10 Ways to Get Back to the Gym Without Feeling Overwhelmed

woman lifting weights


The new year is kinda the best, amiright!? It’s like new-car smell: refreshing and filled with aspiration and possibilities. Let’s ride. There’s no shame in using the momentum and clean-slate of the new year to mark the start of changing habits. And many of us do just that, particularly when it comes to health habits. Gyms see a huge uptick in attendance every January. That means people who have been on workout abstinence for some period prepare to jump back in their track shoes and wrangle back to the treadmills, group fitness classes and weight racks. But for some the new-year-new-you enthusiasm bubble deflates the moment they cross the sliding-door threshold and are welcomed by glossy gym attendants surrounded by towers of freshly bleached towels and dodged by sweaty regulars exiting the packed place. Gulp. Maybe we should just focus on my money resolutions??

So if you’ve been out of the gym for a while, how do you get back into the habit without feeling overwhelmed and out of place? Here are some of our fav tips:

  1. Invest in some new gear. We LOVE gym gear. Stuff!! We love it because of its functionality. But also because the gear itself can be motivating. When you have a hot new pair of workout leggings, you want to get to the gym so you can wear the dang things. So work that angle. But also consider trying some new tech. We’re obsessed with heart-rate monitors because they optimize your workouts AND they are like a coach on a wrist, giving you feedback and making any workout more dynamic. Also once you drop that coin to pay for one, you’re gonna wanna get some use out of it.    
  2. Phone a friend. You know the best way to make it all the way into the gym? Have a “sweat friend” waiting inside. There have been occasions where we *might* have accidentally done a double sweat sesh on the Stairmaster just because the sweat friend convo was so good. “Wait. Have we been on here for like an hour? Oh snap. Maybe but lemme just finish telling you what he had the @*&$ to say to me!”
  3. Say hello to three strangers during your workout. Maybe you don’t have a sweat friend (yet). No prob. Stranger danger is generally not a thing at the gym. And what makes gyms unique is that they really do have their regulars and most of them are happy to make new gym friends--and help you out. There is one woman I’ve (Sara) been working out near for over 15 years. We’ve even moved gyms together. I don’t actually know her outside of our good morning hellos, but I’ve gone through several cars in the time that I’ve worked out near her. You don’t need to know people well for them to improve your gym experience. There is another gym-mate who knows me only as “Bright Clothes” and a few who I found out identify me as “Amazon Woman.” (Boom! Count it.) And our interactions are fairly limited...on account of we’re working out. Yet when one of the regulars isn’t at the gym for a handful of days, I notice and am pumped when they get back. The point is, if you are willing to say hello to a few people each day, particularly those who you spot there more than once, you will start to build up a crew of people that make you feel like Norm in Cheers and can be great resources when you need a spot or help remembering the difference between the leg press and hack squat.   
  4. Try a group fitness class. If you are still apprehensive, you must try this. Not all instructors possess equal levels of charism and charm, but their goal is to get people in their classes. They do that by helping you enjoy the experience. Get there early, meet your instructor, and ask for help when setting up your equipment or space. The other perk is that there is a set start time that will keep you from procrastinating.
  5. Make a game plan for each week and each day. “Fitting in a workout” is not a real thing for like 98% of the population. If you want to get to the gym, plan ahead. If you start back with group fitness classes, select the classes and times that you plan to attend before the week starts. If you plan to workout on your own, know what workout routine you will employ before you get to the gym. Wandering through the weight room waiting for inspiration is the worst. At a minimum map out your lifts, sets, and reps so once you’re there, you can focus on the work part of workout. Failing to plan is planning to fail. So make a plan! (FiTONIC workout training programs coming soon. Sign up on our email list for notification of availability.)
  6. Ask or watch a video to learn new moves. Adding new moves to your routine keeps it interesting--not to mention they are great for your muscles. If you aren’t sure how to perform a certain lift, ask a trainer or fellow gym-mate (see above) for guidance. If you just don’t have the emotional capacity for conversation at that particular moment, search it up on YouTube. It’s actually kind of remarkable the number of instructional videos available for workout moves.    
  7. Don’t aim for perfection. Perfection is the enemy of progress. Don’t worry if it takes you a few tries (or several tries) to master a new move of keep up with a group fitness routine. Don’t panic if you need to take a rest or you biff it on a box jump. On the real: You just gotta get over that shit. Presumably, you’re going to the gym to improve yourself. That doesn’t come without a choice bloopers reel.
  8. Run in your own lane. Similar to the item above, focus on your work, not others. Some people will be further along in their fitness journey than you. That’s cool. That doesn’t detract or need to distract from what you came to accomplish. You can’t run as far or as fast, if you stare to the side instead of straight ahead. So if you notice someone crushing it, choose to let it inspire, not intimidate, you.
  9. Become comfortable being uncomfortable. This phrase has been one of Sara's go-to mantras for most of her adulthood. Lately, she started joking that her visit to her "comfort zone" is so infrequent that it’s collecting cobwebs. And being uncomfortable isn’t a reason to avoid the gym; it’s actually one of the best reasons to go to the gym. The gym is a safe place to test your limits, push yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of, steel your resilience, and listen for that inner growl of strength and confidence. If you go to the gym worried that you will be uncomfortable, you will miss an opportunity. Go because when you stretch yourself at the gym, when you do that thing that you were pretty sure you couldn’t do, increase your resistance, pump out one more rep, finish that set of burpees, the next time you are leading a meeting, pitching a new client, called to learn a new skill in your career, etc., you will be more mentally prepared. You will already know: “Hey, I do impossible. Like. Every. Damn. Day.”

If your workout abstinence has been a few months, a few years, or you’ve never popped that gym cherry, now’s a great time to get into a fitness groove. Waiting is not a health-improving strategy. You can do it, we’ve got your back.

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