-Lockdown Performance
Since the first UK lockdown in March 2020 to me writing this in March 2021, my gym has opened very sporadically and rarely in the past year. I have also had a knee injury this whole time thanks to a hockey incident, which coincidentally also happened in March 2020. So I've been resting for most of the past 12 months, not even doing many at-home workouts or long runs like everyone else.
Thanks to the pandemic, my knee and the lows of lockdown, my fitness has certainly taken a giant hit now. When the gyms are finally allowed to re-open and my injury heals I know I'll be starting from an even worse place than I did when I initially joined. But you know what, I can't wait to get back to it. It's a scary place to start from. Everyone there will think they're starting from a terrible place, but I bound to be in an even worse place. However, I know that the potential to improve is massive, I'll get a regular feeling of achievement and I'll have plenty of cheerleaders to get me through when my internal cheerleader is not enough.
Great things happen when we get pushed out of our comfort zone. Whether that's improving your fitness or turning up to a new gym alone. Go for it! What's the worst that could happen?
Just remember, everyone will be returning to gyms thinking "oh my god, I'm going to be so rubbish" so we'll all be in very good company when gyms are finally allowed to re-open safely. I cannot wait.