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

Hot, crowded rooms. Sweaty, testosterone-fueled men. The crippling fear that everyone around you is staring and judging you. If you have gym anxiety, you don’t need to explain yourself — the reasons for feeling nervous are obvious. I personally experienced intense gym anxiety for years before I decided to give working out at UCSB’s Recreation Center (“Rec Cen”) a try. When armed with some basic knowledge about the Rec Cen, gym etiquette, and workout tips/tricks, my anxieties gradually melted away. Below, I’ve listed some of the common fears you may have experienced about working out at the Rec Cen and debunked them.

Fear #1: The Gym Is Full of Frat Bros

The main reason I used to fear the Rec Cen was because I was certain that it was packed with huge, sweaty frat bros that would intimidate any small woman that tried to work out near them. Fortunately, UCSB’s Rec Cen complex is large and there are plenty of places to work out without being disturbed or distracted by leering men. Personally, I’ve found that the Multi-Activity Center (MAC) towards the back of the Rec Cen complex is typically less crowded and contains a nicely mixed crowd of totally average women and men. 

Furthermore, there are certainly times when the Rec Cen is busier than others. I’ve found that the gym reaches peak crowdedness in the middle of the afternoon through the early evening. If you want to avoid other gym-goers as much as possible, I recommend going early in the morning or late in the evening.

Lastly, the “meathead” stereotype has not held true in my experience; most gym-goers are not selfish or unintelligent but are part of a supportive and uplifting community that strives for self-improvement in many areas of their lives. In other words, don’t feel threatened by the person who merely looks like they might be a fratty gym bro — in all likelihood, they could be one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Fear #2: Everyone is Judging me

Nobody goes to the gym for the sole purpose of staring at other gym-goers and judging them on their form, outfits, body type, or anything else. People go to the gym for the same reasons you want to go: to get in shape, clear their heads, and feel physically and mentally better. Everyone who goes to the gym is focused on themselves and hardly pays attention to what goes on around them.

Also, it’s important to remember that everyone you see at the gym either is or once was a beginner. If you need to use the lightest weights or want to ask a more experienced gym rat for feedback on your form, no one will bat an eye.

Fear #3: I don’t know what to do when I get there

Prior to attending UCSB, I had never stepped foot in a real gym before. My dad had some workout equipment in our garage, but the fancy machines at the Rec Cen were mostly foreign to me. Fortunately, almost all machines contain instructions or diagrams for how to properly use them and avoid injuries. When in doubt, check how another person uses the machines.

Whatever you do, try to avoid injuries at all costs. When dealing with heavy weights, small tweaks to your form can make all the difference between a healthy rep and a dangerous injury. Enlist someone as a spotter and start with lighter weights before working your way up to heavier ones.

As far as creating a workout routine or determining which machines to use, there is plenty of information available online to help you decide which plan works best for your fitness goals. It is generally recommended to schedule a mix of activities to do throughout the week rather than repeatedly focusing on one or two muscle groups. It may also be a good idea to tag along with a more experienced gym buddy to see how they structure their workouts.

Fear #4: I don’t know how to act at the gym

There are certainly some basic rules of gym etiquette that all gym-goers should follow. Luckily, most of these rules are based on the simple principle of treating others the way you’d like to be treated. For example, use your headphones rather than blasting your music out loud. Wipe down the machines after you use them to ensure cleanliness. Place items back in their proper places and don’t intentionally misuse equipment. Allow plenty of personal space between yourself and others. After your first few times going to the gym, you’ll take notice of how people generally behave around you and you’ll easily fall in line with everyone else.

The bottom line

As scary as it may seem at first, the gym is all about focusing on bettering yourself. People are largely unbothered by the actions of others, and if they aren’t, they are usually looking to help and support those around them. After all, everyone you see at the gym was once just like you: an anxious beginner who was a little unsure of themselves. So when you go to the gym, shake off any lingering embarrassment — you deserve a safe place to improve yourself, and the gym can be that place for you.

Kendall is a third-year Communication student at UCSB and an editorial intern for Her Campus UCSB. When she isn’t writing, she’s usually either doing yoga, getting coffee, or planning her future travels.