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Gymtimidation Is Real, Here’s How to Overcome It

For many people, one of the biggest hurdles they’ll face on their fitness journey is actually stepping foot in a gym. Researchers have even studied this phenomenon. “We found that people who didn’t feel they were good at exercise or who were afraid of others seeing them exercise were more likely to avoid the gym,” says Cheri A. Levinson, PhD, whose 2013 study examined fear and anxiety related to social exercise.

The good news is that there are ways to manage that intimidation and start to feel comfortable at the gym. Follow these expert steps to make the gym a place where you feel like you belong (because you do).

1. DON’T OVERTHINK IT

Our insecurities come from caring too much about what others think of us. “People see themselves as too awkward, too weak, too skinny, too fat and too inexperienced, to name a few,” says Kevin Swan, a personal trainer at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers in New York City. “So they think everyone will be watching them and laughing at them, and that’s just too scary a thought” to enter the gym.

But don’t let your thoughts rule your life and keep you from trying new things. Realize that everyone has a weakness — not just you. “You go to work on making yourself better and continuing to improve once you do,” Swan says.

As for what everyone else is thinking, they most likely aren’t thinking about you because they’re too busy focusing on their own issues. “Nobody cares where you’re starting from or what you can and can’t do,” Swan says. “Get out of your head and stop overthinking things.”

2. FIND YOUR BEST GYM

Before you even consider joining a gym, do some research. “Figure out what route you want to take — strength training, running, boxing, etc.,” says Sal Butler, an Equinox Tier X coach. Read online reviews, and talk to friends, family or co-workers to figure out what features appeal to you.

Before landing on a specific gym, take a tour or request a day pass so you can get a feel for the place, people and overall layout. “If you don’t like the style, people or vibe you get when you walk in the door, you won’t feel comfortable working out there,” says Josh Fly, fitness director at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers.

3. PICK THE RIGHT PROGRAM

If you’re not used to the gym, haven’t really lifted weights or don’t know the first thing about the machines, the entire experience may seem foreign. The list of questions we have about getting in shape and navigating the gym seems endless when you’re starting out. “And once we get in our minds that there’s so much to learn, it often seems too intimidating to even start,” Swan says. This is when a trainer, friend or group environment come into play. Here are three options for getting started:

  • Hire a trainer. “A trainer provides you with three things that are a critical part of any successful exercise program: knowledge, encouragement and accountability,” Swan says. When you have a trainer, he or she will help you with form and map out a plan to efficiently and effectively toward your goals. Also, your trainer will  hold you accountable, which means you’ll be more consistent with your efforts.
  • Go with a friend. A friend can provide support and accountability like a trainer. Just be sure to pick the right friend. You want someone who will help you achieve your goals, rather than someone who will only focus on themselves or, worse, try to get you to go after their goals, too.
  • Attend group classes. Classes offer several benefits: You often aren’t the only new person so you can feel more at ease. You can meet new people who share a similar mindset. You’ll have a instructor cheering you on — and you may find the playlist makes it more fun.

4. SEEK HELP

If you’re still anxious and it’s causing you distress, you may want to see someone. “It’s a pretty common fear, and one that can be helped,” Levinson says. She recommends looking for a psychologist or therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy  or who uses exposure therapy. Explain that you have fears around exercise, and ask whether he or she has experience helping others in your situation.

Using exposure therapy, you’ll slowly work through your fears. You may begin by driving to the gym and simply going home, then going to the gym in workout clothes and walking around but not exercising. Finally you might go and run on a treadmill or lift weights, Levinson explains. “You’ll see progress in three or four sessions,” she says.

Once you realize that you’re not alone in this and start going regularly, you’ll likely find that you can’t imagine not going to the gym. Go ahead and give it a try!


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The Sandwich Walker: One Man’s 100-Pound “Active Helping” Quest

Ben Pobjoy doesn’t look back fondly on his 20s. Today, he calls them a “decade of destruction” that led him down a road of inactivity and poor eating. By the time he was 32, he was 100 pounds overweight, tired and unhappy with his lifestyle.

“I was the poster boy for being out of shape,” he says. “I couldn’t even walk up the stairs
without getting really out of breath.”

When he moved to Toronto in 2014 to start a new job with an advertising agency, he had an unpleasant epiphany: He was the unhealthy, overweight guy in the office.

“As soon as I showed up and I was surrounded with all of these healthy colleagues, I was faced with [a] stark contrast,” he says. “It was the last little kick in the butt I needed to make a change.”

The question was, how?

Two years ago, he heard Joe Rogan’s interview with biomechanist Katy Bowman, who encouraged listeners to simply get out and move — more specifically, to walk. So Pobjoy laced up his sneakers and started putting one foot in front of the other — first the couple of miles to and from work and soon to dinner, to run errands and to make social calls.

While he’d made plenty of half-hearted attempts to join gyms and start various fitness
programs over the years, he found that walking was something to which he could actually stick.

“Since I had failed so many times,” he explains, “I wanted to choose something that was very slow and sustainable.”


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In addition to tracking his walks — which eventually hit more than 60 miles a week — he began to use MyFitnessPal to get a better grip on his eating and the types of nutrients he took in each day. He’d long been what he calls a “French fries and potato chips” vegan, so tracking his nutrition and seeing what he was actually putting in his body helped motivate him to clean up his diet.

Soon, the weight began to fall off. But his biggest motivator to continue walking had nothing to do with health and fitness. Rather, it was as he puts it, “about converting physical movement to social movement.”

On a business trip in August 2015, Pobjoy took a walk through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an area of the city that is known for poverty, homelessness and crime.

“The drugs, the garbage everywhere, it was so depressing and unfathomable to me that this could exist in such an affluent city,” he says.

The next day, he bought supplies to make peanut butter sandwiches, and, soon after, he hit the street and began handing them out to those in need. That, he says, was his light-bulb moment.

“I realized that exercise is quite a selfish thing, and the irony wasn’t lost on me that I was blazing through a pair of shoes each month while passing people who didn’t have shoes,” he remembers. “I thought that there must be something I could do.”

For the remainder of that year, Pobjoy brought sandwiches with him everywhere he walked. By the end of 2015, he had walked 3,600 miles and handed out a whopping 1,000 sandwiches. Last year, he walked thousands more miles and added in boxing and swimming. All told, he dropped 100 pounds.

In addition to handing out sandwiches, he started fundraising via ultra-long walking challenges. Last summer, he completed an 85-kilometer walk in Tokyo to raise money for cats and dogs left behind in the evacuation zone after the disastrous 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In September, he walked 77 miles from Toronto to Buffalo, New York, to raise money for a transitional housing program for LGBT youth.

He hopes the next chapter of his unique brand of “active helping” will include fundraising walks on all seven continents. In the meantime, he hopes his story will inspire others who might be struggling with achieving a healthy lifestyle.

“I never would have imagined what getting healthy would give me,” he says. “Most people aren’t aware how quickly they can transform their lives and work towards a better self. But more than feeling strong and healthy, it’s given me the chance to increase my empathy and reconnect with my humanity.”

Do you or a loved one have a personal Success Story you’d like to share? Let us know on our Facebook page, hit us up on Twitter or tag #MyFitnessPal on your Instagram posts. We’d love to feature it in a future blog post!

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White Bean Turkey Chili

White Bean Turkey Chili

Crowd-pleasing white bean chili from Cooking Light calls for canned beans and chicken broth, making prep convenient. Pureeing the bean mixture makes the soup thicker giving it more body. Cannelini beans will work in a pinch if you cannot find Great Northern beans.

This recipe is part of our 30 Healthy Log It Now Recipes e-cookbook!
Download your free copy here.

White Bean Turkey Chili

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 cups diced yellow onion (about 2 medium)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 (15.8-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained (certified gluten-free if necessary)
  • 4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups chopped cooked turkey
  • 1/2 cup diced seeded plum tomato (about 1)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 lime wedges (optional)

Directions

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 10 minutes or until tender and golden. Add chili powder, garlic, and cumin; sauté for 2 minutes. Add oregano and beans; cook for 30 seconds. Add broth; bring to a simmer. Cook 20 minutes.

Place 2 cups of bean mixture in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Return pureed mixture to pan. Add turkey, and cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat. Add diced tomato, chopped cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper, stirring well. Garnish with lime wedges, if desired.

Nutrition Information

Serves: 8  |  Serving Size: 1 cup

Per serving: Calories: 281; Total Fat: 5g; Saturated Fat: 1g; Monounsaturated Fat: 2g; Cholesterol: 40mg; Sodium: 623mg; Carbohydrate: 34g; Dietary Fiber: 8g; Sugar: 3g; Protein: 26g

Nutrition Bonus: Potassium: 602mg; Iron: 22%; Vitamin A: 10%; Vitamin C: 12%; Calcium: 12% 

Cooking Light Diet

Find more low-calorie dinner meals like this from the new Cooking Light Diet, where you can lose weight without giving up the foods you love. Learn more at CookingLightDiet.com. Follow Cooking Light on Facebook for more daily recipe inspiration.

Follow Cooking Light on Facebook for daily recipe inspiration.

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Ways to Work Out for Free

MyFitnessPal and Ally have teamed up because they both recognize the connection between finances and physical fitness and the important roles they each have on personal well-being.

Under Armour and its affiliates and employees disclaim any responsibility for errors or any consequences arising from the use of this information. All medical information should be reviewed with a health-care provider. For more information, please review the Under Armour Terms and Conditions of Use – Physical Activities.

In theory, staying fit without having to shell out for a pricey gym membership is entirely possible. But actually finding free ways to work out can be a daunting task. To make getting your sweat on a little easier and a lot cheaper, we’ve rounded up the best ways to work out without spending a dime. Your wallet and well-toned butt will thank you.


At Ally, we don’t just care about your finances — we care about you. That’s why we’ve dug deeper into what it means to be financially fit. Just like physical fitness, there are different ways to be financially fit. Your training program depends on what you want to accomplish, and you should approach your financial routine the same way. Find out what kind of financially fit you are with our financial fitness quiz.


1. GET SOME FRESH AIR

The easiest way to get a gratis sweat session is by using your body’s natural ability to run or walk. Go for a jog around your neighborhood or hit your local track for an anywhere, anytime workout. If you’re not already a runner, download a free couch-to-5K plan, and let the training begin.

2. BECOME A STAIR MASTER

If pounding the pavement isn’t your thing, you can still get in some free cardio. Look for staircases in public parks or, if you live in a city, use the stairs in your apartment or office building to get in some Rocky-worthy training — running stairs for 30 minutes will torch over 400 calories.

3. HIT THE TRAILS

Once you get used to working out in the great outdoors, up the ante by checking out local hiking trails. Not only will you burn some serious calories, spending time in nature can also be beneficial to your overall health and wellness. Find all the best parks and insider spots in your area at AllTrails.com.

4. DIVE IN

In the sweltering summer months, take advantage of public pools and beaches — some municipal areas offer free access so you can cool off and tone up in the lap pool. A novice to swimming for exercise? Find a whole library of free swim workouts from Swimming World magazine to inspire your inner Michael Phelps.

5. TURN YOUR HOME INTO A GYM

Little-known fact: Everyday items make great gym equipment. So if you’re looking for free ways to strength train, look no further than your own home. Grab a couple of one-liter wine or water bottles to serve as a set of dumbbells, hold on to a kitchen chair to do tricep dips or squats and use the wall to do some quad-blasting wall sits.

6. GO DIGITAL

The internet is full of free workout content. Start with YouTube, which offers hundreds of channels of free fitness content including yoga, Pilates, HIIT and more. You can also find free fitness guides from celeb trainers, or get workout ideas from the MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun blogs. Consider the web your complimentary personal trainer.

7. GET APP-SAVVY

Just like the web, there are tons of mobile apps specifically geared toward free fitness routines. If you’re in search of a good cardio motivator, try Spotify Running to hit your stride. If Pilates is your thing, download Cassey Ho’s Blogilates. And if you’re constantly on the go, try Fitnet, which offers a variety of mini workouts you can do on the run.

8. MAKE THE MOST OF FREE TRIALS

If you prefer an in-person experience, become a gym sampler. Most gyms offer free trials for potential new members that range from a day pass to a week of free membership or class access. Shop around the gyms in your area, and you can rack up a solid calendar of free workout days — just make sure to cancel any free trials before the charges kick in.

Written by Macaela Mackenzie, a writer based in New York City with a passion for all things active. To see Macaela’s latest work, visit macaelamackenzie.com.

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