If you’re anything like me, walking into a new gym is likely to induce all kinds of nervousness and panic. Even if you are naturally athletic or confident, knowing where to check in, put your bags, and how classes are run may leave you with butterflies in your stomach. Add to the general new-person nerves, if you have a sorted background with fitness, don’t see people that look like you in class, or are recovering from pregnancy or dealing with other injuries where you need to advocate for yourself a new gym or trainer can be an anxiety-inducing experience. But rather than avoiding the situation altogether, here are some things you can do to ensure you find an environment that is supportive of your goals and needs.
Don’t hesitate to ask a trainer about their qualifications. This can be done from a place of curiosity rather than accusation, but if you are dealing with pelvic organ prolapse, you need to work with someone that is familiar with postnatal training. You wouldn’t go to cardiac surgeon for a broken arm, so why would you work with a trainer that isn’t specialized in your specific needs? Additionally, the world of fitness is still the wild west. There are no regulating bodies so anyone can call themselves a trainer. Some people unfortunately think that having a “fit” looking body is all that is required to train other people. A thin and/or muscular body does not speak to someone’s knowledge of body mechanics, coaching skills, or empathy. #theresmoretolifethanabs
Email the gym before your first session to ask for a walkthrough or introduction before you start your first class if they don’t already offer one. It can be reassuring to simply know the layout of the gym to minimize the unknown aspects of your first few sessions. Knowing where and how to check in, if you should bring any additional items such as a sweat towel, and where the restrooms are located may help you feel more confident when walking into the physical space for your first class. Don’t be afraid to ask. This may not be part of their normal protocol, but most people are genuinely interested in making you feel comfortable and welcome.
If you are looking for a diet-free gym experience, don’t be afraid to let the relevant coaches and staff members know ahead of time. Once you become aware of how ingrained fat-phobia and body-shaming is in the fitness industry, it’s hard to ignore. Something along the lines of “I am working on moving my body for the mental and physical benefits and am not interested in losing weight. I would appreciate if we could leave dieting and weight-loss out of the conversation.” Honestly, I believe that many trainers aren’t even aware of how comments like “earn your weekend!” or “let’s torch those arms!” are rooted in body-shame. If you have the fight in you, bringing such comments to a coach's attention in a respectful manner may hopefully create some awareness around the harmful language.
Speak up for yourself. While I would love for every fitness facility to be staffed with coaches who work within their scope of practice, don’t promote fat-phobia, and are well educated on the human body, that isn’t always the case. I’ve had a much more positive experience now that I understand more about my own body and its limits, how to train with diastasis recti, and the prevalence of body-shaming in the fitness industry and how that affects me. But, I’ve had to speak up for myself on a regular basis. I recognize that many people are simply worn out from having to deflect and advocate for a lifetime so no shame if you don’t have the energy to spare, but if you can, don’t hesitate to ask for what you need. Maybe this means booking a few sessions with a physical therapist, personal trainer, or therapist to gain some confidence in your foundation, then venturing out into the general fitness population.
Invite a friend! Having a trusted side-kick to laugh through the first class may be helpful. Many gyms offer a first-class-free deal so that you don’t have to experience the deer-in-headlights feeling alone.
Gym-hop. Something like ClassPass is a great opportunity to check out a bunch of different places without committing to one space. My cautionary note here is that it usually takes a few classes to really get a feel for a place so unless something is obviously awful or unsafe, give a gym a few chances before marking it off the list. This is also a great opportunity to play around with different modalities. I’ve tried indoor surfing classes, boxing, yoga, spin, and traditional circuit classes within the span of a month this way. Who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with kettle bells, wailing on a punching bag, or hanging upside down in an arial yoga class. You’ll never know until you try!
Don’t feel bad if it isn’t a good fit. I start every intro session by telling people that The Alley Gym is not for everyone. And that’s okay! If you have tried out a few classes and just aren’t jiving with the people or environment, no need to stay! I feel that, especially women, take on the burden that there is something wrong with THEM rather than simply not being a good match. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t stick around. And if you’re stuck in a contract of some sort, don’t feel embarrassed to request to cancel based on x, y, and z. It’s rare that a gym manager doesn’t actually have any ability to change or cancel your membership. My motto in life is keep what works for you and let go of the rest. Finding a gym is no different.
What have your experiences been in finding an attending a new gym? I’d love to hear your success stories and anything you’d like to add to the list!
*Disclosure- this post contains affiliate links which don’t cost you a penny, but keep me sweating in my surf classes