Getting Comfortable in a New Gym
So, you've joined a new gym, and that old- but familiar- sense of feeling out of place begins to sink in again. Trying to navigate a new layout, understanding different equipment, and making yourself invisible to other people can easily overwhelm anybody. Whether you're new to the gym or experienced, starting over at a new place is scary for anyone; it launches you straight out of your comfort zone and shakes your confidence. From my experience of this, I've made a few notes on what I found helpful. During my time in the States, I joined a small-town gym in the suburbs that was quite different from my usual one: it was much smaller, with old-school machines and big iron weights. There were one or two members of staff on shift at a time, and the entire gym was hotter (being summertime in Virginia). This ensured that I had a lot of adjusting to do.
1. Listen to your gym playlist
When you're able to shut out the intimidation of foreign sounds, it gives you a chance to defuse the sensory overload of a crowded gym. The cumulative orchestra of cardio machines whirring, weights slamming, loud grunting, and even
your own breathing can be too much at once. When quietened, clarity has the opportunity to return and you can focus on training. The effect can be enhanced by listening to music that you frequently listen to in the gym; you can condition yourself to associate familiar music with the new surroundings. Ultimately, when you play your music to yourself, you are telling your brain that you are in a safe and comfortable environment, and that you are ready to start working.
2. Keep to the basics
It will be near impossible to replicate a workout from your home gym if you use a variety of equipment. Machines, in particular, every gym will have different versions and variations of equipment. Even the height of the benches can be enough to throw you off. For example, at The Gym (UK), their Lying Hamstring Curl machine worked to keep tension constant all throughout the movement, allowing for the greatest range of motion. In comparison, an older style of a similar machine in the US gym only kept the tension for half of the movement; this meant that as soon as that tension was lost (at approximately 45 degrees), the rest of the concentric movement was doing little to activate my hamstrings. This is where mastering the basic, most effective, exercises comes in handy. Every single gym you come across is extremely likely to have a squat rack, deadlifting platform, pull-up bar, and dumbbells- the no-fuss equipment. Unlike machines, you can vary these exercises to target different muscle groups: want greater back activation?- conventional deadlift. Want greater hamstring and glute activation?- sumo deadlift. Make your equipment work in your favour.
3. Bring a friend
We often forget how vulnerable we can feel when we're alone. Of course, independence is a virtue, particularly on any journey of self-improvement, but it is vital that we have friends ready to help in times of need. Having a companion by your side eliminates a lot of discomforts that comes with walking into a gym alone. Having a friend to go with you is popular with any level of experience; if they are more experienced than you then they can teach you and push you to go further, whereas if they are less experienced then you can fine-tune your skills by teaching your friend. This method also helps to get rid of any awkwardness. Just dropped a dumbbell on your foot?- laugh it off. (Note: if you laugh out loud in a gym when alone then you will get some concerned looks).
4. Book an induction (or just ask a trainer)
The elementary purpose of an induction is to get you comfortable with what you're doing. Being confronted with new equipment can have you doubting your own skills and strength, which may lead to the avoidance of it altogether. For me, even if I give the new stuff a go, I can't quite shake the feeling that someone in the room is watching and criticising. I want to emphasise the point that I am not dismissing independence- everyone should be trying new things- but having a confident and safe start can be extremely helpful. When I was very new to fitness, I used machines incorrectly all the time: for a few weeks, I used a calf press as a leg press, until I read the information plaque on the side! But, if you're a little too shy to ask for help just yet, there are plenty of online tutorials that can offer advice.
I hope these tips can be helpful for whatever stage you are at in your fitness journey. (Disclaimer: Obviously, these are all from my experience, of which I don't have enough of to use factually when advising others. So, do not take these tips as a mandatory prescription for gym anxiety.) Just give them a go and find what works for you!