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With the new year comes new resolutions, goals, and plans. For many people, that includes implementing fitness and wellness activities into their schedule. But let me be the first to tell you that you don’t have to wait until the ball drops to start a new habit.

In high school, I was a four sport athlete and stayed fit because of that. This past semester especially, I saw my body begin to change as a result of my bad eating habits. In turn, my confidence plummeted and I no longer felt comfortable in my own skin.

For the past few months, I’ve been getting back into the habit of going to the gym. For a long time, gym anxiety prevented me from taking a leap of faith and even stepping foot into the campus gym. However, I’m here to tell you that it’s worth it, and I have a few tips on how to gain confidence and become comfortable in this new space.

1. Learn about your gym’s equipment, hours, and other information online.

At first I was really anxious because I didn’t even know what Winona State’s IWC had to offer. I did some onliner research and wasn’t able to find much, but they did have some helpful resources that made me feel more familiar than I would’ve if I had gone in blindly. Their page is linked here in case you want to learn more, too.

2. Learn new lifts, exercises, and routines from online resources or friends.

When you’re going to the gym solo, it can be especially hard to figure out what you want to do. During my first few visits, I came with a plan, but felt like my form was incorrect on some of the lifts I was rusty on. After spending 10 minutes at the squat rack, I was frustrated and bailed on my workout.

I’m not saying this a great example of what you should do, I’m just saying that we’ve all been there. If you’re not sure where to go, I’ve found lots of useful resources online. My main platform is TikTok; I’m on the fitness side of the app and a variety of new workouts pop up on my For You Page all the time. 

This could be a good resource, our you could also refer to other social media platforms or informative websites. If you have friends who are avid gym goers, ask them for advice or suggest you have a workout session together to help you learn the basics. No matter where you go, there are always people that are willing to help you learn.

3. Come with a plan.

After you’ve found enough information to make you feel comfortable, put your workout plan in your notes app and get your butt to the gym. For the past month or so, I’ve been experimenting with different exercises and movement to see what works best for me. Each day before I came to the gym, I would write out my workout so I could stick to it once I get to the gym. Now that I’ve learned what works for me, I’ve made my workout plan for each target muscle group.

Even if you don’t know the name of every exercise (trust me, I don’t either), come in to the gym intentionally and ready to get to work. And don’t forget to stretch!

Along with that, plan time out of your day to do your workouts. Saying “I’ll workout tomorrow” is a set up for failure because it allows you to constantly put it off. Instead, put it on your calendar. My class and work schedule is different each week, but once I know what the week looks like, I take the time to put 3 or 4 workouts into my schedule. Whether you plan for 30 minutes or 2 hours, your body will thank you for putting time into it.

4. Focus on form rather than lifting excessively.

Personally, my preferred workout is lifting weights, but this applies for everyone no matter your workout type. When you go to the lift, avoid ego lifting (lifting more than you’re capable of, compromising your form in the meantime). In the exercises that are focused on fast reps, focus on form rather than speed. 

Once your form deteriorates, you put yourself at risk for further injury, and are likely no longer targetting your muscle group. Even when you’re frustrated by your pace, remember that improvement doesn’t happen in one workout session. It takes weeks and months to see improvement, so buckle down for the long haul rather than forcing yourself to do your exercises poorly.

5. Take advice from others, but ultimately do what is most comfortable for you.

I love watching TikTok critiques of lifting form and advice for new supersets or workout routines. Sometimes I like to try them, or adapt them into my own routine. There’s nothing wrong with taking someone else’s advice, but always take it with a grain of salt.

The lifting community really pushes the core compound lifts––squats, deadlifts, and bench. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I absolutely loathe squats. I’ve had knee issues since middle school, so squats have always been a challenge for me. When I first started working out, I felt like I couldn’t have a true leg day because I hated squatting and I couldn’t squat hundreds of pounds like other girls my size on TikTok.

Looking back, I know I needed to wipe every single one of those thoughts out of my mind. Like I said earlier, improvement happens over time. The girls I watch on TikTok have probably been lifting for months or years––it’s unreasonable of me to expect myself to match their lifts after just a few days. 

And not squatting doesn’t mean I’m bad at working out. The ultimate goal of weight lifting––or any type of workout, for that matter––is to move your body and stay healthy. It doesn’t matter if I squat––as long as I’m improving and moving my body, I’m doing what I came to do. Instead, I work the same muscle groups with other exercises like RDLs, step ups, and Bulgarian split squats. 

My workout may look different from someone else’s, but that’s because my workouts are uniquely tailored to me, my goals, and my body.

6. With everything you do, find balance––don’t run from one extreme to the next.

This is still one of the things I struggle with the most. I love to workout, but I’m the pickiest eater you’ll ever meet, which means it’s a challenge for me to stay healthy when it comes to food. And at the end of the day, 80% of the progress you see comes from your diet.

Rather than let that fact keep me down, I try to eat in moderation and satisfy myself in moderation. Yesterday, I ate out with my family and ordered a huge lunch. Instead of punishing myself, I’m going to move on and continue to make choices that make my body happy.

Ultimately, as long as you and your body are happy, you’re successful. No one has to live in your body but you, so it’s your opinion that gets the ultimate say when it comes to determining how you live your life.

I’m not perfect when it comes to working out; I learn new things in the gym everyday, but I’m excited about the beginning of this lifestyle change. Don’t wait until January 1––start today and stop putting off your goals. Remember that everyone’s journey looks different and your progress won’t be linear. There will be good days and bad, but it’s all about looking forward to a better future for your mind, body, and health.

Brianna Strohbehn is a junior at Winona State University and a small-town girl from central Iowa. Brianna is studying English, double majoring in writing and applied and professional writing with hopes of someday becoming an editor at a publishing firm. When she isn't writing, Brianna enjoys thrifting, reading, exploring her new home in Winona, and spending time with family and friends.
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