8 simple tricks to feel more confident in the gym

New to the gym? These tricks will help you shake those newbie nerves and feel more comfortable.
Image: A woman runs on a treadmill
Hop on a cardio machine at a leisurely pace and use the time to scan the gym and assess the layout instead of wandering around aimlessly. Harold Lee Miller / Getty Images
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By Stephanie Mansour

Have you avoided the gym because you’re too nervous or self-conscious? Not knowing what to do in a gym is nerve-racking, and the feelings can be compounded if you’re also self-conscious about how you look or your level of physical fitness. But if becoming healthier and more fit is one of your goals this year, heading to the gym is probably on your agenda.

First of all, let’s put this into perspective: While your attention may go right to the fittest people in the room who are moving from machine to machine with ease, know that there are almost 40,000 gyms in the United States. Think of how many members are frequenting them each day: It’s hard to believe that every single one feels confident or knows what they’re doing 100 percent of the time.

Chance are, many of the people you’ll encounter feel the same way you do — especially this time of year, when many gym goers will be starting a new routine of their own. One thing for sure is, repeated action boosts confidence, and the more frequently you go, the more familiar you'll get with your surroundings and the less nervous you’ll feel. (In a few weeks, you may even be the one giving out directions to the locker room!)

As you get into the swing of things, here are some tips I give my clients to help them slow down and feel more confident in the gym when those nerves start to kick in:

Take a lap and write it down

Put your headphones in and walk around the gym for the duration of one song. Check out the busy areas, the less crowded areas, the different cardio machines, dumbbells, etc. Then, sit down at the front of the gym or the waiting area, and write out the order of your workout. Treadmill first, then abs on the mats, then weights? Write down the order of your exercises and then follow it. Now, with a plan in place, you can confidently move from exercise to exercise.

Start Slow with Cardio

You can also scope out the gym by getting onto a stationary bike or treadmill and going at a leisurely pace. Use this time to scan the gym and assess the layout instead of wandering around aimlessly. Notice other people and what exercises they are doing to get some ideas, look at the machines around you, and survey the gym to feel more comfortable.

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Invest in a new workout outfit

Can looking the part be half the battle? A study published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology says yes. “Enclothed cognition” is the term that two researchers used to describe the effect that wearing certain clothing has on our state of mind — and the ability of clothes with symbolic meaning (like a doctors lab coat) to subconsciously influence how we act. Chances are, you will feel a whole lot more confident (and psyched up for a killer workout) wearing a new pair of leggings and a sleek, moisture-wicking shirt, than a baggy, stretched out t-shirt from the bottom of your drawer.

Slow down your pace

You may feel the need to move quickly from machine to machine. But if you stop to observe others around you, you'll notice many of them are working out in a leisurely manner, even stopping to chat with other gym-goers or change their music. So take your time, walk slowly and use that time to be observant of your surroundings and figure out your next move. Who knows if you’re planning your next exercise in your head, or walking towards a water fountain or the locker room? Other people are so focused on their routine that they’re most likely not paying attention to you anyway.

Headphones On, Music Off

Put your headphones in, but turn off the music. Keep your ears open to trainers giving advice to other people in the gym. If you’re paranoid about people talking about you, this is also a good way to affirm that no one is talking about you or focusing on you — you can listen to the sounds around you for proof!

Spy on Other People

While you’re resting in between exercises, watch someone else doing an exercise that looks interesting to you. Then, when they leave the machine or area, go take their spot and try out the exercise yourself. This is also a great way to get some fresh ideas for new routines, which can help you continue to challenge your muscles and avoid plateaus.

Remember: Everyone Here is Just Like You

You’ve already got something in common with everyone at the gym: they’re there to work out, just like you! No one woke up with a super fit body or perfect knowledge of a workout program. Everyone started where you are and learned along the way. Instead of feeling intimidated by others’ physiques or how well they know their way around a weight room, practice reciting the mantra, “Everyone here is just like me” in your head.

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When In Doubt, Stretch It Out

You can stretch anywhere in the gym. Sitting down, standing up, lying down, on the floor, on a bench, etc. Go to an area of the gym that you’re curious about, and just start stretching (even the biggest fitness newbies can likely think of a few stretches to perform). Use the downtime to scope out the area, regroup and make your next plan of action (all while giving your muscles an important stretch!)

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