Whenever I go to a gym to train I get really nervous because I feel as though people are looking at me or that they think I look stupid. It just really makes me not want to go to the gym at all and I lose motivation, any pointers?
I'll be honest. When I am working out at the gym I do look around at other people doing their workouts. I mentally-applaud the new people I haven't seen before, especially if there is someone who is just starting what is obviously 5x5 or Starting Strength programs. I also mentally-cuss those who are ego lifting (or generally being annoying/disrespectful) or doing dangerous exercises.
The reality of it is that nearly-everyone at the gym started at one point like you. They all started with the bar and had their sticking points and failed reps. Most people will occasionally glance around between sets but don't really care what you are doing unless its dangerous.
Start by going on the cardio machines to get comfortable at the gym, in the environment and if you go regularly you will see the regulars.
After you are comfortable with being in the gym then go do machines. They are easily shared with other people and its hard to get them wrong (as long as you follow the guide on the side of the machine).
After that, add barbell movements. Most people start with bench press because everyone wants that sick upper-body. I'd suggest squats (but I'm biased).
Eventually move to mainly or completely barbell/dumbbell workouts. Pick up 5x5 Stronglifts or Starting Strength. Watch youtube for guides on how to perform lifts like low-bar squat, front squat, deadlift, clean, whatever.
Things that people will stare at you for doing:
- Crossfit WOD in a commercial gym: There isn't much space and everyone needs to share equipment. The kipping pull-ups also look odd, just go to a Crossfit box and do it there.
- Hoarding dumbbells: You aren't Gollum, take only the dumbbells you need. You don't need 5 different pairs at all times.
- Dangerous movements: Anything that involves throwing free-weights around. Using the machines how they were not intended, swinging wildly. This does not mean "dangerous" movements like behind-the-neck press, its stuff like bosu-ball-barbell-squat (apparently that's a thing).
- Ego lifting: Everyone started with lifting just the bar (except deadlift), no-one is impressed with you celebrating "achieving" a 315lb bench press for all of 2 inches of movement.
- Grunting like a gorilla: Great, you are lifting heavy weight. I can see that. I know its heavy. Making some noise on a rep to help is good and deep breathing is helpful to lifting but no-one needs to hear your every-rep-grunts as you bash out your 4th set of 20lb dumbbell curls.
- Not clearing up after yourself: Put your weights away, I don't care if your house is a mess, put your dam weights back in the storage provided.
- Getting in peoples personal space while lifting: If you get waaaay too close to me while i'm over-head pressing or (god help you) push past the bar I am lifting then you best be ready to apologise like a 10-yr old who ate all the chocolate from the jar and got caught. Just wait till they finish their set the move past.
- Stinking the place out: Sweating during exercise is common, and it a gym it's expected. However, have some self-respect and use deodorant and wear fresh gym clothes. Seeing regulars in the same, smelly, sweat-crusted gym gear every day makes me want to puke. I have reported people to management for hygiene as I genuinely felt sick and they regularly and obviously made no effort to combat it (same clothes, not wiping down machines, no deodorant).
- Spitting: If you spit, I am going to give you stink eye, tell you to clean that shit up and then report you to management as I leave. Generally, in life: spitting makes you look disrespectful, don't do it.
- Men: Wearing Skin-tight Lyrca Leggings: You NEVER look good in this, everyone will end up looking at your junk. If that is the effect you are going for then please seek mental help. If you want to wear them, stick some shorts over the top.
Things that people really don't care about:
- Reduced Range-of-movement Lifts: This is not ego-lifting but can appear as such. I noticed that a regular was doing 1/4 squats one week with a LOT more weight that he usually lifts. I asked him about it and he said it was to help with his lockout and walk-out. I tried that method to help with mine and my max squat went up and I felt stronger in lockout. Reduced ROM means you can focus on a specific part of a lift. As a newbie, you don't need to worry about this just yet though.
- The fact you are small: Everyone started somewhere with just the bar, even that massive guy. I have much more respect for people that do that I do people who don't do any exercise.
- You struggling to lift what is "low" weight: As above, struggling is part of becoming stronger.
- You sweating a lot: Sucks for you, if you are one of those people who sweats buckets during exercise. But provided you carry a towel, wear fresh clothes each time and wipe down machines you use, no one should really care. Most gyms have paper towels for you to wipe down the equipment with.
- Making some noise on maximal lifts: If I'm doing a PR or a set with burnout-reps or with drop-sets then I personally find it helps to make a small noise as I grind through a final rep. I don't do this often but it works for me. People will look at you if you start making noises and people will judge the noise you make. But as this is usually a 1-off, most don't really care.
You really are not that interesting, go to the gym, have fun, get strong.
First of all, don't care about what others think. Secondly, don't care about others think. As JJosaur has brilliantly stated, they all started at one point. So, if they are 10 years experienced in lifting or have a lot of experience in what they do, they will surely appreciate what you are doing. Contrary to what most beginners believe, experienced lifters/athletes at gym are always humble and helping. I can tell from my experience, when I begun lifting, there were always people who walked down to me to tell me what I was doing wrong, and helped me with my form and shared valuable tips. I may not be 100% correct as everyone is different the way they think, but you'd hardly meet anyone who'd laugh at you.
So, no matter if you are doing kick-boxing, weight lifting, running or whatever, just seek help if you have a complex. It's all in the mind. Go for a trainer, train, and get better everyday. That's the goal. Once you gain enough confidence, carry that attitude to other aspects of your life. The path to fitness is an amazing things. It's more of a mental struggle than physical. Once you overcome the obstacles, the rewards are quite sweet. Your way of thinking, lifestyle, confidence and many other things will change for the good. How? There's no magic to it. You have to keep doing it.