Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at McMaster chapter.

Ever since I can remember, the gym has always given me anxiety. Just thinking about it was enough to make my tummy tight with nerves. For me, I saw the gym as a place of judgment and body dysmorphia. The way I perceived fitness and exercise at the gym wasn’t based on health at all; it was based on social comparison. My workouts were completed at home in my cramped bedroom or my dark, damp basement while following along to some spray-tanned, shredded fitness instructor on YouTube because I didn’t want to be seen or judged by anyone. But at-home workouts were boring and easy to bail on for me. It wasn’t until this past spring when my mother invited me to tag along with her to the gym that I saw the gym in a newer, softer light. We worked out in the women-only section of the gym. I looked around me to see girls spotting each other’s squats, completing reps together, and hyping each other up. It was the first time I associated fitness with joy and camaraderie. From that moment, a little seed of motivation was planted inside of me, and I watered it every day that summer, and into the fall. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1. Start Simple

The gym can be a very overwhelming place; there are 7 types of human movements and tons of variations to pick from. It’s tough to know where to start. But don’t stress! Building a workout routine is as easy as picking 3-4 exercises, and then sticking with them for at least three months. I started with three sets (i.e., a collection of reps) of 8-12 reps (“repetitions”) and increased as needed. I know I’ve chosen a good weight for my exercise if I start “losing steam” by about 70% through a set. If you’re having trouble picking exercises, you need to look no further than TikTok and type “shy girl workouts” in the search bar. “Shy Girl” workouts tend to stick to dumbbells only and allow you to stay in one spot in the gym for your entire workout. If you’re interested in learning how to use any of the machines, all gyms should have a machine orientation where they walk you through a rep on every machine (the Pulse has a super welcoming staff that will be happy to show you around).

2. Set Yourself Up for Success

It’s easy enough to make a workout plan…sticking to it is a whole other ball game. Biting off more than you can chew is a slippery slope when it comes to working out. Trying to keep up with a strict, high-volume, six-day fitness program will be very discouraging for you if it feels like you can’t do it. Your workout routine doesn’t have to look like it came straight out of a montage from Rocky. Instead, whenever I try a new exercise or add weight/resistance, gradual changes in isolation are always my go-to. If I change too many variables at once, I won’t be able to pinpoint results and I will just end up feeling burnt out. You are in control of your fitness. You know what level of difficulty is right for you. Trust in yourself. Another way that you can do yourself a huge favor is to visit a nearby gym at a convenient time of day that fits with your schedule (not all of us are 5:00 a.m. gym girlies).

3. Focus on how you FEEL, not how you LOOK

As much as exercise affects one’s physical appearance, the effect that exercise has on one’s mental health is arguably much stronger. Depending on what you focus on, your mental health can either reach new and exciting highs or plummet to soul-crushing lows. No matter what physical results you are or aren’t seeing, what’s more important is how you feel about your body and how you’re moving it. After evaluating your goals and expectations regarding the gym, it’s important to check in with yourself before, during, and after every gym session. Do you feel stronger? More energized? Doing a quick body scan can help you feel more in tune with yourself, and therefore be more likely to listen to what your body needs in that moment.

4. Find a Gym Buddy

There’s nothing like having a reliable friend to remind you about going to the gym. Having a gym buddy not only makes working out less daunting and more enjoyable, it can also help keep you on track! Who says you can’t catch up with a friend and squat 100 lbs at the same time! Cheering each other on and celebrating each other’s wins can be such a fulfilling experience. Whether your gym buddy is levels ahead or below you, supporting each other can make working out very rewarding.

5. Protein Protein Protein

What you fuel your body with is just as important as how you move it, if not more. Ensure you are eating enough food in a day to sustain you, especially if you are going to the gym that day. High-protein meals and snacks are vital to building muscle and will satiate your hunger. Some of my go-to sources of protein that I integrate into my weekly meal prep are eggs, Greek yogurt, natural protein bars, and quinoa. Protein powders are great, but I usually try to avoid the high amount of processed sugar that is included in many flavored protein powders. Eating enough protein is a lot harder to achieve than you may think! Be mindful of the nutrients that are in the food you eat, and you’re already well on your way to feeling like your best self!

I hope these tips and insights help you feel less daunted by the gym and fitness in general. If you are in search of workout inspo, some of my favorite fitness accounts that I follow are @bethyred, @itskennedynicole_, @whitneyysimmons, @sandsxfitness, and @theqii_tofitness. Good luck on your gym journeys, girlies, and remember — you got this!

Julianna is a final year Mechanical Engineering Student at McMaster. She is a struggling student by day and a singer/poet/foodie by night. If she had it her way she would be laying on a beach on Lake Huron, soaking up some rays and reading a good book. You may find her daydreaming about bread, obsessing over her housemate’s Breville toaster oven, or listening to her carefully curated monthly playlist in her spare time.