how I learned to stop worrying and love the gym
January 27, 2015 3:26 AM   Subscribe

Have bitten the bullet and joined a new gym. Just going there to sign up and take a tour of the facilities was enough to make me feel inadequate. I didn't see a single person there who looked like me. I need help with silencing the negative self-talk, because I really do want to stick with it. Any advice for a frightened, fat gym noob? Success stories, words of inspiration? Or just what you wish you knew when you started out?

A bit about me, for background:

I've a fat girl who's never joined a gym before. I've mostly stuck with walking everywhere and trying to get to 10,000 steps a day with my Fitbit. I go swimming and hiking occasionally - both of which I really enjoy - and did some yoga before I realised it was not for me - I just found it boring. I've followed previous MeFi advice to seek out a personal trainer, but that did not work out, as we did not get along well at all! Re: food intake, after working with a great nutritionist for a year, I feel much more at ease with food.

I joined the gym to take advantage of their group classes and also because I know the monthly fee will push me to actually go - I hate wasting money so paying the joining fee was a big step in itself!

But I am worried now that the constant comparing myself to everyone else there, as well as my clumsiness, lack of coordination and lack of strength will demotivate me and I will stop going after one or two sessions - it wouldn't be the first time I gave up on something due to initial lack of success. It's also a completely new environment for me, so I feel a bit like a fish out of water. Any advice for a struggling noob, Hivemind?
posted by Ziggy500 to Health & Fitness (51 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Please head over to Reddit and hangout with the wonderful folks at r/fitness.

They are a welcoming bunch, and they have FAQ and guides for new folks all over the place.
Read.
Educate yourself.
Search within the subreddit for answers.
If you can't find them, ask questions.
Share your small victories.

You need a tribe to help keep you motivated and also applaud you on your small successes, and they are it.

You can do EET!

PS. If you want to see how others are doing, head over to /r/progresspics. Bodies of every gender, shape and size are there and they all want you to succeed!
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 3:29 AM on January 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


When I was a gym member I used their in-house personal trainer and that was helpful. They can go with you to the various stations so you're not feeling self-conscious about doing things "wrong" and you're not wandering around by yourself. Having someone to talk to as I did things made me feel much less out of place. But the other thing I tried to remember is that no one is really paying attention, they're just focused on their own workouts. No matter how much you think you stand out you're just another member doing their thing, honestly! Just concentrate on your goals and focus on how you'll feel each month as you get stronger and fitter. Good luck!
posted by billiebee at 4:29 AM on January 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


Congratulations. Start with something modest and sustainable. Make your sessions enjoyable, whether it's a group activity or a workout for yourself. Learn to enjoy the process, whatever it is. Don't think of the results. If you find something that you like doing, the results become secondary, but they will happen eventually.
posted by redliner at 4:32 AM on January 27, 2015


I've found that the ideal thing is to have a friend to go with who can make you feel less isolated and thus less self conscious. A gym partner also majorly ups the motivation factor and increases the chances you'll actually show up. If you don't know anyone that would be willing, maybe you could post to Craigslist's strictly platonic looking for another lady of like interest?
posted by dis_integration at 4:46 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some gyms will offer intro classes for newbies so you can get to know some of the basics for group exercise classes. Barring that, getting to class 5-10 minutes ahead of time to let the instructor know that you are new to the class will help. The instructor will be able to answer a question or two and let you know if there is any special equipment you need to set up. They will also know to keep an extra eye on you to watch for form issues.

Know that for group classes, you will like some instructors more than others. It's good to try a few different classes to see if you enjoy a particular class more and it might not be the one you expect. Then going regularly will allow you to learn the steps/routine/moves. No one knows the moves first time out of the gate.

billiebee is right that no one is paying attention to what others are doing. Most people are concentrating on their own workout.
posted by TORunner at 4:49 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


You deserve to be there just as much as everybody else. When you say you feel like you don't fit in or you don't belong, what you're really saying is that you don't think you're good enough to take care of yourself or to enjoy exercising at the gym. That's not true. You deserve to be there just as much as everybody else.

I started off very much like you about six years ago. I don't know when it happened but nowadays the gym is one of the places where I am the most comfortable. I can go to any gym anywhere and I know that I deserve to be there and that because I'm there I get to do something fun and good for me. Keep your head down, keep going, and one day you will look around and have this feeling too -- not because you become fit/skinny/toned/whatever, but because you see the value in yourself and realize you are the equal of everyone else there.

Best of luck to you.
posted by telegraph at 4:50 AM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


The act of going to the gym consistently even when that demon voice is telling you it's not a place for you...that is what wil silence the negative self-talk. It will take hardly any time at all. A couple of weeks and you will start to feel good in your body. You will sleep better. You will have more energy. All of these tangible benefits will help you conquer that lying inner demon who is trying to keep you down. YOU DESERVE TO BE HEALTHY AND HAPPY.
posted by little mouth at 5:00 AM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I worked at a gym briefly and even the most superficial employee celebrated the fat person in the gym. We knew some of what that person had to go through to get there and we were impressed at their courage and spirit. You are going to have maybe one loser make a comment or give you a look, and everyone else will be rejoicing with you on living a healthier life.

A few tips:

Don't go during meat market hours. First thing in the morning is good because those are the focused people who are only there to work out. Mid morning you get the comfortable people, the friendly ones. By evening, it can get a little icky for any woman, no matter what the size.

Go at the same time every day. Be a regular. Smile at everyone. Within a few weeks, you will be a regular and will have people to talk to, and get advice from.

If your gym doesn't have a friendly face at the front desk, complain. You are their income. If they aren't smiling at you, then they aren't doing their job.

Bring more than one towel. One to wipe down the machine after use and one to keep the sweat from running into your eyes. Yes, your gym provides towels for you but they can sometimes run out.

Wear cute, comfortable, well cared for clothes. It doesn't have to be tight and trendy but it shouldn't look like your garden in it either.

Have fun! Listen to music, join in classes, cut up, and get silly.
posted by myselfasme at 5:05 AM on January 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


Congrats to you for joining. I'll echo everything above. I've never heard anyone say anything disparaging about an overweight person at the gym.

I'd take measurements - I'd read up on diet and fitness as much as possible.

Doing classes is a great idea - it forces you into a routine.

Have fun, make friends, feel better.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:13 AM on January 27, 2015


Don't be afraid to ask the fitness staff for advice on how to correctly use apparatus safely! This is not asking for free personal training. If you are new then it is their job and their responsibility to show you properly and politely (an even more than once) how to perform certain exercises or use certain equipment. They may use the interaction as an opportunity to try to sell you PT sessions but it's up to you if you want to buy those!

A certain amount of advice and care from the fitness staff comes with your membership fee. Use it.
posted by evil_esto at 5:16 AM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hey there,

Every single person at the gym had a first day, and we all probably felt like you did; we all joined the gym because we needed to work on something about ourselves. Nobody joined the gym because they were already in awesome shape.

The one thing people do get made fun of is for not following gym etiquette. If somebody is using weight equipment that you'd like to use, you can ask them how many sets they have left, which is an unspoken "I would like the equipment next / can I work in with you?" request. Do not be afraid to ask this; most people are pretty nice about it. Wipe equipment down and put stuff back, and you're ahead of most people.

For bigger people (I'm a bigger person), weight lifting can be more fun than cardio (regardless of gender), because you're probably already naturally stronger than average. I recommend stumptuous, which has weight lifting advice geared towards women.

Sorry I don't have much advice for group classes; I never attended any.
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:33 AM on January 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Along with /r/fitness, I would also suggest /r/loseit, another very supportive community. And because Reddit has everything (which is great and horrible at the same time), check out /r/fitbit.

Congrats on starting the journey. Take it slow, and like others have said, other people are paying attention to what they're doing, not what you're doing. You belong there as much as anyone else.
posted by ralan at 5:37 AM on January 27, 2015


I have found that I will not go to the gym unless I have made a commitment to another person to meet them their. No major body image distress on this end, just laziness. It's way way easier if you make it a social thing.

I've seen a lot of women be surprised by how much they liked lifting.
posted by PMdixon at 5:49 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I read a really great comment the other day: "Don't compare yourself to all of the people at the gym. Compare yourself to all of the people sitting at home on the couch."
posted by Fleebnork at 5:53 AM on January 27, 2015 [28 favorites]


You know how when someone takes up an activity you're into, you're excited and think it's totally cool that they're into it too? That's how habitual gym-goers see people new to exercise.
posted by mchorn at 5:59 AM on January 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


There are very few people in my gym who look like me, either. I joined a gym at work, and find that I do better about showing up if I use one of the personal trainers - I feel more confident about using the machines, etc. However, it can take more than one to find a good fit - some gyms give one or two free sessions, so that might be a way to see if you click with a particular trainer.

I sometimes go to the group fitness classes offered by my gym - if I can, I talk to the teacher early, and explain that I'm new/have injuries/etc, and they have always been super understanding. The classes definitely vary depending on who the teacher is.

If I'm having a hard time going, I try to convince myself just to go in and do 20-30 minutes on the treadmill, which is more than I would do without going. Sometimes that helps as well.

Good luck!
posted by needlegrrl at 6:02 AM on January 27, 2015


I am a hugely anxious, gender non-conforming and kind of fat person who started going to the gym last year. I also just started reformer pilates, which really is substantially populated by very slim dancer types.

So my point is, I totally hear you.

It was pretty difficult to go to the gym for about the first three weeks. I was panicky and grumpy and found getting changed in the locker room really difficult. (Also, some hipster girl stole my lock when I put it down and turned away for a minute - it was the weirdest thing.)

I still sometimes feel panicky and grumpy at the gym, but after three weeks it really let up and has gotten better ever since. Partly, I am very familiar with the machines, the weights and the other stuff, so I have more mental headspace for dealing with anxiety. Partly, I have noticed that there are other fat people at the gym - this may not be the case in your gym, but I have found that it's easy to go in and either hit a time when all the super-fit people are there or see what you expect to see and only notice the super fit people.

Also, the vast, vast majority of people are really focused on their own routines. There is some blech stuff sometimes - and I am perfectly capable of complaining about weightlifting culture - but almost everyone, almost always is focused on themselves and really not noticing you much.

And frankly, if your gym is anything like mine, you'll see people doing totally ridiculous-looking stuff - exercises that are effective but look really silly - and this helps you to feel less intimidated. You'll also notice that not all very thin fit people are models of physical perfection - it's just as possible to look a bit goofy as a skinny person.

Also, it will start to feel pretty good, eventually.

I second the suggestions to actually buy workout clothes that you feel okay in. I had tried to join this very gym before and it never took, and one reason was that I had random unsuitable gym clothes and felt really off.

Also, make sure your shoes fit - I am in shoe purgatory right now and it's really messing me up.

And also, once you're comfortable with the set-up, get comfortable pushing yourself a little. Like you, I've always been pretty active - I bike year round, walk a lot and so on - but all of that was very self-paced and in a limited range of motion. I didn't realize this until I started going to the gym and realized how stiff I was and how slowly I tended to move. Pushing myself (not to some kind of bizarre standard; just a little bit more than I thought I could do) has helped me enjoy going to the gym more because I get hooked on the challenge and the improvements.

And last - I find that it helps me to tell myself that fat people often don't exercise because we get shamed, not because we're lazy, and it's important to my fellow fat people to see people like them in the gym. I need to be the poster person for fat people who exercise and to be brave about it so that thin people can see that fat people can also be fairly fit and active.
posted by Frowner at 6:05 AM on January 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Remember that a LOT of people you see at the gym, who look fit and like they know what they're doing, were also once "frightened, fat gym noobs" too (including myself). They might not look like it now, but a lot of us have been in those same exact shoes.

Although I still sometimes don't know what I'm doing, and I still feel shy and nervous about trying new classes or equipment, if you stick with it, the nerves WILL fade. I joined a gym almost 2 years ago, and that was over 50lbs ago. I was definitely self conscious. I'm a (WAY) above average sweater. I'm just an extremely sweaty woman when I exercise. Used to feel really self conscious about it, but stopped caring - it means I'm working my body hard, and I feel proud of that!

I remember starting out on the lowest possible setting on the elliptical - no resistance, no incline, legs still hurt, and I was still as red as a tomato after 10 minutes. I felt awkward, and it was tempting to look at others and see what they were doing, and feeling down about my workouts compared to theirs. But you can't do that. Everyone is on a different trajectory. You go, you show up, and little by little you get stronger. Every day you're stronger than you were yesterday. Compare yourself to no one but you.

A little more than a week ago, I ran my first half marathon. Absolutely something I could not have imagined 2 years ago - I couldn't run a block! I'm still clumsy and uncoordinated (sprained my ankle and broke a toe last year), but you've still gotta try. FYI I credit Zumba a lot with helping my coordination. It's a fun workout, but it really helps me pay attention to my body movements - especially my feet.

But please don't compare yourself to others. Sometimes I think it would be nice (or really cheesy) to have a "buddy" system at some gyms. A lot of the fit or thin or enthusiastic people you see at your gym were the opposite of that in the not so distant past. You just maybe didn't see or know them then.

Keep at it. Show up and try (which is a hell of a lot better than sitting on the sofa).
posted by raztaj at 6:18 AM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well done, you! Joining is a big first step.

I want to echo what people said above about group fitness. Those classes were the only thing I did at the gym for years, because I felt so much better being able to lose myself in the back of a crowded room and just flail along until I got the hang of it. Which took a while. Also, be ruthless when evaluating group fitness teachers. Don't go back to a class if the instructor isn't good, or isn't helpful and compassionate to you if/when you speak to them and ask for help. For me, finding a great teacher allowed me to get more comfortable and eventually more skilled, and finally to leave classes behind and get my own steady practice established with weight training and cardio.

You can totally do this.
posted by minervous at 6:23 AM on January 27, 2015


I didn't see a single person there who looked like me.

There are probably a few who used to look more like you before they started going to the gym regularly.

I would encourage you to try some strength training and don't be afraid to lift heavy (it's hard to go wrong with Starting Strength). However, stay away from those strength training machines as they cause more injuries than free weights according to the physical therapist I had to visit after I injured myself on one.
posted by VTX at 6:31 AM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


One tip to make you look like you're a regular, at least at the Y I go to: when you're going to wipe down the treadmill's handrails after your workout, spray the Windex (or whatever that is) on the towel and then wipe it with that. Don't spray the machine itself. If you spray it on the machine it gets everywhere, and the people working out next to you will have a cloud of Windex to walk through.

I think this week is Peak Gym. Don't worry if your gym seems ridiculously crowded and you can't get a parking space; by April it should settle back down.

You might think people are staring at you but probably they're spacing out, catching their breath, telling themselves to go lift weights, etc. I'm a social person but at the gym I like to just put in my headphones and be in my own world.

Bribe yourself. Maybe if you go X number of times in Y number of days you get to buy a new skort (if that's your thing; I love skorts). Save certain TV shows for watching only while you're on the treadmill or bike, or favorite podcasts for the rowing machine.

Try a variety of classes until you find the right one for you. Ask at the front desk for advice. Are there water aerobics classes that are more challenging, or a kickboxing class for beginners, or weightlifting for women?
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:41 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think you might have joined the wrong gym.
I go to the gym A LOT. But I go to the Y, where the facility is a little bit old and crappy, but there's no attitude, and no one is looking to hook up with anyone else. My Y has lots of old people, lots of new immigrants, and lots of poor people on scholarship. I always feel uncomfortable at the meat market fitness centers even though I really, really know what I am doing.
I'm also quite sure you had the wrong trainer. Several of my female trainer friends are great body-positive cheerleaders and if you hired them, they would personally feel they had failed you if you quit. They also train a lot of old ladies - a very difficult population to train. Find a trainer that is skilled enough to take on the old ladies.
Your gym should be a place more comfortable, and more happy, than your house.
And don't think that what other people are doing is the right thing for you to do. Running, Zumba, other popular "woman's" activities might not work for you. You might need to do judo, or MMA, or lift heavy weights. You need to find the thing that your body AND your head likes.
posted by littlewater at 6:42 AM on January 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


myselfasme: "Don't go during meat market hours. First thing in the morning is good because those are the focused people who are only there to work out. Mid morning you get the comfortable people, the friendly ones. By evening, it can get a little icky for any woman, no matter what the size."

Yeah, this makes a big difference. I usually hit the gym mid-morning and it's all older, retired people and new moms working on baby weight. It's a lot less intense and there are a lot more body shapes and people working out at low speed. First thing in the morning is a lot of really fit people who work out before work ... I feel like I stand out a bit more as unfit but they are all friendly and nobody makes me feel uncomfortable. I decided not to go after about 4 p.m. ... the tone shifts and there's more grunting show-offy people and more eyeballing of others, and I just don't like it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:03 AM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Group classes-- the instructor makes a *huge* difference. If you don't like a given instructor, check the schedule and try the class again with someone else. You may even like yoga with someone else teaching it, with a different style.

Also for group classes just starting out-- you may not be able to keep up with all the moves, but do what you can and you'll get better as you keep at it. When I do Zumba (infrequently) I'll sometimes just do the dancy footwork and sometimes the upper body. This keeps my form better and makes me want to die less. Your workout is *yours* and you don't have to do something that will make you want to die.

That said, try to push yourself (this is why I love the group classes actually.) I do a non-Zumba dance class regularly and I'm so much more coordinated now than when I started. As I got better and more used to the moves / pace I started working more on my form, range of motion, little movements.

And yeah if you find a teacher you like and go the same time every week you may meet some excellent people.
posted by travertina at 7:12 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


My #1 piece of advise: Get some earbuds and listen to your favorite (upbeat) music. Put them on before you even enter the gym. I feel like I'm in my own world and for me, this really helps with the negative self-talk, social anxiety, all of it. Group classes can wait...just do this for a bit until you feel accustomed to your surroundings there.
posted by okay-quiet-time at 7:35 AM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


You've gotten some great advice already. Nthing that the time of day will make a difference to the atmosphere, one morning a week I start work late and the crowd skews older/retired, feels so much different to the early evening crowd, this is in the UK btw. I also get to watch the older chaps bond with the regular gym-bros, its delightful. I've only ever been a member of one gym so I can't speak to how the atmosphere might change from one gym to another but I suspect it might.

When I started at the gym I was all towel-to-the-neck in the changing room or changing in the cubicles and feeling self conscious about exercises. Now I'll quite happily drop towel in the changing room and roll around on the gym on a foam roller, arse in the air, making all sorts of pained faces.

Start simple, get comfortable doing a few exercises, do the same exercises each time. Then change one and get better at that, voila - you are now a seasoned gym goer.

My top tip, get decent gym trousers. That thing where you're constantly pulling up your keks so as not to show your belly? Infuriating and I put up with it for ages because I'm cheap and I didnt want to spend good money on stuff that was just going to get sweaty and ruined, I also assumed it was the T shirt that was too short - wrong. Turns out that good fitting bottoms don't do that, I love Under Armour, they make stuff thats deep enough in the body that it stays put. Its much easier to relax when you're not constantly adjusting. If need be put a few stitches in the side seams at the waist in a bright coloured thread that you can unpick and re-sew if your weight fluctuates.

There will soon be an influx of hardly worn gym clothes on Ebay as the new year effect wears off. Look for the hardly worn/worn once/ still tagged. I'll trawl Sports Direct and Sporting Pro , hit the changing room and find stuff that fits me then look for it on Ebay.
posted by Ness at 7:49 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Remember this: you're there for yourself. Remind yourself that you're awesome for being there, wear something comfortable, listen to empowering music. And remember that you have complete control over your experience. If you prefer to stick to certain machines or stay in certain areas, that's okay. You can always decide to do more as you feel comfortable. Anyone who would try to shame you, for any reason, is weak and miserable on the inside no matter how fit and strong they appear to be on the outside.

And don't worry about "blending in" or trying to make friends there. Everyone else is just background noise and physical obstacles moving around. They all have their own journeys, but this is yours. Own it.
posted by cosmicbeast at 7:59 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a man, so I can't speak to the experience of women at the gym. But I've been fat my entire life, and a bit over two years ago, after being at the largest I've ever been I finally broke down and started going to the gym every (week)day (along with a significant diet). I've only missed a couple dozen days in all that time, usually because I was out of town or studying for finals. I also have a lot of social anxiety, and a lot of it centered around my weight and physical appearance. In a little over two years, I've lost just under 100 pounds, and I still go to the gym. The other caveat is that I've been going to the gym in my apartment building(s) generally, not a public gym. They tend to be a little less busy when I go, a lot less equipped, and I have to see these people around.

Here's the thing. People aren't judging you. Largely, people don't care about people other than themselves, and that's even more true at a gym when people are huffing, puffing, and focusing on their own workouts. You might think they are looking at you and judging you, but they're not. That's your own head, your own anxieties, and I understand. But you're going to have to learn to ignore that hateful voice, because otherwise it will doom you.

They will notice you if you're using a piece of equipment that they want to use. They might notice you if you're using a piece of equipment incorrectly or dangerously. So follow gym ettiquette linked upthread. And one that I didn't see listed there, don't use the squat rack for anything but squats. Wipe down equipment, be polite, and remember that these people are focused on their own shit. You might think they are judging you, but they aren't. Douchebags exist in all places and in many forms, and the fact that there are going to be some in the gym shouldn't dissuade you, because there are some everywhere.

Here's my advice for someone just starting out. Find what works for you. I recommend weightlifting over cardio. You'll feel stronger and better quicker, and the results will cascade elsewhere. If you know nothing about weightlifting, get a couple sessions with a trainer to teach you, or do what I did and ask a more knowledgeable friend to coach you (and spot when necessary). Starting Strength and 5x5 are good beginner programs (it's what I'm still working on now that I finally have more access to free weights). When lifting, work on lifting heavier, not more reps.

Maybe weightlifting isn't your thing. Maybe it's classes. Maybe it's knocking out some time on the elliptical. Great, do that stuff, but every once in a while try other things. Even things you've tried before and didn't like. Who knows, maybe once you get a bit stronger you'll find that you like something more. Or something that previously seemed impossible is now easy (that's a great feeling). Find the things you like, and do them. Do them regularly, and as you go on, try to do them with more intensity/weight/speed/etc.

Record what you do. I have a little notebook that I write my weight/reps/sets in while I am at the gym, and then when I am drinking my post-workout shake I enter it into Fitocracy. I'm a big fan of Fitocracy, partly because gamification works amazingly well on me. There have been many mornings when the only thing getting me to the gym is realizing that I need to level up in Fitocracy. I also record my weight daily, though most people will tell you that's a bad idea. I'm data-driven like that, and I've managed to understand how the fluctuations go and not freak out as much about small blips and noise. Weekly, I also measure various body parts to see where I have shrunk and grown, and take pictures. Again, I like having the data and records.

Finally (though perhaps this should have gone first), think about what you want to get out of the gym. Do you want to be stronger? Faster? Healthier? Do you want to lose weight (which can be orthogonal to the previous things). If you want to lose weight, you might get some of that from the gym, but the old saying goes that you lose weight in the kitchen and build muscle in the gym. From personal experience I have found that to be true. Some of it is because you'll likely be building muscle to replace some of the fat. But if your goal is to lose weight (in general) you need to be consuming fewer calories than you take in. Exercise will consume some calories (though less than you might think), and muscle consumes more than fat, thus having more muscle leads to a higher metabolism (broadly speaking). So consider what you are eating and your eating habits, and once you have your gym routine down, consider if there are changes you want to make there.

I wish you the best of luck! I am not one of those people that likes going to the gym. I am a night owl who has to work out in the early early morning because that's the only time I can (I wake up at 5:30). I hate exercise, even 2+ years later, I don't get an endorphine high or anything like that. But I still do it every day. I've gotten stronger, I've gotten faster, I've gotten healthier. I can do things that I couldn't do before. Find what works for you and do that. Don't worry about haters and judgers.
posted by X-Himy at 8:10 AM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is going to sound silly and vain, but as a fat girl who started going to the gym again last year, one of the things that made me feel more comfortable was some having some fancy workout gear.

I didn't spend a ton, but I've invested in some actual yoga pants (for yoga classes), some magical synthetic wicking t-shirts and a couple pairs of leggings (fat girls can wear spandex). When I feel dressed like someone who goes to the gym on the regular, it makes it easier to shut down the self-talk that starts if I catch of glimpse of myself in the mirror. It makes me feel more like I deserve to belong in that space. It also doesn't hurt that stretchy pants and wicking t-shirts just make the whole workout experience more comfortable.

Now, the Lululemons and Athletas of the world don't think that you belong, and that can feel really shitty, but fuck them. Plus-sized activewear exists because fat girls work out too. I've had good luck with Lane Bryant's activewear line, and have ordered a couple of Zelia pieces from Nordstrom that are well made and fit me decently. If you need a good sports bra, Enell will keep your girls exactly where you put them.

That being said, there's nothing wrong with working out in whatever clothes you feel comfortable in, and when the "good" workout clothes are in the wash, I'll show up in cotton shorts and an old t-shirt because showing up is the most important thing.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:16 AM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


Seconding fancy workout gear! It makes such a difference in helping you feel like "I belong here, this is a thing I do, look, I even have all this special stuff for it."

But I can also say, as someone who you might be afraid would judge you: I've looked at exactly two people at the gym in my years of attendance. One of them was wearing an innertube on the treadmill, and the other was singing opera while weightlifting. and FWIW I didn't even actually *judge* those people, it was more a bemused "huh?? Well, takes all kinds."

Unless you're doing something truly bizarre, ain't nobody gonna pay you no mind. :)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:23 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


don't use the squat rack for anything but squats

OP, If you get to the point of being in the squat rack anytime soon then kudos, took me a couple of years to get there.

I've seen that advice before and tried to follow it but now ignore it because life is just too short. When I've finished my squats I bang out some deadlifts in the rack. It's quicker and easier to load the bar solo when its off the floor so I'll finish quicker than if I'm struggling with getting plates on and off a bar thats on the floor. I'm far less likely to bruise and scrape my shins. Anyone who wants to call me on it gets to tell me how many weddings in a skirt they're attending that summer.
posted by Ness at 8:29 AM on January 27, 2015


I do Romanian deadlifts, heavy lunges, and a few other things in the squat rack, as there is no other way to do them. My gym also has the TRX set up in the squat rack, which is irritating but it's the only place it works in my gym.
Not all gym rules are hard and fast rules. Once you've been there for a while you will learn the nuances of your specific gym.
As a woman, in general, don't take advice from men at the gym. Most men that talk to me don't understand my goals or my carefully planned workouts. I am more experienced than they are but they think they can give me advice. Headphones. Always headphones.
posted by littlewater at 8:45 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's true and like I said I'm a guy so there's a whole world of BS that I am sure I don't have to deal with because of that. A (female) friend of mine has a trainer that she goes to once or twice a week who has helped her develop workouts and teach her better form and ways to exercise. She credits her trainer with encouraging her to push harder and get to where she wants to be. And if you don't want to waste money, then the extra money for a trainer is more of that. Plus you don't want to waste their time. I've never used a trainer, but I suspect it's a bit like finding a shrink. Talk to them, tell them what you're looking for, and sometimes you just don't click. In which case, try a different trainer.
posted by X-Himy at 8:50 AM on January 27, 2015


Sooooo, a friend of mine (who is of ordinary fitness level) goes to the same gym as Patton Oswalt. One day he noticed Patton Oswalt running on the treadmill, and thought to himself, "Well shit if Patton Oswalt is over there running on the treadmill, I guess I can also run on the treadmill..." And then he did. The end!

Obviously looking around for the more ordinary gymgoers is going to seem daunting at first, if you look around and see only meatheads. (And hey, maybe you really do go to a gym with only meatheads.) But I promise, there are normal schlubs who go to the gym too, and we do what we can, and we look like dorks doing it, and it kind of is what it is. You just have to not worry too much about the powerlifter spin class people are doing and just do what you are doing.

(Also if it makes you feel better, I'm at the same level you are, and I battled my gymphobia, and for the most part persisted and am better for it. Still an awkward dork, but that's terminal, unfortunately.)
posted by Sara C. at 8:58 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a challenge, yes, especially if you're sensitive to judgement anyway. Which, in a way, makes it a good exercise in focus. When you go, really just put all your attention towards your movements and form, and try to let distractions drift into your peripheral awareness.

That said, finding or creating a comfortable space can for sure help you relax. I also like community centres best. When I got into lifting, I really appreciated the women-only room my gym at the time had - it was great to have access to a transition space that allowed me to get comfortable with the equipment and just my own learning process before moving on to the regular weight room. Absent a space like that, a bit of hand-holding from a trainer or friend can go a long way towards accomplishing the same thing.

one of the things that made me feel more comfortable was some having some fancy workout gear.

That's interesting - when I started working out, I wore oversized, very not-fancy T-shirts, which, as awkward as I felt in them, I soon realized signalled to all and sundry that I was a newb. It's basically the newb uniform and as such has protective power. No one's going to negatively judge a person in an oversized T-shirt. Good bottoms are worthwhile, imo, for comfort and decency's sake, but feel free to go in wearing your old Gap up top if you want.

As people have said, most people are too into themselves to bother with you anyway. If you do encounter a jerk who you feel is judging you, well, they're really not worth worrying about. Just one of many life lessons I've learned at the gym :)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:32 AM on January 27, 2015


Congratulations on stepping out of your comfort zone! Maybe think about it this way: you're not just stepping out of where you're comfortable, you're stepping into new spaces and experiences in which you will eventually become comfortable. The gym is your space. You pay your fees. You put in the time, sweat and sacrifice to be there. You don't have to prove yourself to anybody but you; you are why you're there.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 9:45 AM on January 27, 2015


While I am sure it happens, meanness is not something I've seen in gyms. I've only seen the opposite, people helping each other out and being nicer to each other than they would out on the street. The only times this may change is in January when everyone signs up to the gym because all of a sudden the gym is crowded with people who likely won't be sticking around, so it gets a bit annoying for the regulars to have to wait.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:54 AM on January 27, 2015


As someone who's never been fat and has always had a very easy time keeping fit, I can tell you this with absolute certainty- When people like me see people like you going to the gym regularly we look at it with admiration.

There are two types of fit people in the world. The ones that don't realize how much genetics might play into someone being overweight and the ones that do. My cousin has always been overweight and I lived with her for a few years, so I learned that even though she ate more healthy than I did, and less than I did, and worked out more than I did, she was always larger than I. It made me realize how much genetics and hormones play a role so I never judge people for being overweight because you just don't know for sure what's really causing it. But there were friends of mine who insisted if someone isn't skinny it's because they are lazy and eating icecream all day.

I mention this because at the gym is the one place where people from BOTH schools of thought will look at you and think how awesome it is you are there. You won't be judged the same way as you would be outside the gym. Growing up with my cousin I could see how bad it could be sometimes. Running errands in public people would sometimes make awful comments and laugh at her. But it's not like that at the gym, even gyms where everyone is beautiful, because no matter what your body type- whether you are just starting to work out or you're a super athlete, everyone is there for the same exact reason- to reach a physical goal they haven't yet reached. So everyone's in the same boat and when they look at you they see someone who's going for a goal just like they are. Even if no one comes up to you and says it, they will always be thinking positive thoughts about you being there.
posted by manderin at 10:13 AM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


At the risk of being a shameless marketing shill (but it's for a good cause!) - you might find inspiration in Sport England's new ad campaign just launched in the UK: This Girl Can. (Here's an article and they have their own website.) I saw one of their ads during previews for a film and began by rolling my eyes and ended utterly charmed.

The message is clear - gals, let's face it, we look proper fugly when we're working out. Everything's jiggling, swimsuits are riding up cracks, our faces are red and gross, but girl we are getting the damn thing done. My favorite ad that I've seen around town is the "Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox" image that's at the top of the first article I linked to. From the article:

"Before we began this campaign, we looked carefully at what women were saying about why they felt sport and exercise was not for them," says Jennie Price, Sport England's CEO. "Some of the issues, like time and cost, were familiar, but one of the strongest themes was a fear of judgement. Worries about being judged for being the wrong size, not fit enough and not skilled enough came up time and again. Every single woman I have talked to about this campaign has identified with this, and it is that fear of not being 'good enough' in some way, and the fear that you are the only one who feels like that, that we want to address."
posted by oneaday at 10:32 AM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


This Girl Can on the blue.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:25 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I am worried now that the constant comparing myself to everyone else there

Remember, this is optional!
posted by fshgrl at 11:30 AM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I want to second the usefulness of a trainer in the gym. As others have said, first to learn how to achieve whatever goals you've set, but also to have someone to talk to and not have the gym feel so scary and big when you still feel new and unsure of yourself.

Every few years I go back and have a personal trainer for a while as a way to push old routines and learn new things, and although I don't have the specific challenges you're dealing with, believe me, having a friendly guide makes a huge difference, whether it's a trainer or a very-knowledgeable friend.

The hardest thing will be making the space in your routine and going back, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.
posted by canine epigram at 12:46 PM on January 27, 2015


Back in 2010, I joined a gym for the first time too, at 270lbs. I learned to love it, but it DOES take some time. I went with a partner so my focus was always on our conversation and not really what was going on around me. That always seemed to help. When I go alone, I bring my phone and headphones and hook up Netflix on an elliptical.

I lost almost 100lbs in about 10 months that year.

It just takes some getting used to, and finding your groove. As long as you won't give up, it WILL happen.

Also, to help with motivation, if you have social media things like Facebook and Instagram - follow some people who have had great success, who post meal recipes and inspiration quotes that you'll see throughout the day while you're trolling your newsfeeds. Those always seem to help me when I'm not feelin' it.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 12:56 PM on January 27, 2015


You have gotten some awesome advice upthread!

About people looking at you in the gym — yes, people will notice you, sure. You will be new, and if they're a regular, they will think, 'Oh, hey, a new person,' and go back to whatever they're doing. Some people will look at you more intently, and it's still not judgmental; they fall into these categories:

-The personal trainers/managers/gym employees/veteran lifters. When I had a trainer, he frequently glanced over to the new people he didn't recognize and would watch them when I was resting. Why? Well, he was the master trainer and assistant manager of the gym, so he was responsible for making sure no one hurt themselves or broke anything. After he watched the new person for a bit and figured out if they were clueful, he'd stop paying as much attention to them.

-Weightlifters: Many old-school lifters have it beaten into them that safety is a group responsibility. So when they're resting in between sets, they'll look around to see if anyone else needs a spot or looks like they're struggling.

-The tired: Many people (myself included) stare off vacantly into space when resting. Their heads might be aimed in your general direction, but they're not staring at you. Promise.

About giving up too soon because you don't get initial success — it's a myth that you will magically transform the second you set foot in the gym, perpetuated by articles about being bikini-ready and having Hugh Jackman envying your abs in six weeks with one stupid trick. If that's your standard for success, disappointment is inevitable. Try to recalibrate your idea of success to something like 'Went to the gym five days a week for six months.' That's controllable by you, not by genetics or underlying metabolic disorders or the planets lining up right.

Last, nthing that many of the people you see at the gym who appear to be in normal or great shape were once not in great shape. Which means they're about the last people on the planet to think you're weird or lame for being there.

Just don't do curls in the squat rack. Then we send the ice weasels for you. ;)
posted by culfinglin at 1:33 PM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's okay not to know stuff. It's okay to not know where to put your towel, or how to use a particular machine, or how to adjust the treadmill, or where to put your stuff. Go ahead and ask questions. (This applies everywhere, not just the gym.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:35 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, I so remember feeling like that - I even ended up someone I didn't know very well to help me buy gym shoes because it had been so long I didn't remember how. I was a good 100 pounds overweight and Sure everyone was staring at me. In more than 10 years of consistently going to that gym (a Y) I made a lot of friends and got to see that it's true - people aren't judging the fat people at the gym, if anything, they're Rooting for us. For awhile that made me more uncomfortable, but I came to realize that overall everyone is absorbed in their own stuff and doesn't spend much time thinking about the rest of us.

People Do love to help new folks, so feel free to ask questions of staff and other folks. For years I stuck with the elliptical and nautilus, but then I started going to classes, and they were great - even though I was usually modifying something and larger than most folks there. After about 12 years I moved on to Crossfit for more motivation, because it's the people in classes that really help drive me to knew heights. Talk about not looking like most of the people at my gym!

I'm still 50 pounds overweight, but I've been so much fitter in my 30s and 40s, had more energy, can do more stuff. I often say I wouldn't have kept it up if I didn't feel better for doing it. I'm still a little self-conscious around new folks at the gym sometimes, but I'm usually pretty comfortable and try to welcome the new folks that look scared, because so many of us have been there. You're going to rock this for years to come!
posted by ldthomps at 5:35 PM on January 27, 2015


When I first joined a gym several years ago, I felt exactly the same way that you describe. In addition to doing many of the things mentioned in this thread, I also found that having a killer playlist on my iPod was critical to my success. (In fact, many of the songs from my very first gym playlist came from an AskMe that I posted!)

The thing that really turned things around for me was when I discovered my closing song. This is a very special song that I only play when I'm leaving the gym, when I've left it all on the floor. With my earbuds in, my hood up, and my swagger on, I stroll out of the gym like I'm Eminem in a scene from 8 Mile. I'm a very curvy thirty-something woman and I look forward to that mic dropping moment for my entire workout. Your song will be different from mine, but never, ever forget that you're a badass.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 6:13 PM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Go Ziggy500 go! All those agile, coordinated, and strong people at the gym went through the part where you feel clumsy, uncoordinated, and weak. You can get to the other side! I know you can do it!
posted by MrBobinski at 6:47 PM on January 27, 2015


I'm a relatively skinny 40-ish man fighting middle-age-spread and have had the same exact feelings about the gym that you do. I've overcome them a couple ways:

-Time of day. I work from home, with a flexible schedule, so I find that early afternoon (1-3pm) the gym is much quieter, and the folks in there are not the meatheads. Makes it easier.
-I kept myself focused on the right now instead of the endgame. Working out with weights has really, really forced me to learn to be present and only think about what is happening right this second.
-After about a month, I started realizing that I felt good after working out.

And that led me elsewhere. Because now, if I feel good after the gym, would I feel better with improving my diet a bit more? BLAM! Better diet. Hmmm. Another month goes by. Hey - I'm seeing results. Wife remarks that my arms look good. BLAM! Next phase of the program.

If you can get through the first month and stay focused, so many things will feed off each other.

Oh - one final thing - if you're weightlifting - start slow. You'll read this in the better books, but give your body time to get used to lifting. Took me several weeks to figure the balance of "normal soreness" and "call me an ambulance I can't get out of bed."

Good luck!
posted by Thistledown at 5:46 AM on January 28, 2015


You guys :) Thank you. I'll be sure to check in in a couple of weeks to let you know how it's going. I had not even THOUGHT about workout wear! People are so kind here, it amazes me sometimes.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:20 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just checking back in in case anyone was interested in how this went.

I am going to best-answer the answers which contained advice which I have followed over the past month with success. I will come back with more as I try more suggestions out.

Also, thank you again for the words of support. I really appreciate it and it has REALLY helped make me feel less self-conscious, to the extent that I really don't anymore (although I still don't get naked in the changing rooms!)

What's been good:
- Getting a trainer to take me around the machines and show me what to do. I felt a lot more confident afterwards. But I haven't yet had an actual session with a trainer, nor done any gymming with a workout buddy, although one of my friends has said she'll go with me.
- Investing in nice workout togs and workout 'stuff'. I really hadn't even considered that before joining, but it's helped a lot not to have to rummage around my wardrobe everytime I go for an old t-shirt and leggings, and just to have dedicated workout clothes which I keep separately. I've also got a dedicated gym bag to hold all my stuff, separate toiletries which live in there so I'm not packing it from scratch everytime I go. It makes life easier, but it also signals to me that I am a person who owns a gym bag, ergo, the gym is for me too.
- Group classes! I love my group classes. I've gotten a lot better at them too.
- Positive thinking - I remembered what you have all said about how no one is going to look at me and you're right, no one does. The only people to notice me were (1) the ONE other fat girl in the gym (she asked me how I found the classes. She seemed as nervous as I have been, so I think I was able to reassure her a little); and (2) the instructors, who have been encouraging, and have told me where I've been improving.

What's not been so good are the logistics - getting to the gym in the morning when it's busy, managing a workout, then getting ready and going to work on time has been a lot more complicated than it feels like it should be because of my grooming routine, which is long-drawn out, and because of transport issues. That might become a separate question in time.

Anyway, thank you very very much again, and for those of you I haven't best answered, it is only because I have yet to put your suggestions into practice.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:38 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


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