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So You Want to Join a Gym: What You Need to Know

I have a confession to make: I am a gym rat. I was introduced to the gym when I was 13 years old and have made it my second home over the past 20+ years. I love working out with machines and weights, and doing body weight exercises. And i want to share my joy with the world. I know I’m not different from a lot of people, but I do notice how many people are scared to go to the gym.

I get it; there are so many different machines to figure out, some people there look like fitness models and they’re probably watching you, and how are you supposed to keep up in those group exercise classes?? Just so we are clear, NO ONE is watching you, and EVERYONE feels awkward in a group fitness class.

Most gyms provide a mix of free-weights, machines, and exercise classes to appeal to any gender of any age and fitness level. If you are reading this and have anxiety about joining a gym, here are some tips to hopefully help you take that first step inside.

  •  Many gyms offer free guided tours and free trial periods. Determine which gyms are in your area or close to work and visit them. If you like what you see, ask about their trial period. Regarding memberships: make sure you can afford the plans, ask about extra fees (annual maintenance fees, sign-up fees, and cost of key cards), and try to get the best deal possible. There are some fees that they won’t waive, but there are some that they can.
    • True story: When I moved and had to find a new gym, I went to one that was charging a ridiculous monthly fee because it included access to all of their gyms. I was able to knock down the price by waiving my access to the other locations.
  • If you need help getting to the gym in the first place, ask a friend or mentor to go with you. Schedule a time to visit gym X, Y, Z, and go. Remember that you’re only going to check it out; you’re not signing your life away.
    • True story: my friend and I were interested in joining a yoga studio, so we signed up for a 40-day membership. We scheduled days that we would go together, motivating each other via text until we got to the studio.
  • Some gyms offer free personal training sessions for signing up – USE THEM! This is the time when you can ask questions, learn how to use machines or do certain exercises, and determine if you want to continue working with that trainer (or another one). In addition to that, if a staff member or trainer is off-duty and you need help with a machine or exercise, they will be happy to show you.
    • True story: My first experience with a trainer was depressing because I knew I was out of shape. But it was so great to talk about an action plan if we were to move forward. I actually didn’t “hire” him until about a year after joining. By that point I felt super motivated and trusted the trainer to help me.
  • Ask the gym staff about their peak hours – when is the gym the busiest? You may want to avoid those times, or you may find those times motivating.
    • True story: I mix up my schedule whenever I can. My daily routine is in the morning before work, but I have gone after work and on the weekends. I realize that I can focus better when it’s empty.
  • Go to the gym with a workout in mind. There are many different apps and websites to help you, including Couch25K, Nike Training Club, JEFIT Workout Planner, and Fitness Buddy.
    • True story: Nike Training Club used to have workouts led by female athletes before they expanded. My guy friend laughed when I suggested he try it. Two days later he called to tell me that he was waddling around the office because of the leg workout he tried. He grew to respect that app.
  • Focus on your workout, not on what’s going on around you. This helps relieve your anxiety, and is important in maintaining personal safety. Believe me, everyone there is focusing on themselves.
    • True story: I have seen someone almost drop a weight on their foot because they were looking at another gym-goer. I have also seen people flexing and taking pictures of themselves in the mirror. So you do get some who watch, but most really do focus on themselves (in a variety of ways).
  • It’s important to have self-confidence. No one was born with a dumbbell in their hand. Everyone at some point had to learn, and they continue to learn.
    • True story: Even after 20 years, I still feel awkward, especially if I work out at a time of day that I’m not used to. But then I look for a machine that I recognize and go from there. Or I start on the treadmill or bike before moving on to my workout.
  • If you’re still not interested in the gym atmosphere, work out at home, in your neighborhood gym, or outside. You can even try this first before stepping into a gym.
    • True story: My friend I have worked out on playgrounds, in neighborhoods, along walking trails, and more. I realized a long time ago that I have zero motivation to work out at home, so I need the gym. However, my friend loves to workout in her living room and hates driving to the gym.

If you have questions about exercises, proper form, appropriate activities for your age or health needs, or have any questions in general, contact me at gmurza@ufl.edu.

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