Help! I’m Afraid of the Gym!

Earlier this week, I received an email from a Rebel in need of some help. As you can see below, he just signed up for a gym membership but is absolutely terrified of walking in there. In order to protect his identity and have some fun, I’ve changed his name to something more Nerd Fitness appropriate. After reading my response, I’d love to see how YOU would respond:

Hey Steve!

My name’s Chewbacca, I’m an 18 year old wookiee.

I recently stumbled across your site and I must say that it has convinced me to make a change for the better! I’m in my first year of university studying intergalactic space travel and mechanical engineering – I’m unsure of my height but I’m relatively short and about 100kgs (220 lbs) – I’m a big wookie. I’ve decided I want to get in shape – so I bought a year’s membership to my university’s gym. I’ll buy your ebook as soon as I can afford it as right now I still need one more textbook and my next allowance isn’t for another week. I’m staying at a Halls of Residence where I don’t know anybody and my weight doesn’t help me meet new people…so that was the major point at which I decided enough is enough!

Today I stepped foot into a gym for the first time in my life – MY GOD – I have no idea what to do. I’ve read most of your articles and thought I’d have a good idea of what to do. Apparently not, I just managed to row 2k on the rowing machine in 12mins – 2k was the lowest workout I could select and I swear people were laughing at how I obviously had no clue what to do. Next I used a couple of weight machines that looked simple; now I know you hate machines but there was NO way I’m going into the freeweight section with everyone else. Then I did 5mins on a crosstrainer and left. A pitiful effort, I know – I just wasn’t expecting that many people who all knew what they’re doing.

Now to the reason I’m sending you an email, I don’t want to waste the $250 I spent on my gym membership – I could have got the textbook instead…maybe I should have? Anyways, I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction of what to do, what equipment to use, how to not get laughed at?

My diet – I used to eat very badly at home, but since coming to the halls where all the food is provided my eating habits have improved a lot; I don’t have the money to go and buy junk food like I used to, and I only have one glass of juice in the morning before switching to water after that.

Here at the halls, there’s no scale or tapes for me to keep measurements of myself and I refuse to use the ones at the gym where everyone can see. So I don’t think I’ll be able to keep track of my measurements.

Please Steve, you’re my only hope.


My Response

Hey Chewy,

Thanks for the email man!

It’s time for a dose of some tough love. That’s right, you’re getting the full treatment, because I want to help you get started down the right path!

First and foremost, congrats on cleaning up your eating. Regardless of what you do in the gym, how you eat will dictate how much success you have….I’d argue it’s 80-90% of your success and failure. If you want to lose weight and feel better about yourself, dump almost all of your effort and focus into good eating habits. If you’re not sure what those habits are, start with the “beginner’s guide to healthy eating

Now, onto the main point of your email, it’s all mental, my dear friend. I GUARANTEE that everybody else in the gym is far too busy worrying about themselves to notice you. If you are terribly self conscious and imagine every eyeball is focused on you, do you think that maybe it’s possible that everybody else is thinking the same thing?

I’ve been going to a gym for 15 years now, know exactly where I’m going and what I’m doing, and I still get self conscious every once and a while!

You also assume that everybody in a gym knows what they’re doing and that they’re laughing at you for being new. Back when I started, I used to think the same thing, so don’t feel bad about that. However, after training with some great trainers, and dedicating the past five years of my life to this stuff, I’ve come to the realization that 90% of people in a commercial gym have no clue how to work out properly and safely. In other words, they kind of suck at working out. My goal is to help you NOT suck. So don’t worry about them…they’re not paying attention to you anyways.

Nobody is going to laugh if you walk into the free weights section. That is ALL IN YOUR HEAD.

(…unless you’re not wearing any pants or something. Don’t go pants-less!)

Anyways…Imagine yourself as the one rebel in a gym full of storm troopers. First and foremost, WHO CARES what other people think? 95% of people in that gym will respect you for trying (especially if you’re training in the right way!), and the other 5% are probably doing it wrong and don’t count.

Here’s what I do – put on my iPod with the most epic music I can find, and completely zone EVERYTHING else out. In my mind I am completely alone, my head is down, I’m focused only on the next exercise, and I take care of business. Honestly, I actually kind of enjoying being the only rebel in the commercial gym.

Now, as you’re learning what to do in a gym (which I’ll get to in a minute), If you are REALLY afraid of being seen, try working out at a different time of the day. Depending on your class schedule, you might be able to go REALLY early, or REALLY late or in the middle of the day when everybody is in class. Early afternoon and evening will be the most busy, so avoid those times until you get a few sessions under your belt and feel better about yourself.

I know you’re worried about not having a plan. The important thing is to do SOMETHING…so let’s give you a plan.

Next time you’re in the gym, try this for an exercise routine:

That’s it.

How much should you lift? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Pick up a dumbbell, say 10 or 15 lbs (5kg or 8kg) for both the dumbbell rows and dumbbell presses, and do the exercises.  Do a set of squats, wait 60 seconds, do the next set, wait 60 seconds, do the next set, and then move onto the dumbbell presses and repeat!

If some exercises are too easy, then simply make a note and choose heavier dumbbells the next time you go! Once you feel confident on that workout (doing it every OTHER day…not every day), follow this “build your own workout”  plan and add in one new exercise per week (replacing one of the older ones that work the same muscles).

You will make mistakes.

You will probably do an exercise wrong.

That’s okay – what’s important is that YOU GET STARTED.

Watch the videos, practice the movements in your room, write down which exercises you’re going to do, how many repetitions and sets you’re going to do, and then go do them in the gym at a time when there are less people there and do it. I know you’re scared, but if you suck it up and do something you will build confidence and pretty soon, going to the gym will feel like a second home to you! Doing stuff that scares you is the only way you’re going to level up your life.

It’s so much better to get started, make a few mistakes, and learn from how your body reacts.

Last but not least – as far as tracking yourself, get out of your head, man! Nobody is going to laugh at you for stepping on a scale….they can’t read the number, and they don’t care what it says. Actually, I don’t happen to like scales either, but tracking yourself in SOME way is important (and tracking yourself PROPERLY is even more important ). Whether it’s your scale, a tape measure (buy one online for 5 bucks and keep your measurements) or just a bi-weekly picture (it worked for Joe who didn’t step on a scale for 6 months!), it’s important to track yourself so that you can tell if it’s working and if you’re making progress.

Get started.

May the Force be with you!


How would you respond?

That’s how I would help out Chewy.

How would YOU help him?

What advice do you have for him? If he’s emailing and asking, I have to imagine there are a LOT of people who have the same question but aren’t asking.

Let’s nerd-source this answer and offer up advice to Chewy – have you been in his position? How did you get started?

Help a rebel out!


PS – Is an article like this something you enjoy? I get a LOT of emails from people asking questions…every once and a while I can pick out ones that I think are universal and would help a lot of folks and share them here on the site. Thanks for your input.

PPS – Chewy read all of your comments and wanted me to pass this along:

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrgh! Steve (my Chewbacca impersonation)

Wow, just wow

Steve, from the bottom of my heart, Thank you to you and everyone else who left a comment. You’re amazing and to honour the effort you put into it I’m going to make you and myself and everyone who left a comment a commitment – I WILL do this, I’ve taken a picture of myself and stored it deep in my hard drive and I plan to do the same every week. Once I get to where I want to be I’ll send you the photos, buy a NF T-Shirt to celebrate my success (I’ve always wanted one) but I’m not going to buy one until I can fit a medium! After I’ve sent this I’ll ring my local clinic and book in to have my body fat % measured and I plan to do this every month.

This morning I attended my first class, after that I went in to the university library to study for 20mins before my next class so I booted up the laptop and decided I’d have a look at Nerd – I was 30mins late to my class due to your article and the comments. The reason I wrote this sentence Steve is to let you know how much it means to me that someone would listen to me and make that sort of time commitment to write that article.

I’d really like them to know how much it means to me. If you wouldn’t mind could you maybe add it to the bottom of the article and just say thanks on my behalf to all of them who took the time to leave a comment. I’ve read them all and I will continue doing so as more are added.”


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