Josh White, a personal trainer and owner of Alchemy Fitness in Calgary, Alberta, says that going to the gym improves your self-confidence and makes you feel empowered. (Chronicle Images)

Making the gym an enjoyable experience can help anybody progress both physically and mentally.

The gym is a safe space for a lot of people — a place to build confidence and emotional strength, not just muscle. There are plenty of physical and mental benefits that come from going to the gym, but that doesn’t make it easy. In order to reap the greatest rewards that gyms offer, it is important to make it more than a leisure activity.

Josh White, a personal trainer and owner of Alchemy Fitness in Calgary, Alberta, said, “You know that what you do in the gym is going to benefit you outside of the gym. It’s going to improve your self confidence, and make you feel empowered.”

Go for yourself, not for others

If you’re going to go the gym, make it a personal experience. Separate yourself from others so that you are going for your own well being, not for any type of positive or negative personal spotlight.

It is easy to get into the groove of comparing yourself to others. It’s also easy to think that other people are watching how much weight you are lifting or the pace you are running at. Get yourself out of that mindset. Chances are, no one is watching if you are setting the weight on your machine higher or lower than the person who used it before you. Get into your own zone and do things for yourself.

“Every workout has to start with a good warmup,” White said. “Turn your phone on airplane mode so you have no distractions. Get a good sweat going, follow a plan, get some good tunes, stay focused and you’re going to have a successful day at the gym.”

There are many ways to separate yourself by getting into your own zone, including listening to a workout music playlist, setting goals and having a routine. Use these guidelines to create your own personal space that is separated from those around you.

Set goals

Set goals and make plans. You’ve probably heard this before, but not only do goals help with motivation, they help give a sense of accomplishment when reached. It’s a lot more rewarding working towards something rather than aimlessly putting in the work. Make your goals realistic but not too easily attainable. It’s okay to come up short sometimes, especially if it means you’re progressing.

Goals should reflect where you would like to go and your willingness to put in the effort. When you reach your goals, set new, higher goals. Let achieving a goal mark the end of a chapter, not your whole journey. Once achieved, set new goals and continue to push yourself.

“You can’t be going in without knowing what you’re needing to do,” White said. “Your fitness is a personal investment in yourself.”

Josh White helps a client with his form during an open workout. (Nikki Robinson/Chronicle Images)

The gym is not a social gathering

Going to the gym with a friend can be great, especially when it comes to keeping one another motivated. Proceed with caution, however. When a gym buddy becomes your crutch, you’re gym attendance will falter whenever your friend can’t come. Be comfortable going to the gym alone.

To the guys: girls generally don’t want to be approached by you at the gym, especially if you’re a stranger. Guys are a lot more comfortable with the sweaty gym look than girls are, and most girls don’t want to have a conversation while they are sweating and short of breath. In most cases, avoiding social interaction with strangers while at the gym is the smart thing to do, especially if your motive is to find a date. This is not Tinder, Bumble or Mutual — it is the gym.

Stop, read the last paragraph again, soak it in, then proceed.

Make a routine

It can feel pretty uncomfortable to walk through the gym doors with no idea of what you’re going to do. Make a routine for yourself so you know what exercises you’re going to do, how many sets of the exercises you’re going to do and at what weight. Routines help keep things organized and a good routine will help you focus on all your muscle groups rather than just a few.

“If you go in knowing what you’re going to do, not only does it make it easier to time out your schedule, but it also gives you a genuine purpose in being there that goes beyond social interaction or anything,” second-year graduate student Alex Saunders said.

Focussing on all of your muscle groups is key. No one wants to hear that they look like they skipped leg day. Working different muscles each day not only allows you to build all of your muscles, it also allows muscles to have the time to heal. This is important if you plan on regular gym attendance.

You’re not going to be an expert the first time you walk into a gym. Luckily for you, there are experts there who can help you. There is nothing wrong with paying for a personal trainer, especially when you first start going to the gym. A personal trainer can teach you everything you need to know about working out effectively, and eventually you’ll know how to get the best results and won’t need the trainer anymore.

Avoid comparison

The gym should be a safe place for you. There are people that go to the gym not just for their physical health but their mental health as well. Working out is often a mechanism used to help escape anxiety and depression, but those feelings can be inflated by comparing yourself to others.

“When you step into the gym, you’re only comparing against yourself,” White said. “Everybody started somewhere. It’s not productive to start going to the gym five days a week and crushing yourself because you’re still going to be comparing. You need to focus on your mindset.”

Pay attention to yourself and your own growth at the gym. There will always be someone who can lift more weight or run faster than you, but comparing yourself to others won’t help you achieve your own goals.

Going to the gym can be daunting, especially if you are new to the world of working out. By going to the gym for yourself, having a routine, setting goals and avoiding comparison, you can make the gym a safe space for yourself.

“It’s not about how you look, it’s not about how long you’re there and it’s definitely not about comparing yourself to others,” Saunders said. “Going to the gym is about fitness — it’s about feeling good about yourself.”

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