Overcoming Gym Intimidation and How to Begin Your Lifting Journey at Surrey University By Jolena Scholz

Gym intimidation can be described as a feeling of anxiety or nervousness caused by a variety of factors, be that a fear of open spaces within the gym, complicated or confusing machinery, or the overwhelming need to compare yourself to others whilst training. As an online fitness account, the most common messages I receive, predominately from women, is that they have the motivation to grow and begin lifting weights however they are unsure about how to confidently navigate the gym, particularly when more experienced gym goers are pressuring them to complete sets or to workout efficiently. These types of messages are the ones I find the most hard hitting. Everyone deserves the right to learn at their own pace and work on themselves, self-improvement should never only be granted to those who have the confidence to pursue it.

"Everyone deserves the right to learn at their own pace and work on themselves, self-improvement should never only be granted to those who have the confidence to pursue it."

I myself am not exempt from feeling anxious when in a gym. At the beginning of my fitness journey I was guilty of cutting my sessions short because I felt overcome by feelings of inadequacy and constantly worried that I would look inexperienced trying to figure out equipment or perform certain exercises. As a result, I’ve compiled a list of things which may be comforting to any gym ‘newbies’ who have the motivation but struggle to commit to their developing passion for lifting due to gym intimidation.

The best piece of advice I can give is that, as cliché as it may sound, everyone is in the gym for the same reason. When you’re able to look past exterior appearances, you can see that everyone shares the same desire for self-improvement and growth. Nobody is more or less worthy of using the gym, at the end of the day it is a public space and you’re all paying customers who have the equal right to be there and share that space.

My second piece of advice would be to educate yourself. If you’re still unsure of how to use the equipment after an induction then nobody will think less of you if you reach out to members of staff and ask. If the thought of asking a fellow member to show you how to perform an exercise, or even how to adjust a bench or squat rack makes you panic then I encourage you to train with a more knowledgeable and trustworthy friend. Alternatively, potentially investing in a handful of personal training sessions (or even just the one) to show you the ropes in order to avoid injury and reduce your anxieties is never a bad idea. Staff are always there to help you and the last thing they want is to see anyone feeling lost or performing exercises in a way which could hinder your progress or result in long term damage to your body.

My last piece of advice is always to work on mindfulness. A positive mindset upon entering the gym will make your session much more enjoyable, you can take my word for it. You ARE enough and you ARE worthy of using that space to improve both your physical and mental health. Something that personally helps me to feel confident in the gym is some comfortable, flattering gym-wear (a little overrated in the opinion of some but to me an outfit that makes me look good also makes me feel great whilst working out) and a great playlist to blast through my headphones. Play those songs which make you feel like a boss and go and smash your session. A big pair of headphones can also act as a deterrent and save us women from being approached unwantedly in the gym, saving you from some awkward ‘thanks, but no thanks’ scenarios in the gym.

Whether you’re a fresher starting at Surrey or a regular gym goer, I hope these general tips are useful to you. If you’re moving to Surrey and are looking to join a new gym in Guildford then hopefully I can impart some wisdom in that area too.

When it comes to having the motivation to train regularly it is super important for me personally that the gym I use is in a convenient location. For example in my first year at the university, Surrey Sports Park (SSP) was a two minute walk across a field from my halls on Manor Park. I decided to spend my first year of university training there and purchased one of their ‘Silver’ membership packages which included access to the gym and fitness classes at the park. Their more limited ‘Bronze’ packages also gave you access to the gym but at restricted hours (at least this was the case for me when I joined, it may be slightly different this year) and this simply didn’t work around my schedule as I’m an inherent night owl and like to train as late as possible. As for their ‘Gold’ memberships which grant you full access to classes, the gym, the swimming pool, the squash courts etc, they weren’t of particular interest to me as a bit of a one trick pony when it comes to keeping fit but are great for those who prefer variation in their workouts.

The only two drawbacks to the Sports Park in my opinion were that space was often very busy, however this can be expected from a student town. The second more negative aspect being that the membership packages the park offers must be paid in a lump sum upfront which can be a little overwhelming and seem expensive as a first year student. However, if mentally broken down monthly the price is very manageable so you just need to budget a little, think of it as practise for the student lifestyle!

All in all I was very impressed by the Surrey Sports Park gym during the time in which I was a member; the staff were always lovely, they had a borrowing system in place for anyone who doesn’t own their own barbell pads, chalk or lifting accessories and I was refunded the remainder of the year when gyms closed due to COVID.

This year my house is very close to ‘The Gym’ in town which has many benefits for me including a monthly membership payment system, 24/7 access and a larger variety of equipment - however again it comes down to convenience and safety. Make sure if you’re walking a little further to ‘The Gym’ that you can get home safely, particularly if you enjoy training late at night such as myself (safety first, always!).

Whilst I have only trained there once to test the waters it looks super promising, lots of equipment and space to train in, a quiet second floor area and lockers and changing rooms close by unlike SSP where you keep your personal items on another floor and can only take a small drawstring bag into the actual gym with you. No matter what you’re looking for, there is a gym at Surrey that will be suited to your needs!

To any freshers who have stumbled across this article, welcome to Surrey University! We are so excited to have you and can’t wait to see what you achieve here. If you want some more advice on gym life in Surrey, gym intimidation or any of the topics discussed in this article don’t hesitate to drop me a DM on Instagram, my handle is _jolenascholz_fit. I’m always happy to give any advice over on there or support those of you who also have fitness based accounts!


Created with an image by Sven Mieke