Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Workout Wednesday: Gym Class Anxiety

Oh, the gym. How I love it. But as I was setting up for my step interval class last Wednesday, I remembered how it wasn’t always so. What is now one of my favorite and most comfortable places to be in, used to cause me enormous amounts of anxiety--especially the classes.

It just didn’t make sense to me. Why work out with so many people around you? They’ll look at you funny for getting so sweaty. How do you even use these machines? What is this one for? Will these muscular men be mad at a short little girl for taking one of the free weight benches? People are going to look at you and see that you have no idea what you’re doing.

If any of these fears or insecurities have ever crossed your mind, let me squash those for you right now. At a gym, we are all “in the zone.” We are doing our own thing, working toward our own goals. We’re all at different stages on our fitness journey. We all had to start somewhere. There’s not just ONE right way to reach goals, and people who exercise know that.

Let me share a quick story to demonstrate how ignorant and oblivious I’ve been in the past.

Having never been to a class where I had to set up a step or use equipment, I didn’t know what to do. I walked in to the Group workout room and saw several steps and weights already set up. I figured, “Oh, OK, so they set it up for you.” So I plopped down on one of the benches and waited anxiously for class to start. A few minutes later, before class was going to start, a lady walked in toward where I was sitting and gave me a funny, confused look and said, “Um, this is mine.” I turned bright red and felt my face get hot as I realized that this was the bench she had set up for herself to use. I sheepishly apologized and told her I wasn’t sure how it all worked. Then I walked over to grab my own weights and step equipment. Oops!

So now you know, even I, the exercise fiend, have been the “noob”—so uncomfortable walking into a class that everyone else attends regularly. I thought I’d take a minute to try to help ease the anxiety that you may feel when you enter a group workout class. Here are seven unprofessional tips from yours truly. Many of these apply beyond group classes, so use them however you see fit.

1. Fake Confidence
No one is watching you. (Unless you’re doing things like this guy… which you’re not)
Really though, I’m not kidding when I say we are all pretty much focused on ourselves. Any kind of staring is usually a result of admiration, or occasionally, concern. If not, they’re jerks.

2. Watch and Learn
Other people may add a move to something you’re already doing. They may do a variation of something you’re doing (did you know there are several different ways to do tricep kickbacks?). Maybe they’ll add some leg raises to their bench presses, or an extra kick to their Zumba turn. You can get ideas from them. Accept that you’re new, and be open to learning.

3. Be Positive
I see some people come in to fitness classes, and I wouldn’t know if they were new or not. That means you can convince everybody you’re a seasoned pro, if that’s your attitude. Classes can be the most intimidating places, especially ones that are hard to keep up with at first. If you go in with a good attitude, knowing you might fall behind, knowing it will take some time for you to catch on, being patient with yourself, and wanting to have fun, you will have fun! I’ve seen so many women walk out of Zumba classes. Why, ladies? Come on. We’re not judging you; we all had to start somewhere. Modify or simplify however you need to. Just take a deep breath, quit worrying about how bad you are, and have fun.

4. Be Patient
One reason I get so frustrated when we have a substitute teacher in Zumba class is that they all have different dance styles, like different songs, and “instruct” differently. Just like in school, it takes a little while to get used to how a particular teacher does things. So that Zumba class that was so difficult the first time you went, or that really hard BodyCombat class you felt lost in, will get easier the second and third times you go. Just be patient with yourself, recognize it’s a learning curve, and embrace the time it takes to learn.

5. Be Open
This is another one that’s more specific to classes, but also if you’re working with a trainer or learning from a friend. Be open about your experience or lack of experience. Tell a teacher you’re new to the class; this lets your instructor know to explain a little more than usual, or to provide modifications of movements. I think it helps you to be vocal about what you don’t know because it will make you less defensive and readies your mind to learn new things.

6. Read the Explanations
Usually with an online class schedule, you can click it for a basic description of the class. You can see what it will be like and whether it’s beginner friendly. You can also call the gym and ask for more details if you want any more info.

7. Get a Gym Buddy
In my first couple years of having a gym membership, I had friends who went with me to the gym and showed me how to use a few different machines because I was so dang intimidated. So many buttons. So many settings. Even after having a membership for eight years, there are still things I don’t know how to do, or am not tall enough to reach or adjust. Friends can help! They’re especially helpful in a new gym class because they can help you have fun and be silly. Or they can challenge you to a little competition and make things a little harder for you. Gym friends are always good.

8. Stay Focused
One way to stop your brain from worrying about what everyone else is thinking is to focus on your goals, whatever they may be. Why are you here? Is it to feel better? To get healthier? To lose weight? To get moving? Your goals are first and foremost. How lost you feel, how others look at you, and how hard it is, all amount to nothing when you focus on your goals and remember why you’re at the gym.

9. Bring Supplies
Don’t forget your water and your towel. For real. You’ll probably need rehydrate and also to wipe off. Especially if you’re like me and drip sweat all over your step and all over the floor. Bring your freaking towel.

10. Come Early
I don’t know about you, but being late makes me anxious, especially if you’re attending a class that requires a lot of setup. Get there early and set up your step, bar, and weights just like your neighbors are doing it. Then you’ll have time to warm up physically and mentally for the challenge you’re about to take on.

Really, just have a good attitude. That’s all this comes down to. Trying new things is hard. Failing is part of life. We all had to start somewhere, and you’re no exception. Give something a try, and give it a go more than once. You may find you enjoy something you never would have expected.

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