May 29, 2000 -- If you're a woman who feels intimidated or uncomfortable about working out in a gym, put yourself at ease with the following strategies, recommended by Chicago trainer CC Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise.
- If you have a flexible schedule, work out when the gym is least crowded. "The front-desk staff can give you a profile of the crowds that come in at different times," Cunningham says. "You might find there's a time when the older set comes in, and you can avoid the after-work cruising crowd."
- Wear the same workout clothes that you'd wear at home so you don't end up fussing about how you look. "Don't try to compete with the genetically gifted individuals in matching jog bras and skin shorts," Cunningham says. Besides, most people are paying a lot less attention to you than you think. "The beautiful people are usually looking at their reflection in the mirror," she says.
- Wear radio headphones. "That's a way to create your own little world," Cunningham says. "And it makes it less likely that someone will approach you."
- Go to the club with a friend. Your workout partner will provide moral support.
- Take a group exercise class. "Choose a class that suits your personality, like boxing if you're more aggressive and yoga if you're more mellow," Cunningham says. "You're likely to find people in those classes who are more like you." Besides, in most classes, women far outnumber men.
- Take your club's orientation so that you're familiar with the layout and the equipment. Taking two or three personal training sessions can help, too. "That awkwardness that comes from not knowing how to use the machines can make you feel more self-conscious," Cunningham says. "If you feel like you're the only one who doesn't know how to turn the treadmill on, other people start to seem larger-than-life and they become so much more of an obstacle."
Suzanne Schlosberg is the co-author of Fitness for Dummies, second edition, (IDG Books Worldwide, 2000) and author of the Ultimate Workout Log, second edition, (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) and a freelance writer in Santa Monica, Calif.