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.

Chewy

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!

-Steve

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!

-Steve

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 Fitness.com – 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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90 thoughts on “Help! I’m Afraid of the Gym!

  1. Great article, I bet there are thousands of boys and girls out there in exactly the same position as Chewbacca, my wife being one of them.  Good solid advice in there too, if I was in a position to help then I would show him this 
    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/gym because its so true and we’ve all been someone on that comic at some point or another.

    Chill out, forget what everyone else may or may not think, knuckle down and do it. Once you’ve started then you can start to enjoy it and level up your life.

  2. Oh man, this totally resonates. I know what I’m doing in a gym, these days, and I still get intimidated especially in a new one.

    What’s worked well for me is having a personal trainer session (when included free with membership) start me off with a routine and introduce me to most of the equipment – I also start gaining a sense of familiarity with the gym. When I was using my university gym I just heads-down zoned to the treadmill and back.. I couldn’t have told you where the dumbbells or yoga studio were! This was a huge mistake as I felt super uncomfortable outside of my “zone”, I should have taken the time to explore the gym and do the free inductions they offered.

    Fundamentally, though, this is why Crossfit is working out well for me. I turn up and get told what to do in a no-judgement atmosphere. Personal training (when I could afford it) was equally good. I totally respect people who figure it out for themselves — you guys are way more awesome than I could hope to be!

  3. Most gyms also offer a free orientation with a trainer. I know when I join a new gym I take them up on the offer as it allows me to admit I don’t know what the hell I am doing, before I kill myself on some piece of machinery I have never seen before. They will even at times help you figure out where to start with weights and how to do them properly.

  4. Actually I love this kind of articles, Steve. I was thinking it was what NF was lacking of. Once again, I suspect you’re a mind reader and I will be forced to ask you to get out of my head, please. 

  5. This article made me reminisce to my first experiences at the gym.  I have come a long way!  I suggest to gym newbies to try out a work out class.  My gym offers weight lifting classes with instructors that give helpful reminders to watch your form and encourage people to try different work outs.  They have classes designed for beginners and it can help so much! I have made so many friends at the gym over the years, and it helps me to go more. 

  6. In terms of tracking, if you have a clinic near your campus gym (most do, chances are you’ll be able to find a registered nutritionist. I’d suggest getting a body composition around once a month; those numbers tell you a lot more about your progress than your weight will. Depending on how much of a numbers-freak you are (I tabletop RPG, so I loves me some stats), so can grab a tape measure and take measurements every couple weeks or however often suits you.

    Also, agreed with Steve. The amount of time spent at the gym doesn’t always correlate with knowledge on how to properly work out. It’s just as likely many of the people there are just as clueless as you feel. They just don’t know. So don’t sweat it. 😛

    I took to working out in the wee hours of the morning to get over my self-consciousness at the light weight I was doing (numbers nut, remember? :P), and eventually worked my way up to realizing that, well, it didn’t REALLY matter as long as I was lifting it CORRECTLY.
    One of the personal trainers at my gym is the pound-for-pound Ontario Powerlifting Champion, and even HE says, “It’s not how much you lift, it’s how you lift it.” So keep that in mind. He tends to know a thing or two. 😉

    Good luck, Chewy!

  7. It’s pretty simple: there are asshats everywhere. Because we are a society that worships thinness (which is different than health or strength), the asshats who look knowledgeable at the temple of thinness are more intimidating than other asshats. The truth? We deal with asshats every day. If there is someone at the gym who has the time and energy to notice anything other than their own training, then they are simply a bigger asshat than most, but no different than the asshat who pulls into the spot you claimed when you turned your blinker on while driving on the interstate. Final truth? No matter how big the asshat, they still had their first day at the gym, and there was a time when they had to learn which end of the dumbbell was up. They are just too big of an asshat to remember, and that, my friend, is neither your problem nor your business. Your business is to strap on that harness and PULL. TRANSCEND THE ASSHATS.

  8. I used to have this same concern when I was starting out. Here’s the deal: 75% of the people at the gym are completely ignoring you, 20% of the people see that you are a beginner and think it’s cool that you’re starting this journey, and the other 5% are complete dicks.

  9. Keep it up, Chewie! I can sympathise. I’m at law school in the UK at the moment, and one of my friends there is a national level powerlifter. I confided in him that I felt ridiculous in the gym (I’m a decent runner, but not a weights guy until recently) and he shook his head, and basically said exactly what Steve just did:

    1) Anyone worth their place in the gym will be psyched to see someone who is showing up and trying hard.

    2) Most people who are arrogant enough to look down on other people have not the first clue what they are doing.

    3) The couple of people who both know what they are doing and are arrogant enoguh to look down on other people aren’t superheroes because they can lift weights well. Just remember – they are still just idiots, and fail at life! 🙂

    Matt

  10. I get super self conscious too, and the best thing I did was learn to go early in the morning, and not after New Year’s for a week or two. Also, it is pretty easy to spot the “mean girls” of the gym, so I try to avoid the areas where they are.

    The second best thing you can do is to meet one nice person at the gym, and make a point to be friendly. Maybe after a few meetings you can create a friendship, even if it is only at the gym, and you won’t feel so alone. Even just a smile or a nod from a semi-familiar face can make a ton of difference in your level of comfort.
    Whatever happens, don’t let it get to you too much. The truth of the matter is that your value isn’t in your weight, it is in who you are as a person. 
    Getting healthier will just give you more confidence and freedom to BE that person.
    Don’t give up, and may the odds be ever in your favor!  😀

  11. I’m scared of the gym, too, pretty much every time I go; admittedly 50% of the time I end up on a treadmill and then do some bicep curls and go home. But I have a mantra thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” So I just put on some motivating music (usually Girl Talk or Dropkick Murphys) and ignore EVERYONE – that way I can’t notice if they’re looking and/or judging, which they’re probably not. Also, I agree with the orientation idea: even if they don’t offer to spend half an hour with you, they’ll at least take the time to give you a general plan and show you around, so you don’t walk up to a piece of equipment and think “how the heck does this thing work?”

  12. “If there is someone at the gym who has the time and energy to notice
    anything other than their own training, then they are simply a bigger
    asshat than most.”

    tru fax

  13. See, this is why I go out of my way to introduce myself to new people I encounter at the gym. I remember being in Chewy’s shoes and it was EXTREMELY intimidating at first. However, I found a few friendly faces along the way. Those friendly faces are now very good friends of mine… we encourage each other to perform better.

    So, my suggestion in addition to what you already suggested is to make a buddy or two (it could be your trainer or the other wookie in the corner). It will make the gym feel “safer” to you, you will be aaccountable to someone other than yourself, and will add a little fun to your workout.

  14. Excellent article. As this is his first year at college the nervousness he is feeling is probably worse than if he were a sophomore or junior. You’re new to it all! Definitely listen to music if you can or just ignore everyone else (but don’t be rude!). If they are paying attention to you then they are messing up, the gym isn’t for people watching or judging. You’re a freshman, first year there, the low man on the totem, but what about next year? You’ll be stronger and healthier. Each year you will be getting smarter and healthier, and you will feel differently about the gym. Remember that everyone was new at one point, so if you see a new guy when you’re older and wiser and healthier- maybe give him a thumbs up. 

  15. Chewbacca – I have to say, I am INCREDIBLY proud of you for just saying “Enough is Enough.”  That really is the first step to any plan.

    As for advice?  I’ll admit it, I have the same mental issues when I workout at the gym, and Steve is absolutely right – it’s all in my head.  So I crank up my iPod and give myself a little inner monologue pep-talk (“stop thinking about them, start kicking ass, girl!”).  Heck, sometimes I whisper it to myself under my breath, because WHO CARES?  Not this girl.  Working out later at night also seems to help, because there are fewer people around that I have to consciously ignore.

    Steve – these kinds of stories, and personal advice are incredibly helpful.  That you focus on specific doubts, worries, and fears, and provide a plan of attack is one of the things I admire most about Nerd Fitness (along with the awesome support network).

    Rebels Unite!

  16. Excellent! I could have used this advice and camaraderie 2 months ago when I made my first foray into a commercial gym. Chewy – I can’t agree more with what Steve said and others have echoed here about people really not paying attention to you. If they are, just keep your chin up and pretend you know what you are doing and others won’t know any different. 
    I second the advice to go early in the morning (especially at a University gym) or other off time to get more comfortable. Something that worked for me was using a treadmill or bike along the farthest back wall for my warm up and cool down for a while. That way I could scan the entire room while I was jogging and get a better lay of the land without being creepy (camouflage and recon). And kudos Chewy for trying the row machine – that sucker scared me until I took a clinic on how to use it. I’d recommend signing up for any such how-to sessions – even for things you might never do again – you’ll have a legit reason to be in the gym for more than 20minutes and checking things out and surrounded by a number of fellow noobs, perfect to find a buddy or just support that you aren’t alone. Thanks for letting us all learn from you and keep being brave!Yod–I mean Steve – yes, like this type of article! 

  17.  I completely sympathize with this.  There were so many times in the past
    when I didn’t go to the gym because I felt this way.  For a long time I
    would walk/jog on the treadmill or just use the elliptical machines because they were easy to figure out.

    I have to admit I am better now, although I cheated a little by switching to a gym with at least 75% really nice older people who are all a little out of shape 🙂

    But, the other things I did were:

    1) Take advantage of the orientation at the new gym.  Others have mentioned this and it does help a lot.

    2) Hire a trainer for one off sessions (when I could afford it) to help me work up a program to meet my goals and show me how to do the exercises properly.  Then i followed up on my own.

    3) Took a friend with me on a guest pass.  A lot of gyms with give you the occasional guest pass or let you bring a non-member for a nominal fee.  I didn’t feel so strange when both my friend and I were standing there trying to figure out a machine together.

    4) Bought some small free weights and practiced the movement at home with videos from the internet until I felt I had it down.  Don’t just watch one.  Sometimes it takes a few (unless you find a very good one) to pick out the subtleties of the movement.  I still make micro-adjustments to my form on a regular basis if I find that i am not sore where i expect to be.

    Just hang in there and good luck!

  18. Yeah I enjoy these. Could be a regular segment: From the Nerd Fitness Mail Bag….. 

  19. Steve, you really nailed this one. And one thing I would say to Chewy is that it is great that he is even considering doing this. I did a lot of martial arts, cycling, and hiking in high school so I wasn’t out of shape, but I didn’t spend Any time in the gym in college. I frequently did body weight exercises and ultimate frisbee, but I could’ve used more of an exercise education. It wasn’t until I seriously injured myself in Tae Kwon Do class and needed physical therapy (that I waited Way too long to start) that I started the long road to learning the type of stuff that Nerd Fitness teaches so well.

    Also, if Chewy really focuses on proper form and rest between sets, I think he will find that he tunes out the rest of the gym rather easily. At least that’s my experience. I don’t even need an iPod after that.

    Gym orientation is also a Must if it is offered. As well as at least one personal training session if you can afford it. And if you can’t: stay in for a weekend and apply your fun budget to the training session. It is well worth it.

    And Chewy, don’t be ashamed that you’re starting off with stuff like beginner body weight circuits. And don’t be ashamed if you need to learn how to deadlift by starting with just the bar. Building a good foundation is a Must. Something that helped me do that was Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength”. The visual aids are excellent, and his explanation of the science behind barbell workouts is great for a nerd like me.

    There’s a lot more I could say, and I’m sure Steve could as well, but I think the most important thing is this: get out there and do it, and keep doing it. Eventually, you won’t be able to stop doing it. 🙂

  20.  Get the orientation for sure. If Chewy is really that uncomfortable with the weights, there’s nothing wrong with the machines, some resistance training is better than no resistance training. But he could watch the Imperial lunkheads while he’s on the machines to see what they are doing. It will at least give him an idea of what the exercise is, but I would find out what the proper form is.

    Another piece of advice for Chewy, is not all Imperials are bad guys. After hanging out and watching them, you’ll get an idea on who is approachable and who is just meat sack. 

  21. I think you hit the whole nail on the head with this quote:

    “Doing stuff that scares you is the only way you’re going to level up your life.”

    Great writing, Steve. Keep it up.

  22. Good response! The only thing that I can add is that if Chewy wants a more tangible way to track weight loss/shape change, an easy way to at least tell that you’re making progress is a piece of string. I knew a lady once why just measured her waist with a piece of string and tied a knot at the spot she measured to. Then as you lose weight, the knot will move. Doesn’t give you numbers, but it’s something to look at 🙂

  23. I’d say instead of avoiding the free weight area go in there and meet people. You might find yourself a fitness “mentor” or a workout buddy. Helps to have someone else to hold you accountable and show you the ropes.

  24. I’m way less self conscious than I was a month ago when I started a barbell program, but I love going to my gym at 6 am, when it opens.  Love love love it.  If you have trouble getting up, get a dawn simulator (unless you have roommates who are bothered by the light).  They are the best.  Anyways, at 6 am, people are ridiculously serious about working out and they will respect you just for being there.  They will also be to sleepy to make fun of you– it’s a fact.  The awesome thing about working out as an adult is that it’s not your middle school gym class.  People want to be there and are often delighted to help newbies.  

  25. This was a great article, something that can be forwarded on to a few of my friends that I’m trying to convince to train with me.

    I wouldn’t quite say opposite to what everyone else is saying. But I had the same issue when I first started 6 months ago and I actually found that majority of the guys there in the gym are some of the nicest and friendly people I’ve met. Not quite rebellion material but great for advice.

    Nobody is there to judge, just to pick up that damn weight!

  26. Chewy! Dude, I remember the first time I stepped into the gym in college. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Then, 5.5 years later, I graduated, got a job, and started using the gym at the office. I still had no idea what I was doing.

    Then, I started reading NerdFitness. I changed jobs/moved, got married, and then we joined a YMCA with a gym. I started going…and guess what…I STILL had no idea what I was doing!

    I read practically every NF article, watched all the videos, watched other people, etc. But I never really had any idea what to do until I started experimenting on my own. NF gave me some great ideas on what exercises to do, but I until I got out there an started DOING something, and trying new things, I didn’t really learn anything.

    But here’s the other great thing: you don’t have to be a master gym goer to get in a great workout! Just remember the basics: warm up before hand, do full body exercises (i.e not bicep curls), and then cool down/stretch afterwards. This last part is the most important. Every time I workout and forget to stretch, I wind up hurting something.

    Just get in there, get going, and most importantly, never ever give up! Its taken me 3 years now to lose 40 pounds and get serious about working out. For most people, it’s a transition, not an overnight change. Just stick with it. If you miss a week, or two, or ten; don’t let that be an excuse not to start again.

  27. Hey Steve

    I love your site, it helps me out all the time. I am about 250 lbs and is serious about becoming a healthier person. So far, I am down 10 lbs, but my plan is to reach 100!

    I really appreciate this article, as it is something I have been wrestling with myself. I think it is a very cool idea to pick out questions and answer them in this way. Definitally something I would read!

    And thanks for giving me my first strength routine 😀

  28. Blah blah blah, other people etc. Fuck ’em.

    As a former supreme skinny (ever seen the 97 pound weakling ad?), I’ve enjoyed the challenges of being self conscious. The general rule of thumb that you need to know about this is ‘the more energy I’m spending thinking about other people, the less energy I’m investing in doing my best workout.’

    So how do you do this?

    1. Earphones. S-Bomb has already mentioned music – cutting out unpredictable audio stimuli will help you focus and unleash the power.

    2. Plan and proceed. Want to get out of your head and quit thinking about everyone else in the gym? Make a plan and coach yourself through it. You’ll be too focused on your plan to worry about Bench Press Barry over there.

    Crush that gym, hairball, and get that sweat equity.

  29. …”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!)”…
    Please wear underwear if you are wearing loose shorts though. As a woman who lifts heavy I can completely relate. I’ve overcome my fear of free weights and it’s really my favorite thing to do. As for people staring, the only thing I notice about other people working out is when they have really good form. Mentally I applaud and appreciate them. Also, I’ll watch the same folks to see if I can pick up any tips. Try not to ogle though, that’s just rude. Good luck, you’ve made a great choice.

  30. I can’t give any advice to the fear of gyms, as I still haven’t worked up the courage to venture towards the free-weight section of my gym (if I can find it… I thought it was back behind the cardio equipment, but all I saw was machines. I know it exists though, just don’t know where…). But I can help you out a little on tracking measurements. 

    Go to wal-mart. Or KMart or Target or whatever equivalent you have where you live. Go to the craft section. Pick up a tape measure for $1.50. A smaller one is fine, I doubt that there is any part of you that is more than 5′ around. If you don’t have a “big box” store, you can find a craft store and get the same thing. Jo-Ann’s, Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, etc. If they carry sewing supplies, they’ll have tape measures and they’re dirt cheap. I have at least 4, because I have a bad habit of losing them in the mess of my sewing room and then unearthing them just after I broke down and bought another one. 
    Use this to take your measurements. Don’t worry about your weight, track your progress with something that actually reflects your gains in fitness. 

  31. Thank you so. Freakin. Much. I literally was debating “should I go to the gym today?” from 9am to 3pm. After getting home from work I abandoned my gym bag and decided to just plug in and tune out for today. But this articles stuck home (‘cept I’m underweight). It motivated me to go the gym and have one of the best days I’ve had in forever. But I gotta say, the earphones totally saved my paranoid mind from wandering!

  32. Other than seconding everyone’s support (Go chewy, go!)

    This rebellion of ours seems pretty big and far reaching, if Chewy were to post in the forums I’d say the odds are good there would be some rebels in the area, maybe even in the same residences. This would give a double (even a triple) whammy, means he can take back-up into the gym (Spartans watch each other’s backs), have someone to spot technique and help with the workout and maybe make some new friends.

    Just a thought.

  33. @Steve:twitter : this is a great article format, not to ignore for the future! Go ahead and post our questions…we all have them and some of us have a mist in our heads. A post with some answers for the great public will likely get a lot of action :-). Like this one :-).

    @Chewbacca: mate, relax, the other guys in the gym are not looking after you! They take a look for a second to see who you are and then move on to their business. Nobody gives a flying f_ck if you track your weight or not. But you better would! In the end you only need to follow your  own interest (feel better, get slimmer, look better, whatever you think would suit your own image). Follow Steve’s advice, just do some stuff in the proper form, don’t force yourself, don’t try to over exercise for the first month or two. Your muscles aren’t ready, they will be happy to get hammered like you dream, but for the moment they’re just not ready. In a year or so you’ll just laugh at current problems and just move on. Don’t lose that year, mate, make it count for you and your dearest. Good luck in the gym and remember, the exercise is only for you, not for anyone else! Follow this site and in that time do find others that are like this one (places lead by men who invest their time, wealth and health for our well-being). Test whatever you read, don’t follow everything like God’s plan…..as such staff just doesn’t exist :-). God’s plan is for us to be different and question everything. Hence the ball on your neck is not empty inside. Fortunately :-).

  34. I second all of this.  I am a “mind your own business, keep your earbuds in” guy at the gym.  But I always smile and nod to everyone, and after a while you start to see the same people.

    The other day a guy I see up there a lot stuck his hand out and we talked for a bit.  He told me he actually had some training on his form with some lifts and Imentioned a problem I keep having with my deadlift.  He quickly showed me something to think about while I am coming up and it made a huge difference for me.

    Just showing up, being polite and saying hello to people will get you over your fear of the gym pretty quickly.

  35. Hey Chewbacca, you need to always remember that almost everyone feels self conscious at the gym when they start. The good news however is that you can get past it quickly. Everyone has given some great advice so far. Pick your music and set up your bubble in which you can focus on you.

    If that doesn’t work, look into some group classes. Often there are some free beginner classes with gym memberships, and nobody looks graceful in a beginner class, so there’s a “safety in numbers” aspect. You might even make some gym friends, which can be great motivators to keep going!

  36. I remember being tangled in a leg extension machine and two blokes having to help get me out on my very first day in the gym.

    You’ve done well in my book Chewie.

  37. Hey “Chewie!”

    My advice wouldn’t be a specific “what to do” but more of a similar story from my life that might help give you the right mindset.

    When I was 16 I decided I wanted to start working out. BUT I WAS TERRIFIED.

    I grew up in a tiny town in The Middle of Nowhere, MN, and the only commercial gym there was in my high school. Where everyone I knew was going to be able to see me make a fool of myself…

    You see, I was the skinny guy with long dyed-blue hair who played in a punk band. I was NOT supposed to be seen in the place where only jocks go!

    At any rate, on my first scary day at the gym, I did run into a buddy of mine who was working out there. 

    “Oh, yeah. I work out here from time to time. No big deal.” I almost thought he bought it.

    But then after exercising for a while, I got nauseous. I tried to both play it cool AND run to the bathroom at the same time. I puked like a lambda lambda lambda frat house pledge and when I finally finished I heard my friend on the other side of the stall.

    “Dude, are you okay?”

    I was so busted. I hurled during my second trip to the gym as well. (Fortunately, no one heard me that time.)

    But I kept at it. Even though I really didn’t know what I was doing those days, I kept at it. I started getting obvious results sooner than I ever thought. I ran a couple marathons faster than I ever realized I could.

    And more than ten years later, I’m still working out. I can laugh my ass off at my early fails in the gym. And I’m now in better shape than most of the jocks who I was worried about making a fool of myself in front of.

    Don’t worry about having all the “right” answers at first. And don’t worry if you feel self-conscious! As long as you don’t give up (and you read sites like NF), you’ll figure out what works best for you!

  38. When I go to gym I don’t care what other people are doing as long as they are not dropping weights on me.The good news is 99% of the people in the gym do the same . Just keep going,  within few weeks you will feel completely at home. 

  39. In the gym – as in life – most people are too busy caring about their own workouts (or their bodies, or their homework, or their jobs) to care what some noob is doing. And if they do for some reason notice you, Chewbacca, it’s probably to think, “oh hey, I haven’t seen that guy here before. Huh.” And then they go back to thinking about a) how the hell they’re going to pay their rent that month, b) what they’re going to have for lunch, c) whether they should revise that evening or just say fuck it and watch a movie, d) anything else.

    Basically, as someone who was cripplingly self-conscious most of her life (especially when it came to athletics), the most important thing to know is twofold: firstly, you’ve won half the battle by making the (financial and mental) commitment to get fit, and secondly, everyone else is worried about their own shit, and it’s highly unlikely they even notice your presence. 

    Chin up, and keep up the good work. You’ve already made huge strides, even if you don’t know it yet 🙂

  40. Awesome article! So, straight to the point, my reply would be:
    I’ve been a gym addict for quite some time and still have issues whenever I start on a new gym… But the bottom line is: – Most people won’t be paying attention to you… At all… I’m one of those, I just “get alone” as soon as I enter the gym;- Some good people WILL be looking at you, maybe because they notice you’re new there or you’re doing something wrong, and they’ll approach you and give you hints, which is great because there are lots of details, specially when using freeweights, that one gets wrong when starting;- If there are really some douches left that are just looking at you and making fun of you, don’t be intimidated, because they do not deserve your respect, time, or concern at all. They’re normally the “Johnny Bravos” that spend the entire day there socializing and working out they’re chests, but can’t even squat correctly… Just look at those skinny legs and laugh yourself!After a while, turning off the world when passing through that door will no longer be a trick, it’ll be automatic… Good luck and keep going, you already make one of the most important decisions of your life! 🙂

  41. Chewy,

    Anyone who looks down on you at the gym only does so because they wouldn’t be able to be you. They would be embarrassed of what they thought of themselves and what others would think of them because of how they would judge themselves. So really, all that really matters is WHAT YOU THINK OF YOU. And all you should be thinking is, “boy, I’m really proud of me for taking my health (and my life) into my own hands!” (or you know, something similar)

    Other than that, if you see someone who seems like they know what they’re doing, try to talk with them. Oh, and smile… it helps! Ask someone what the exercise they’re doing is called and if they can show you how to do it. Imagine the ego boost that will give you when eventually someone asks YOU to show THEM! And you’re giving that to this person! 🙂 Or ask the person if they can show you the correct form for “the exercise you want to try.”

    However, if you enter the gym and all you seem to see are scowls, looks of disgust or anger, I think that most of them have nothing to do with you and everything to do with something in their life. I know some times I make odd faces (so I’ve been told) when people speak to me and it’s usually because what they said made me think of something I forgot or need to do or something else and nothing to do with what they had actually said. (For instance, one person was filling me in on some work stuff and suddenly I made a face because I thought “did I leave my cat locked out on the balcony?”) 🙂

    You have so many great responses here. I really hope you go back and give it your all! 🙂

    GO CHEWY GO!
    Your 2nd biggest fan (after you, of course…. ’cause you know you’re great, right?),
    Kaxx

  42. My advise for Chewie is as follows: Steve is right, anybody who notices you working out may only see about 5 seconds of your actions before moving on to something else. As a guy who who lifted for high school football, then lifted as a marine, then lifted to stay looking good, and most of all because I like it, I will tell you that even in the most pretentious of gyms almost every guy in the gym is willing to spot you or give you advice when asked for (99.9% of the time). Think of it as less of the gym from ‘the Toxic Avenger’, and more like the weight bench Jayne and Sheperd lifted with in ‘Firefly’; people talk about what is on their mind, sexual relations, and what ever jokes someone can make about themselves.

  43. Please ignore my typo. I have had a long week of studying. I have 1 more semester to finish my masters, and I now cringe a little when reading.

  44. Okay, this is probably the second Nerd Fitness article I’ve ever read and I have to say… I’m really impressed. I love that Steve a) shared this email as it clearly resonates strongly with so many of us and b) chose to respond in the way he did. The advice is constructive and sets very reachable goals. It also serves as advice for the many people in the same situation who don’t bother reaching out for help. I also love all the comments that people have left. It’s absolutely inspiring to see so many people who are all so supportive of Chewie’s quest to become a healthier wookie 😀 The encouragement from everyone on the site is really fantastic. I have to say, I think I’ll start referring to this site much, much more often 😀 I agree with pretty much everything that has been said so far and the only thing I can add is that nothing worth doing is easy. Keep at it Chewie! 😀

  45. Awesome article and great advice from everyone. Chewy, use the outpouring of support from the folks on these pages to help you power through those moments of self doubt or anxiety when going to the gym. Just keep at it and don’t give up. You’ll find that consistency will pay off. Good luck and go get ’em.

  46. I too struggled with paranoia when I first joined a commercial gym, and still do from time to time, even though I had been previously working out at my home gym with free weights and such for a couple years now.  I won’t try to repeat what has already been said, but I think the hardest part for me was simply making that first step through the door.  Once I’m in, I just get right down to business as I already know exactly what I am going to be doing and I do my best to zone everything else out.  But often I would pull up to the gym, see all the people working out through the window, and sit in the car letting all the negative crap enter my head!  Some days I’d simply chicken out and go home without even getting out of the car lol.  Here are some tips I would recommend to help keep your mind from wandering:

    – If you have a iPhone/smart phone, download a fitness app that you can use while working out to track your sets/reps/weight and excersises.  In between sets, when you are resting and your mind can start to wander, just focus on entering your data for that round.  Plus, before you even go to the gym, you can setup a workout routine on the app so when you do go in, you know exactly what you’ll be doing.

    – I always have a bottle of water or Gatorade I carry around with me.  I’m always staying hydrated between sets and excersises when I’m not busy entering data in my iPhone.  It’s just the little things like having something in your hands to fiddle with that can strangely put a mind at ease.

    – I try to always be doing something when I’m resting.  Either what I mentioned above, or light stretching or simply walking.  Don’t just sit there and allow thoughts of “everyone’s staring at me” to enter your mind.  The more you think about it, the worse it gets!

    – Also, as mentioned already, avoid peak hours.  Who wants to workout in a crowded gym anyways?  Thankfully my gym is 24 hours, so I try to go between 10-11pm.  But surprisingly there are quite a few night owls.

    Anyway, just stick with it.  You spent the money so don’t let others intimidate you out of your $250 and fitness goals.

  47. Hey Chewie. As I See, your main goal is to meet people and going to the gym to lose weight is the way you choose to do it. First, congrats for making the choice of changing your life. Second, there is my suggestion, as your main goal contains physical et social skills change, you should work on both at the same time by dividing your goal:

    1) I want to meet people;
    2) I want to lose weight ;

    Then, you’ll be able to work on two separated things that can help you to lvl up your life. Sure, those two goal can be linked in some way. Heres a quick plan I would follow if i was in your situation:

    Goal 1: I want to meet people;
    week1: I would identified the people that live in my Halls of Residence that would make a    great Support Team (see the last post!);
    Week2: I would wrote on a paper the personals skills I used in the past to meet peoples in a successful way.
    Week3: I would choose one of the person that I have identified at the week one and try to engage conversation while using those socials skills that I have identified at week 2. 

    A tip: try to engage people with the reason why you selected them at first : « Hey, what sport are you practicing » « nice, do you need to go to the gym to do that? » « Cool, I’ve been trying to get in shape for the last two week, but I dont really know where to start, do you have any tip?». Make them feel like they know a lot and can teach you a lot: THEY ARE LVL 80.

    As for goal #2: Get in shape, I think Steve gave you great ideas. But if it is still hard for you to get in the gym think about it this way « I have already done it,  I did 5mins on a crosstrainer last week and left, today I will try to do 7 or 10 minutes ». « I know that I can do at least 5 mins, I HAVE ALREADY DONE IT» 

    I am not a fitness expert, but I know a great deal about personal change as I have been studying and practicing social work for the last five years. I hope this can be useful.

    And as you can see, english is not my first language: I hope that everything can be understood.

    MrJB

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