It’s easy to feel judged or intimidated at the gym, especially when you’re surrounded by regular gym-goers who always seem so confident. Sometimes, when they’re posing in the mirror or grunting obnoxiously, it can be downright annoying.
And when you see them doing squats or bench presses with so much weight on the bar you can barely count that high, it’s just incredible.
How can you learn to be so confident at the gym?
1) Have a Plan
Have you ever wandered around the gym wondering what to do next? I know I did when I was starting out, trying to look like I knew what I was doing while I snuck a peek at the pictures on each machine to figure out what on earth it’s used for.
Actually doing exercise is the easy part. In between sets, when you aren’t sure what to do, is when you start to get up in your own head.
In order to fix that problem, find or put together a specific workout to follow. Know how to do every exercise before you set foot in the gym, so you don’t have to spend time awkwardly looking up video demonstrations between sets.
With a specific program to follow, you can flow easily from exercise to exercise. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a great program (my first one certainly was not). Find a program that looks good and follow it. You can always switch once you build up some confidence.
2) Focus on Your Exercise
Looking around at insanely fit people is a great way to feel weak and nervous at the gym. Comparing yourself to fit people can be a nightmare.
It’s also hard to stop comparing yourself. Especially when you see them doing the same exercises, but a million times better.
In order to redirect your attention, do a simple mindfulness exercise. The most common mindfulness exercises involve focusing on your breath, which is a fine thing to do between sets. Simply count each breath, feeling it exit your body and starting over every time you reach 10. Once your keyed in on your breath, you’ll find it harder to focus on other things.
During sets, you’re already engaged in mindfulness. Personal trainers and strength coaches just call it “cueing.”
If you’ve ever been told to “push through your heels” (for a squat) or “bend the bar” (for a bench press), you’ve done a mindfulness exercise. The cues you use are different for each exercise, but having them and focusing on them takes your attention away from more negative thoughts.
3) Out-logic the Haters
If you’ve ever told an experienced gym-goer that you feel judged in the gym, they might told you not to worry about it because “no one is judging you.”
For the most part, that’s true. But being told that and believing it are two very different things. To train yourself to believe it (or ignore people that are judging), try using a technique from cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Write down the things that people might be thinking about you. Below that, logic them away; put together an argument for why people aren’t judging you at all, or why it doesn’t matter if they do.
The argument that helped me the most was asking “so what?” The progression of thoughts went like this:
- So people are judging you, so what?
- If people are judging you, they probably think less of you. So what?
- If they think less of you, you won’t be friends with them. So what?
- You don’t know these people, and them judging you can’t actually affect your workout unless you let it. Problem solved!
Your examples might be different, but working through them on paper helps you get to the root of the problem and deal with it.
4) Become Part of the Gang
It almost seems strange to think “I don’t feel fit enough to go to the gym.” After all, gyms are place for people to get fit, and no one magically becomes fit over night.
Still, not feeling like you belong in the gym is a very real and common problem. How can you fix it?
Learning the etiquette and unspoken rules of the gym can help. Things like re-racking your weights, knowing how to ask for a spot, and not hogging specific pieces of important equipment can help you out. Wearing real gym clothes instead of eight-year-old basketball shorts and a t-shirt can also help you feel more at home and fit in.
But the real answer here is time.
As you get more familiar with your routine and your gym, you’ll start to feel more comfortable in the gym. Especially once you see and feel your body changing, you’ll start to feel like you belong.
Because, as a regular gym-goer with unshakable confidence, you will.