Most everyone knows the benefits of consistent exercise, yet the gym is one of the most controversial spaces around. Talk to some people, and you’ll hear about how much they love their gym. Talk to others, and it’s a place they despise. Choosing and actually walking into a new gym can be super intimidating, especially when you’re new to fitness in general. Here are six tips to help you find happiness at the gym:
1. Find the right gym
The most important factor to gym happiness is finding a gym that you actually enjoy going to!
There are SO many different types of gyms that exist now, and all of them will have different vibes. The people and environment can make all the difference. I highly recommend visiting any you’re interested in, or doing a trial week/workout to get the full experience if you can. Here are some types of gyms to look into where you live:
Here are some types of gyms to look into where you live:
Big Box Gyms
These are the gyms you usually hear about- The YMCA, Anytime Fitness, Life Time Fitness, etc. They typically have multiple locations and a lower membership fee.
These gyms tend to be smaller and more specialized than big box gyms. You might find gyms that are, for example, just for women or geared toward certain types of fitness. Many times these gyms can feel more community-based.
Group Fitness Gyms
There are many gyms that provide group fitness classes, and some even only do group classes. Group fitness classes come in all different flavors for you to try. Some gyms specialize in their type of group classes (like a yoga studio), and some have a variety.
Spaces that cater to people with a specific active hobby are becoming more popular! These can include rock climbing gyms, yoga and dance studios, martial arts facilities, boxing gyms, gymnastics spaces, swimming pools, and more.
Is location important?
There is a big correlation between gym distance and how often you go. You may be willing to travel farther for a gym you love, but the commute time is an important factor for your gym happiness. A one-hour workout with a 25 minute drive becomes an almost two-hour excursion in your day. Sometimes, the closer gym is the better gym, even if it’s not exactly what you want.
What if I don’t feel safe in gym spaces?
I want to acknowledge that a gym environment can feel unsafe for some, and that’s completely valid. If you can’t find a local gym where you feel welcome, I recommend looking online. Thanks to technology, you can connect with trainers and communities all over the world to find fitness classes or workouts you enjoy. You deserve to find an exercise space you feel safe in!
2. Decide whether you want to take classes or use the open gym
This depends on what type of gym you decide to go to, but many gyms will have an open gym you can use at any time for your workouts as well as scheduled group fitness classes. Will you use the open gym, attend group classes, or a mix of both? If you’re going to a gym with group classes, try attending different types of classes to find which ones you like best.
3. Have an accountability system
Before you even start going to your gym, have a system for how you’ll hold yourself accountable. If you commit to a gym membership, you don’t want to stop going after a few weeks! I’m not saying you can never pass on a workout (I do that plenty), but you want to have a system in place to keep you going when you just don’t feel like it, or the weather’s bad, or you had a late night.
For example, I really like a money-based incentive. The first gym I went to consistently had a policy to charge extra if you canceled your class sign-up within 24 hours. I didn’t want to get charged extra- I couldn’t afford that! It’s what got me out of bed on those mornings I was unmotivated, and by the time I was warming up I was awake and happy to be there.
There are many different ways to hold yourself accountable- habit-tracking and accountability apps, doing workouts with friends or asking them to help keep you motivated, a rewards system, having goals/deadlines to meet, or hiring a personal trainer to help you. It’s up to you to figure out what works best for you!
4. Walk into your gym each day with a plan
Walk into the gym and own your workout! When you’re doing your own workouts, it’s important to have a plan. Otherwise, you might find yourself wasting time or floundering through a lot of unrelated exercises that won’t benefit you in the long run. You can find many different workout plans online (for free or for a fee depending on where you look), hire a personal trainer to make a plan for you, or if you have some workout experience, make your own plan! I recommend having a couple backup ideas or variations to substitute just in case the equipment you need is already being used.
5. Start with a personal training session to get your bearings
A common offering in big box gyms is a complimentary personal training session when you join. Even if the gym you choose doesn’t, it’s still a good idea if you’re new to exercise. The session could be spent helping you get your bearings at the gym and learning some exercises on the equipment. This can maximize gym happiness by helping you feel more comfortable and create a plan for your workouts.
6. Kick gym anxiety in the butt!
I’m not gonna lie, this is the most difficult thing on the list. Gym anxiety is a huge reason people stop going to the gym or never even step foot into one. Going with friends can be a huge plus, but even if you’re working out by yourself, you’re prepared for this moment! You can help alleviate anxiety by spending some quality time researching gyms and choosing one you like.
Figure Out Any Unknowns
If you haven’t visited your chosen gym yet or still have questions, get those taken care of before you go. Call, email, or look on their website and social media to learn more. Ask if you can get a tour the first time you go.
Dress How You Want
If you feel uncomfortable in the clothes you’re wearing, you’ll spend more time worrying about that than actually doing your workout. A good workout doesn’t require you to wear a specific brand or trendy fitness clothing.
People Aren’t Judging You
Sometimes when you walk into a new gym it feels like everyone is staring at you. In reality, they’re usually completely focused on their own workouts. You can start by finding an out-of-the-way space to do your workouts, or just go out there and rock your workout!
Your thoughts have a huge impact on your workout. Reframe your workout thoughts with something like “I’m going to have an awesome workout today,” “I’m excited to have time to go to the gym,” or “Exercising always makes me feel great afterwards.”
Sarah Siertle, astrength and movement coach, specializes in introducing people to strength training and works to make the fitness world a more inclusive place. She has been a movement instructor since 2012 and also teaches swing dance around the US. Find other articles written by Sarah on her coach profile. Let Sarah help you get STRONG so you can take advantage of life’s adventures!