It must be one of the biggest catch-22s of exercise: “I don’t want to go to the gym because I’m embarrassed of how I look when I’m there.” You think you’re sweatier, jigglier, less stylish, slower, or more fill-in-the-blank than your fellow gym goers, so you don’t go at all—and you spiral even further away from achieving your health and fitness goals.
For many of us, getting mentally prepared for going to the gym is a workout in itself. If this reasoning rings true for you, here are six tips to help kick-start your motivation and save you from a destructive anti-exercise cycle.
1. Choose Your Gym Wisely
Does being surrounded by exercise model lookalikes motivate you or intimidate you? If your answer is the latter, join a gym that doesn’t also double as a singles club. Community centers like the Jewish Community Center or the YMCA are great options because they tend to be welcoming and attractive to a wide range of people—including those who join for the non-gym benefits.
Are you embarrassed to work and work out next to the same people? If so, make the investment in a gym that’s not connected to your place of employment. It may cost more, but if it makes the difference between going and not going, it’ll pay off.
2. Set Realistic Expectations
If you set out to run seven miles on the treadmill when the last time you ran more than one was middle school gym class, then you’ll probably struggle—and look like it. But if you make gradual, realistic exercise goals, you will look and feel like you’re exercising, not dying.
Set realistic long term goals, too. Will you ever look like your yoga instructor? No, because your body is different. So focus on feeling good and making your body the best version of itself—not someone else’s.
3. Remember that You are Your Toughest Critic
You really think that everyone in the gym is checking you out? The truth is: almost everyone else is busy obsessing over his or her own body. That Anna Kournikova-lookalike you want to hate for looking so good? She’s probably got some nagging body hang up, too. (Also, remember professional athletes, personal trainers, and celebrities are getting paid to work out. Unless you fall into one of those categories, comparisons to them just arent’t fair.)
4. Dress up Your Workout Wardrobe
Wearing a cute outfit can fix a whole lot of problems (temporarily, at least)—gym motivation included. And you don’t have to break the bank at lululemon to get some good-looking gear. Some of my favorite workout pieces are from Target! Throw on something cute and flattering, and get excited to put it to use: it’ll boost your confidence and your energy expenditure.
5. Recognize an Excuse as an Excuse
They say the first step in fixing a problem is admitting it exists. So if you find yourself avoiding the gym for reasons you know are weak (“I’m too out of shape”), identify it as an excuse and make the trip.
6. Don’t Go to the Gym at All
No, I didn’t say don’t exercise at all—but you certainly don’t have to have a gym membership to get a great workout. Outdoor activities like walking, jogging, biking, or hiking can be great ways to see a city, catch up with friends, and get a workout in that feels more like fun than fitness. And weather is no excuse: there’s always exercise TV, or even just dancing in your living room. Something—anything—is always better than nothing, and if you’d rather do that something without any onlookers, so be it!
We all have times when we really do need to rest and days when our schedules don’t allow for an athletic excursion, but the trick is catching yourself in your own mind game. Once you can do this, you’re one step closer to the gym—and to a healthier you.
We may want to be treated just like men in the office, but our bodies deserve to be treated like women. From nutrition and fitness tips to deeper—and, we’ll admit, not always comfortable—topics, DC-based health care journalist Anna Miller discusses medical issues relevant to young professional women in “InsideOut,” her bi-weekly Sunday column.