Mustering up courage in an environment that is still new to you can be hard but why is it that we still feel intimidated in the gym, even though we’re there regularly? Why is it that sometimes we lack confidence to the point where we feel we shouldn’t even be there? Is it internal – to do with the way we look and feel and how we view ourselves – or is it the other people and the machines and equipment we’re faced with?
I personally think it’s a mix of all three which can dent our self-belief and leave us feeling unconfident. The way we perceive ourselves, our inner turmoil, the expectations we have and the resulting pressure we put on ourselves to ‘be good’ at exercise are all contributing factors. So many of us are afraid of being seen to fail. Failing lifts can actually have serious negative effects on us mentally – I know, because as a trainer, I see and hear about it all the time. But doesn’t that seem ridiculous when the whole point is to fail? How can we overcome and succeed if we don’t really challenge ourselves by pushing ourselves to our limit?
It’s also to do with different training styles and the way we compare what we do to the actions of others. It’s clear that there are so many different ways to use weights. We worry far too much that we are ‘doing it wrong’ because somebody else does an exercise differently. Remember, exercise is very individualised – what works for one might not work for another and the fun of lifting is you can modify exercises to make them work better for you! I always say, as long as your technique is perfect and you are not harming yourself, no exercise is wrong. Maybe pulling the dumbbell straight up vertically when rowing will hit more rhomboids than lats but that doesn’t make it wrong. Some people will take the barbell to their ankles in a straight leg deadlift while others will struggle to lower it to mid-shin but again, that doesn’t make it wrong, that simply means one person is more flexible than the other. You can use barbells, dumbbells, cables, Smith machines to do the same movement – none are wrong – so do whatever suits you best and don’t worry about anyone else!
One thing is for sure though – we need to stop feeling panicked by the gym and learn to have more self-confidence when training, but how do we do it? I promise you, incorporate the following and you’ll be bossing it in no time!
1) PLAN AHEAD – If you are one of these people that favours preparation and planning then do it. Just like you would with your meals or your daily tasks. Make sure you have a plan of what you want to do and exactly how you will do the exercises that work best for you. Walking into the gym to be faced with masses of machines but no idea of where to start can be an intimidating situation and not a good starting point. Have a notebook to refer to or a programme written out, even better, have a couple of substitution exercises so if you can’t get to the equipment you need, you aren’t left floundering. With a plan in hand, I can guarantee you will be much more assured of hat to do which will do wonders for both your confidence and productivity.
2) KNOW YOUR WORTH – Understand that you have a place in that gym just like everybody else. You are all there to reach goals and better yourselves. You all pay a membership. You all have a right to be there and no-one should have priority or precedence over you. So damn well know that, and don’t let other people intimidate you or make you feel otherwise.
3) SOCIALISE – Ok, so maybe you don’t want to socialise as such (you got stuff to get on with!) but it feels good to say hi, flash a smile or a nod and generally be respectful to those around you. You probably see the same faces frequently so make an effort to get to know them because trust me, it feels a lot more daunting when there’s zero communication. Not only that, you’ll probably make some of your best friends right there and learn a lot from your fellow lifters. Linking up and increasing strength by numbers will always be a positive thing.
4) ASK FOR HELP – Well this doesn’t scream confidence does it?! Well actually, it will boost your confidence no end! If you are unsure of how to use a piece of kit or how to do an exercise, ask a gym instructor or other well-trained individual to give you some pointers. It is their job after all and I’m sure they would love to help. Being assertive and asking for guidance allows you to master true self-confidence. Ironically, nothing shows self-assurance more than being able to say ‘I’m not sure how to do this’. Try it, you’ll see…
5) PRETEND – The feeling of confidence requires practice, just like anything else so even if you don’t feel overly confident, pretend you are! It’s contagious so will create a much more positive environment to be in and likely lift any feelings of awkwardness or insecurity. Work on forcing it and train yourself to believe you are the most confident person there. We all know that practice makes perfect so although it may be an act initially, you’ll soon really begin to believe and feel it.
It’s quite clear the gym can work wonders for your physical and mental well being so is a place that should definitely not be avoided. You’ll find it improves all aspects of your life and have profoundly positive effects. I hope you’ve suddenly realised then that there is nothing to be afraid of and actually you now know exactly what you need to do to boost your self-confidence and really reap the benefits. You’ll see all aspects of your training improve with a new self-assurance and increased positivity and you’ll view yourself in a totally different light.
So on that note, go get yourself to that gym, stick your headphones on, smile and OWN IT!