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How to Conquer Your “First Workout Fears”

Leah Nyfeler would make a great personal trainer – she knows exactly what to say to get us pumped up and ready to hit those SoulCycle classes. Read more from Leah on her blog

How to Conquer Your "First Workout Fears"

Even though I didn’t come to exercise until an adult in my 30s with three kids, I’ve got thousands of workouts under my belt now. I’ve trained with at least eight different running coaches, I’m not sure how many swim and triathlon coaches, and let’s not even guess at how many trainers and class instructors.

That’s a lot. You’d think that, by now, I’d be pretty blasé about showing up for a new workout.


First Workout Fears

Since my husband had knee surgery, he’s been focused on getting in the best shape of his life. So he set a goal of participating in a local fitness competition. About a month ago, he decided it was time to take advantage of one of the event-specific classes offered. We talked over the training options:

Me: “You know, I’ve met and workout out with a bunch of these guys and I think you’ll get a lot out of —-. He’s so supportive, one of the nicest people I know. But he’s also a beast: Marine, former boxer, amazing runner. I’d go with him.”

Hubby: “I don’t know…I’m going to show up and it’ll be all these super fit people. I’m afraid I’m not in good enough shape. I don’t want to be the old, slow guy.”

Me: “Are you kidding? You’ve been working out with a trainer for almost a year; you’re practically at goal weight. What do you have to lose? Everybody there will be working toward the same thing. So what if you’re not the best. At least you’re there, and you’ll be way ahead of all the people who didn’t go. There’s nothing to be scared about.”

Off he went that first time, reporting back afterward: I was right about the trainer, the group was a mix of abilities, and my hubby was better at some things, worse at others. Overall, he enjoyed everything (well, maybe not the push-up ladder or burpees). Over the next weeks, he was sometimes frustrated but most often, happy and worn out by the workouts.

And then, I had the opportunity to go with him. I almost didn’t. Why? All of the usual reasons — many of which I had pooh-poohed my husband for expressing.

Common First Workout Fears

1. I won’t fit in with the group.

The  truth is, it’s hard to feel confident walking into a new group, no matter what the context. Adults anticipate the worst: humiliation. By the time you’re 50 years old, chances are good you’ve been in a social situation where someone, somehow made fun of you.

Who doesn’t immediately wonder, “Will I be the out-of-shape one? What if I can’t do X and everybody else can? Are my exercise clothes right? Will everybody already know each other and I’m alone?” Throw some physical exertion on top of that mess of insecurity, and it’s surprising that anyone ever goes to group fitness classes.

Solution: Remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you?” I have never been in a workout where I’ve thought badly about someone for showing up (much less ridiculed anyone), and I reminded myself about this. Everybody else is just as worried about being embarrassed, and no one is really paying attention to me.

2. What in the world are we going to do?

I grew up in a house where routine was prized over just about everything; I’m pretty sure Mom has not rearranged the living room furniture in 30 years, and ironing day is Tuesday.
Solution: A lot of deep, calming breaths. Yes, I’m putting myself in the hands of a professional with training–and I have the ultimate control. If there’s ever a need to stop, adjust, clarify, all I have to do is speak up. And (going back to No.1), no one else is going to care when I do. In fact, the trainer will probably appreciate that feedback rather than my agonized silence…and failure to return for subsequent classes.Of course it’s terrifying to put your body in the hands of a trainer you don’t know or yet trust. An hour and a half can feel like an eternity when you’re worried about the possibility of pain, embarrassment, escaping bodily fluids, or some combination thereof.

3. I’m too out of shape.

This is the one that beats me up every time. The ugly person who lives inside me whispers, “Don’t go. You weigh too much to put on a bathing suit right now.” Or convinces me that I am the slowest human on Earth to ever attempt to run. Or laughs at my desire to think I could box/SUP/dance/fill-in-the-blank-with-the-latest.

She is really, really unkind and very, very quick to point out any lack of ability and all my failures in physique. It’s brutal.

Solution: I don’t argue my fitness level with the inner harpy. Instead, I’ve found the best defense is some bald logic. If I don’t go work out, I am guaranteed I won’t get in better shape. And that’s the ultimate goal–to be BETTER. If I always look at a new workout as the first step in a journey toward better fitness, then how can I ever be wrong for going?


Yep–I faced my fears and went along on Saturday. Turns out, my husband and I were the only people to show up on that wet, nasty morning, and we had the trainer all to ourselves. —– was wonderful and supportive as well as knowledgeable and challenging. I forgot to think about what I looked like, who did better at what, and whether I was “right” for this training group while he pushed me to perform better. All I knew at the moment was I was having fun, lathering up a great sweat, and enjoying moving with my man.

There’s always a first time. The trick is to just suck it up and go. Because, thank goodness, there’s only one first time.

Kim Acedo

Friday 10th of July 2015

Awesome, Leah! I was a personal trainer for 15 years and I've heard it all. I have to say you're spot on! I remember hearing people say they're going to wait until they get in shape to start going to the gym. Funny thing is that I never saw them at the gym! ;) Great post, Thanks for sharing!

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