How to Be More Confident in the Weight Room, Dance Class, and More

How to get over gym angst

From workout newbies to seasoned HIIT fiends, we’ve all experienced gym anxiety at some point. The downside: That self-consciousness can make it difficult to stray from go-to workouts and machines and ultimately limits results. “If people haven’t been able to do certain exercises in the past, they often talk themselves out of trying them again before they even have a chance to be successful,” says Michelle Lewis, LCSW, owner and director of Salt Lake Weight Counseling in Salt Lake City. “We go into self-sabotage mode,” like skipping weights because you dropped the barbell that one time or steering clear of the “dreadmill” because you once face-planted. Worry no more! Here, experts offer confidence-boosting tricks to nix your top gym fears.

The fear: “I’m afraid I’ll look like a fool when I use the weights and machines”

Tons of people are at a total loss when it comes to navigating the weight room, but it doesn’t have to be a nerve-racking ordeal. First, ask a trainer for pointers. “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed,” says Carlos Davila, a trainer at The Fhitting Room in New York City. “And trainers are part of what you’re paying for at the gym, so ask them any questions you have about your form or how to use equipment.” And, he says, if you’re feeling shy, check out the instructions and illustrations that come on many weight machines. They often include suggestions for moves if you need ideas. When all else fails, it’s totally OK to Google “how to do a deadlift,” too.

As for choosing between free weights and machines, start with dumbbells. They’re more adaptable for weight-lifting beginners, and it’s easy to move up and down in weight, notes Davila. Just err on the side of too-light weight. “You can always grab a heavier weight, but if you start too heavy, you risk injury, and psychologically it’s a bummer to have to go down in weight during your workout,” says Davila. You’ll know your weight is too light if you can maintain proper form for the full set and it still feels relatively easy.

The fear: “I won’t be able to keep up or follow the moves in a dance class”

Dance classes can be challenging for the mind and body as you try to learn choreography, but “once you get the hang of it and shed your insecurity, it’s the most fun workout,” says Sadie Kurzban, a dance instructor and the founder of 305 Fitness, a dance cardio studio in New York City, Boston, and Washington, D.C. Until the moves become second nature, there are ways to make the process easier. “Focus on the footwork and get that down before you add the arm movements,” advises Kurzban. “It’s difficult to coordinate the upper body and the lower body at the same time with the music.”

Remember: The more consistently you go, the more quickly you’ll progress, since many classes repeat routines. Also, try picking a class time that’s off-peak (as in, not 6 p.m. on a weeknight) so the instructor can give you more attention. If you’re still feeling self-conscious, bring a partner. “If you have a friend you feel good with and can laugh with, that always makes it fun,” says Kurzban.

The fear: “I’m going to fall flat on my face on the treadmill”

Hey, it’s a legitimate concern—belt burn is no joke. “Tripping happens when you don’t pick up your feet enough,” says Hollis Tuttle, a trainer at New York City’s Mile High Run Club. Take this advice: “Pretend you’re running on hot sand and you want to get to the water—lift your knees so your feet barely touch the tread as you run. Keep your core strong and your feet light and quick,” says Tuttle.

Another must: Take advantage of the “stop” safety feature on treadmills—you know, that little clip you connect to your shirt with a cord that’s attached to the machine with a magnet. If you fall, the clip will come with you and pull off the magnet, which signals the tread to stop automatically. It’s also important to check that your shoes are tied and your playlist is set up before you start so you’re not distracted. Have a blunder? Flag down a trainer for help.

The fear: “I don’t have a specific gym workout, so I’ll just end up wandering around”

In the age of social media, a get-fit routine is only an Instagram or YouTube feed away. “Take your time finding and following two or three instructors who resonate with you,” suggests Tuttle. “You almost have the benefit of a trainer without the costs or time restrictions.” Just be sure your fit pro’s credentials check out. Some we follow on Instagram: @kayla_itsines, @eakinwale, @fitnessblender, @msjeanettejenkins, and @soheefit.

Free apps like Nike+ Training Club and Adidas All Day can pull together programs for you, too. Or go the old-school route and ask for a trainer consultation. Many gyms offer a first session for free, notes Lewis, and it’s an easy way to learn some basics. Group classes are also great for picking up new moves.

The fear: “Everyone else is better than I am”

Truth be told, most gym-goers are more concerned with their own workout than with what you’re doing. Still, not every gym environment is right for every person, says Davila, who recommends considering everything from the music to the communication style at a potential facility. “All those things go a long way toward making you feel comfortable,” he says.

And if you’re not as strong as you’d like to be yet, says Lewis, remember: Physical benefits come with time, but the mental and emotional perks of exercise happen right away. “If a workout class is really tough for you, it teaches you humility, compassion, and camaraderie. It also teaches you a lot about yourself, like, ‘What am I really made of?’ ” says Alonzo Wilson, founder and director of training at Tone House in New York City. “And the thing people don’t realize is, you’re made of all the right stuff. You just have to go out and do it.”

Remember: Gym fails happen!

Health editors confess their most embarrassing gym moments.

“While trying to get on the bike for my first spin class, I fell off the pedals and slammed my crotch onto the seat. I thought I’d caused irreparable damage but somehow survived.” —Lisa DeSantis, assistant beauty editor

“On my first day at a new gym, I got too excited to test the facilities and almost walked into the men’s locker room—before an employee stopped me.” —Julia Naftulin, assistant editor, Health.com

“I’d been doing barre for a month when an instructor called me out for poor form and asked if it was my first time. I pretended I was a new student for the rest of class.” —Kathleen Mulpeter, senior editor, Health.com