Why First Workouts are so Damn Scary

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


Those First Workout Fears

Since my husband had knee surgery last April, 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 this June. About a month ago, he decided it was time to take advantage of one of the several event-specific classes being offered by a number of the sponsoring trainers. As we talked over his possibilities, I steered him toward one in particular.

Me: “You know, I’ve met and worked out with a bunch of these guys and I think you’ll get a lot out of  this one. He’s so supportive, one of the nicest people I know. But he’s also a beast: former Marine, boxer, amazing runner, past winner. 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 training for this thing. I’m afraid I’m not in good enough shape. I don’t want to be the old, slow guy.”

Me: “Are you kidding? [gently scoffing] 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 to me afterward: I was right about the trainer, the group was a mix of abilities and types, and he was better at some things, worse at others. But, overall, he enjoyed everything (well, maybe not the push-up ladder or burpees). Over the next few weeks, he was sometimes frustrated or ecstatic but most often, happy and worn out by the workout.

And then, last Saturday, 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.

3 Common 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 how 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.

Here's that Pikes Peak class at our first workout. There's everyone from an Olympic swimmer to fun runners. Lots of different backgrounds, one common interest.
First trail run training group, 2005 Pikes Peak class, at our first workout. Different backgrounds, from Olympic swimmer to fun runner. One common interest.

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 else 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).

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.

In 2005, I joined my first training group for a trail event, the Pikes Peak marathon. First ultra, first trail running group. Those were some badass workouts; these became some of my best friends.
That 2005 Pikes Peak training group at the marathon start line. First ultra, first trail running group=uncharted workout territory. Those were badass workouts; these people became some of my best friends.

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.

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.

3. I’m too out of shape.

This one 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 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.

If I'd listened to my inner harpy, I'd never have taken on a triathlon. This photo is of one of my first; I'm sure if you'd told me that day I'd  complete an Ironman in the future, I'd have laughed.
If I’d listened to my inner harpy, I’d never have taken on a triathlon. This was at one of my first; if you’d told me I’d complete an Ironman one day, I’m sure I’d have laughed.

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. He was wonderful and supportive, knowledgeable and challenging, so I forgot to think about what I looked like, who did better, and whether I was “right” for this training group. 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.

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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