How To Get Over Your Fear Of The Gym, As Told By A Personal Trainer

2018 will be the year we feel healthy and alive!

I have a confession to make: I’m completely and totally intimidated by the gym, fitness classes and exercise, in general. I slink into my local Equinox, teeming with insecurity as my headphones blast bikini kill into my fragile ears, I cast my eyes downward and nervous beads of anxious sweat make their way across my forehead as I search for the lone elliptical machine in the very back corner.

I’ll hop on the machine and self-consciously move my legs for exactly 30 minutes and then I get the hell out of there! I don’t even use the glorious, luxurious steam room afterwards, either. Not because I’m terrified of being naked around other women (I’m the sluttiest dresser this side of the Mississippi! I only wear clothes because it’s a legal requirement) but because gym locker rooms trigger dark memories of being the last girl chosen for the softball team (I didn’t get the lesbian softball gene).

And it’s not that I hate working out, in fact, it’s the opposite! I love to ~move~ my body. Exercise eases my soul-crushing anxiety and helps to keep the demons at bay. I like to ~sweat out~ my problems. I just need to overcome this pressing phobia I have of working-out with either a trainer or in a class full of fit Manhattanites, come 2018. I want to feel healthy and alive in 2018 and I know I need professional help in order to get the results I yearn for. I’m 30. I’m in my damn prime! I’m sick of being a fragile weakling! I want to move couches around my apartment without asking for help, you know?

So I sought out some advice, girl. I spoke to Emma Middlebrook who has had her own personal training business in the city of dreams (New York, obviously) for a decade! Middlebrook gave me some killer workout tips and offered up stellar advice on living a healthier lifestyle (without gym-anxiety getting in the way).

Photo courtesy of Emma Middlebrook

So for my fellow lezzies who are frightened by the idea of working out, yet are desperately seeking a healthy life, this one is for you, babes.

GO Magazine: What advice would you give someone who is intimidated by going to gyms, in general? Would you recommend they start with a trainer, go in alone first, attend a gentle class? Any advice or tips is great! 

Emma Middlebrooke: If you’re just starting to workout you can’t go wrong with either finding a trainer or taking a class. Which one is best for you really comes down to how much money you want to spend and whether or not you prefer one-on-one training or enjoy being around others.

If you’re a complete novice, a trainer might be best just so you have someone who can really watch your form and make sure you don’t get injured. Most big gyms will offer a complimentary training session. If working with a trainer still seems intimidating maybe start off with a barre or mat pilates class. This will allow you to build some confidence and most importantly strength.

GO: What kind of work-outs are best to aid strong mental health, specifically for someone who suffers from anxiety? 

EM: Any workout can help combat anxiety and/or depression, you just have to find what works for you. It could be boxing, spinning, CrossFit, pilates the list goes on. Exercise is a natural endorphin booster but you may not feel it after the first workout, it may take some time. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get that “high” everyone talks about, you will, you just need to stick with it. To avoid anxiety during a workout make sure you’re doing something you enjoy. If you hate your workout you’ll dread going to the gym.

GO: What is the best way to kick-start your day? What is the best kind of work out for the morning, and what to you suggest one eats in the morning that won’t make them crash in the afternoon? 

EM: We all have our morning routines but if your new routine involves going to the gym make sure you’re hydrated and have had something to eat. It doesn’t have to be much; a banana, a hard-boiled egg or a tablespoon of peanut butter will suffice. Many of my clients say they hate breakfast. Well, I hate paying taxes but we all have to do it, it’s the same thing. You’ve been asleep for (hopefully) six to eight hours and you haven’t eaten anything and now you’re going to do something physical…your body needs fuel or it won’t work at its most optimal level.

After a workout, you’ll be hungry so load up with protein and even some carbs! Go easy on the carbs though, as they’ll make you crash later in the day. Staying hydrated will also stave off that afternoon slump.

GO: What would you tell a person who fears the gym and is afraid of being judged? 

EM: A gym can be a scary place but never be afraid to go in. Everyone has the right to be healthy and fit and never let anyone intimidate you into not going in. Look for the friendly face at the front desk or bring a friend if you’re still shy. Know that most people working out are so involved with what they’re doing that they’re not focused on anyone else.

So many women have the same fear of being judged at the gym but it has been my experience that no one is actually judging you and a gym can be a very positive environment! We all have our insecurities and are afraid we’re being judged, just know that there are quite a few people at the gym at the exact moment you are there, who are feeling the same thing. Think of it as an unspoken camaraderie.

GO: What is the balance of staying motivated and consistent, but also not beating yourself up for not instantly meeting your goals? 

EM: Setting realistic goals is the best recipe for success and you know yourself better than anyone else does. If you say you’re going to go workout five days per week but realistically know its only two or three then set your goal to that number. If you say you’re giving up alcohol but know you have to go entertain clients or have a social life that involves drinking, change the goal to ‘I’ll only have four drinks a week.”

Being healthy and staying healthy is all about understanding and implementing moderation. Setting extreme goals can produce extreme results but the drawback is if you don’t continue with the same kind of workout and diet intensity you’ll slip back to where you were or further. This is why Slimfast and other fad diets don’t work longterm, they’re too extreme. If you skip a workout its not the end of the world, if you have that cookie it doesn’t make you a bad person. We all slip just brush it off and move on! You have to be accountable for your own actions, so always be honest with yourself about what you physically can and cannot do. Getting in shape is hard but with consistency and motivation, we can all achieve it.

GO: What kind of workouts can you do when you don’t have a gym around you? 

EM: Having gym access isn’t always an option but that doesn’t mean you should skip a workout. I travel with a jumprope so I can always do cardio and I’m a big fan of body weight workouts. You can do planks and pushups anywhere! There are tons of great apps that have bodyweight workouts and all you have to do is put on some music and wait for the cue!

Missing Maui. #20degrees #babyitscoldoutside #andazmaui

A post shared by Emma Middlebrook (@trainwithemma) on

GO: What are questions you should ask when vetting trainers? Specifically for a person who is new to the gym and is terrified of the gym? What sort of qualities should you look for and what are some red-flags that this trainer might not be right for you! 

EM: Just like any profession there are good trainers and there are bad ones. I’m a big believer in experience, someone who has chosen fitness as their profession and will spend years perfecting their craft and is always learning about the body. When looking for a trainer ask how long they’ve been doing this, do they have recommendations from other clients or before and after photos of people they’ve worked with? Big box gyms will have their top trainers, ask who they are. You can go to the gym and observe to see if there’s someone whose style you like, and maybe when the trainer is done with their session approach the client and ask them what they like about their trainer. Chemistry is important, you have to like your trainer or you’re not going to want to workout. If you like your trainer you’ll start to like your workout. I’ve had clients for almost ten years and they come back because I give them results but I’m also fun to train with…I think.

GO: How do you avoid the post-workout binge?

EM: The post-workout binge struggle is real. I find it has a lot to do with dehydration paired with the idea that you can now eat whatever you want and that the calories don’t matter. Sadly this is not true.

You wouldn’t go get your car washed just so you could get it dirty again, would you? If you’ve just spent an hour pushing yourself at the gym reward your body with the right nutrients, lean protein, carbs and healthy fats and drink lots of water because that will make you feel full. Most people mistake hunger for thirst.

GO: What are some tips you want to throw our way regarding novice fitness and health? 

EM: Starting a workout regimen can be daunting so just make sure you’re not spreading yourself thin. Set realistic goals and listen to your body. if you go too hard too fast you’ll burn out and that could really turn you off working out. Start slow but stay consistent and you’ll start to see results. Consistency is key! If you feel like you’re doing too much pull back a little but if you feel you could push yourself harder do it and add an extra workout and see how that feels.

GO: Where can people find you?

EM: I’ve been running my own business for over 10 years, I can be found all over Manhattan and Brooklyn and if you’d like to schedule an appointment you can fill out a training request form on my website.

Follow Emma on Instagram!