Walking into a fitness facility for the first time can be scary even for seasoned exercisers.
Strange equipment, new classes and pushy instructors challenge motivation and make it less likely you’ll keep up with a new routine. In fact, more than half of new exercisers quit within three to six months, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
Avoid becoming a statistic by taking a proactive approach to these seven common fitness fears:
1. I'll get hurt. Unless you are taking foolish risks, you have a greater chance of injury from shoveling snow or raking leaves than of injuring yourself at the gym, says Guy Andrews, executive director of Exercise ETC, a fitness education program provider in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“However, keep in mind that no matter how young you feel, your body is going to react differently than when you were 25," he adds.
You need to be realistic and honest with yourself. If you wonder whether or not you can (or should) do something, says Andrews, the answer is, "no, you shouldn’t."
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Follow these four tips to help yourself stay injury-free:
- If it hurts or feels uncomfortable, stop
- Avoid getting caught up in the moment or in group exercise peer pressure
- Don’t compare yourself to younger exercisers; listen to your own body
- If you hire a trainer, consider a mature one who can relate to you
2. I'm afraid of being weighed and having my body fat taken. Stepping on a scale or being subjected to pinches with a set of body fat calipers does little for morale.
Just say no. “You’re paying them, so you are the boss. Body fat measuring can be intimidating, unreliable and, in some cases, cruel. A good trainer knows this,” says Andrews. He recommends tracking your results by observing how your clothes fit.
(MORE: 7 Big Myths About Body Fat)
As for a weigh-in, if you’re uncomfortable stepping on a scale in front of someone else, tell your trainer you’ll track your weight on your own.
3. I won't be able to stick with it. If you have this concern, you’re not alone, says Irv Rubenstein, Ph.D., exercise physiologist and founder of S.T.E.P.S., a science-based fitness facility in Nashville, Tenn. “The number one reason people drop out is they are overscheduled,” Rubenstein says.
Instead of trying to set aside five hours a week, Rubenstein recommends making 20 or 30 minutes of structured exercise three times a week, and a 10 or 15 minute walk on the other days.
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If you’re running late on exercise days, go anyway even if you’re only at the gym for 10 minutes. "The important thing is develop the habit,” Rubenstein says.
4. I'll be embarrassed because I can't keep up. Trying to learn new moves in your group exercise class or standing in the middle of the free weight room without a clue about how to get started can be embarrassing — but it shouldn’t be, says Rubenstein.
“Gyms should feel embarrassed if they can't make new people feel confident and comfortable exercising,” he says.
If it’s been awhile since you last exercised or you’re embarking on a new activity, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to keep up with the regulars. Try these tips to ease yourself into a new exercise setting:
- Ask the facility to provide a guided tour and orientation
- Speak with the instructor beforehand to let him/her know you're unfamiliar with this particular class
- Hire a trainer to orient and guide your first few weeks' workouts (many gyms offer free sessions when you join)
5. I'll gain weight from increased muscle mass. There are many benefits of resistance training after 50, including increased strength and endurance as well as reduced risk of osteoporosis. Weight gain from increased muscle mass is unlikely, especially after 50, says Rubenstein.
“Since most exercise classes include a substantial portion of cardio, and generally use light dumbbells for the strength part, the likelihood is very small that hypertrophy (muscle growth) will result,” he says.
Muscle growth entails a structured resistance training routine of fairly heavy weights, multiple sets and a genetic predisposition to build muscle.
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6. My gym doesn't offer beginner classes. If a class sounds interesting but is too advanced for where you are at the moment, find a trainer or instructor to teach you the basic moves before joining it, says Rubenstein.
If the class involves weight lifting, for instance, allow three to four weeks of supervised lifting to get the muscles and tendons accustomed to resistance before joining the class. If it's a specialized class, especially one that moves to music such as Zumba, engage the services of the instructor for a couple of private sessions.
7. I'm too weak. Acknowledge your own starting point and avoid getting defeated before you even try.
“If you’re just starting out, learn gradually and at your own pace,” says Rubenstein. “Explain to the instructor before class that you are new and maybe not in shape for the class. Stay in the back and prepare to leave after 15 to 20 minutes.”
Telling the instructor in advance avoids casting a negative impression if you leave early. You can build up little by little until you’re ready for a full class.