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A Beginner's Guide to Getting Confident in the Gym
Core - Nº9
For lots of people, exercise is easy; knowing what to do next is the hard part. Millions of people try to start each year anew, heeding the idea of regular exercise and fulfilling a dream physique—only to falter and see it as pointless soon after.
A 2017 article on UK gym-goers found that people spend £550m on unused memberships. One person said they stopped going to the gym because they felt intimidated by the utter busyness of the place and which is a standard answer among many people, along with:
Not knowing what to do
Not enjoying the gym
A report by Noob Gains also found that:
4% of people quit by the end of January—and 14% by the end of February
80% of people who join a gym in January quit within five months
Gym users are more likely to indulge in chocolate bars than non-users
13% of people don’t go to the gym when they say they do
Walking is the most common gym activity
50% of gym users claim they go just to check out the opposite sex
Few gym-goers fulfil their memberships—with some only going to the gym 2 to 3 times per year. To me, this sounds like the most expensive thing we consistently pay for and don’t use. It’s believable but still shocking.
A 2021 article by Finder revealed 82.7 million Americans spent an estimated $8.2 billion on gym memberships in 2020 (which is 76% down from 2019, $34.8 billion). And around 6.7 million Americans wasted $397 million on unused memberships in 2020. On top of that, 7.4% of people with an active gym membership go less than once a month. While nearly one-third of Americans have a membership—even if it’s unused. 56.6% of people go twice a week, and a further 20% go once a week.
Overall, most people do not last in the gym.
Why? Here are a few ideas:
Lack of time (or desire)
Lack of support
The gym can be scary for beginners; they’re often crowded, muddled with complex machines and intimidating spaces for weight training in which many people are inexperienced. And it can be not very comforting when surrounded by people who know what they’re doing or look like they’re in the shape of their lives.
Some people may find this inspiring (or are unbothered by these factors). And so this essay can act as a guide—particularly if you’re new—on how to get comfortable in the gym and accomplish any fitness goal. Here’s what to know.
Know Your Purpose
According to a 2020 report by CompareCamp, 90% of gym-goers set their goal as “lose belly fat”. And while this is a straightforward goal to start with, it doesn’t give you enough direction. You may know you want to lose weight (or gain muscle), but this goal doesn’t tell you how to do that.
I strongly advocate the need for process-oriented goals as they provide better direction than an outcome-oriented goal. If you go into the gym knowing what exercises and movements, and intensities you need to work at each day, you’ll have a much better chance of success than if you follow an adage of “burn fat” because there are a hundred ways to do that.
The most common end-goals for gym-goers are:
Increase cardiovascular fitness
Lose weight/burn fat
But also remember micro-goals such as:
Improve mental health
Learn more about exercise
Do the exercises you enjoy
Exercise achieves many things in one, and some say it’s better value than any expensive therapist you can get. But figuring out your why is crucial in every session and exercise as it’ll help you massively—especially when starting fresh and pulling ideas together.
For example, if you want to build muscle, start by understanding the basics (being in a caloric surplus, lifting heavy, recovery techniques). And the,n once you feel confident with the foundations, work your way through low-level concepts such as exercise intensities, volume training and optimising your movement patterns.
People tend to jump into hard workouts far too soon and become frustrated when they get injured, tired or see little progress. In the beginning, or when training feels mentally demanding, exercise (or any habit) should feel easy, fun and simple. If it doesn’t feel like that, taking a step back will help you determine what you enjoy most.
Grow The Right Mindset
The right mindset will take you all the way—or nowhere at all.
A good mindset can encourage behaviour that helps you achieve your goals—or exceed them through the core beliefs and values that shape your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
If there’s a problem inside, you will eventually see it on the outside. Exercise is a routine of overcoming physical and mental resistance, but you can’t achieve either without the right mindset, and you can’t achieve strength in one without strength in the other.
Carol Dweck is a pioneer in the idea of mindset. She studies what motivates us, makes us succeed, and bridges different classes of psychology to understand the mindset we need to foster what we can control and be successful anywhere.
Your self-conception (mindset) can determine everything, and Dweck says it can propel or prevent you from fulfilling your potential. There are two mindsets people tend to have: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
A fixed mindset believes intelligence can’t be altered. You have the cards you’re dealt and can’t change them. You also have a desire to look intelligent and correct all the time and tend to avoid challenges, failure, effort, and above all, being wrong.
A growth mindset believes intelligence can be developed. It has a desire to learn more, embrace challenges, focus on mastery, persist through setbacks, and find inspiration and lessons through what you do.
Can you guess which is more successful?
Alongside a growth mindset are a few character qualities that also help and are a byproduct of having a growth mindset:
Self-belief reinforces the neural pathways that allow you to perform better, with more confidence, naturally, and without much thought.
Learn How to Fail
Nobody achieved success without facing failure.
We experience failure more often than success, and still, few people can adequately overcome it. And not knowing how to handle failure is one of the biggest reasons why people give up earlier than expected.
“Success lies not in overcoming failure, but learning how to”
Elon Musk once said, “If things aren’t failing, you are not innovating enough”. And in this context, it bears the same meaning. You have to know how to fail to understand how to get past it, and this is something you learn from experience. If you’re not finding it difficult to train, and you’re not pushing yourself through the arduous periods, you are not fulfilling your potential.
Your journey is specific to you, and few people can venture the same challenges as you, but everybody fails often enough to relate. To succeed in the gym, accept failure as it is and learn to be comfortable with looking silly or not knowing specific exercises as well as you will later on. Let it be your opportunity to improve and learn a new lesson.
Stay Away from Derailers
A derailer is a term I heard in a podcast referring to people who sit within the naysayer category but are more covert in their criticism. Derailers try to push you off-track subtly by creeping doubt into your mind through questions and minor concerns. You find this in many people who say things like:
“Do you really want to go to the gym today? There are better things to do.”
“Do you really see yourself really it to the end?”
“I don’t see how this is worth it.”
“What if something goes wrong?”
“Isn’t all this quite expensive? How do you have time for all this?”
They tend to be friends, family or colleagues who secretly envy what you’re doing and want you to stop.
Humans are inherently selfish. And in efforts to defuse a threat that might harm their integrity, people sometimes enact behaviours to stop people from making progress.
Eudaimonia is the ancient Greek word for happiness, wellbeing and prosperity. And it also means negativity has no place in your life. So, block it where you can. This will keep you on track for your goals in life.
Getting comfortable in the gym is about creating the right plan for you. But it’s also about building the right mindset and environment that gets the most of you each day too.
Create a clear process goal with an end goal in mind.
Work on your growth mindset.
Embrace failure as a lesson.
Put yourself in the right environment.
Avoid derailers and naysayers.
Go at your own pace.