There’s not much scarier than walking into a new gym.
Well, okay, obviously there’s quite a lot scarier than that, but there’s a unique type of fear about a new gym. It comes storming up out of your gut and can lay low even the toughest, most experienced of gym-bros.
It stems from one simple, unknowable fear.
What if they do something differently, that I don’t know about, and I look like an idiot for not knowing it?
Gyms can be weird places. They can build cultures and subcultures within them that intimidate and exclude just as much as they can elevate and inspire. Cliques and traditions and expectations can all combine in one big melting pot that, if you’re familiar with it, can be as welcoming as your own home. But if you’re not familiar, they can feel obscure and unfriendly.
As an example, I recently went to a new gym for the first time, and upon arrival found the single entry door within sight to be locked with a code on it. I couldn’t see anything indicating how I was meant to get in - I even double checked their website to no avail. There weren’t even windows so I could wave to someone and look gormless until they took pity on me. Eventually I bit the bullet and just knocked on the door. After a few minutes, a grumpy looking guy who was clearly mid-workout opened it.
He was silent as I stepped inside and started to head back to his squat rack immediately. Not knowing what was going on, I asked him if I’d used the right door. “Yeah,” he scowled, “and the code for it is right there.”
The code was inside the gym. Presumably it was to engender some kind of ‘secret cool club’ vibe to the facility, but it came off as unfriendly. Now fortunately I’m an experienced gym-goer and don’t particularly mind making a nuisance of myself or if a complete stranger wants to be grumpy at me, but I couldn’t help but think about how this would have all felt if I’d been brand new to training. I know for sure a few years ago I might not have even had the nerve to knock on an imposing door, and if the first person I’d met inside had scowled at me it would have sent me running to the hills. And that’s a shame, as getting into training is hard enough without encountering these social or emotional barriers to entry.
What can you do to avoid this kind of thing? Best thing to do is find a training partner to go with. If they’ve been to the gym before then they guide you, but even if you’re both brand new you’re far less likely to feel awkward if it’s two of you potentially getting something wrong.
If you can’t find a partner, see if you can book an induction or 1-on-1 session before you get stuck in. Having a staff member show you around really helps - takes notes and don’t be embarrassed to ask hundreds of questions, everything from fitness questions to how the lockers work. It’ll come up, trust me, so find out.
Finally, I’d advise anyone to just hit the ‘fuck it’ button occasionally. So what if you have to ask a question that turns out to have a stupidly simply answer. Big deal if you do something unorthodox in the free weight area. Own it. You’re there to improve yourself and anyone who wants to judge you for minor fuck ups is not someone to waste time worrying over. Take it from someone who has fallen arse over head doing handstands in front of an entire row of packed treadmills more than once. Laugh it off and try again.
Eventually you’ll get comfortable in a space and it will become ‘your’ gym. That’s a pretty special feeling and worth persevering for. And hey, when you reach that place and have to open the door for some schmuck who can’t find the code?
Maybe give them a quick smile on the way in.