Vote in This Week's Poll: Have you ever been too embarrassed to join a gym?

The gym can be a sweaty, alien, sometimes intimidating place. Sprawling rooms full of half-dressed people lifting, sweating, pounding away to nowhere and, to the new exerciser, all looking as though they were born with the knowledge of how to do all of these things.

For a newbie to walk into a gym, much less join one, is an act of courage. There's the navigation factor as one surveys the strange mix of machines, pulleys, weights, balls and more. And for anyone overweight or obese, there are worries about people staring at them or whether they'll be able to fit into one-size-fits-all machines. In fact, I can't count how many clients I've had who hire me because they're too 'out of shape' to join a gym.

Even experienced exercisers may get sweaty palms walking into a new gym and it can be hard to overcome those fears enough to take the plunge, but there are a few tips that may help if you're struggling with this issue: Go with a friend - It's always easier to do something with support available. Find someone to go with you your first time, even if they have no interest in joining. A promise of a free meal may do the trick. Listen to music - It may seem silly, but listening to your favorite tunes can be soothing as you tackle your first workout and wearing headphones is almost like creating a private force field around yourself, making you feel a bit less conspicuous. Get the free orientation - Take advantage of the free orientation many gyms offer. A trainer will show you around, give you tips on how to use the different machines and help you figure out where things are. Hire a trainer - If you have no idea what you're doing, a personal trainer can be just the support you need to feel more comfortable about your workouts. Workout at home - You don't have to join a gym to get a great workout, so don't be afraid to explore home workouts if the gym doesn't work for you.

What about you? Have you ever been too intimidated or embarrassed to join a gym? Did you overcome it and, if so, how? What tips do you have for self-conscious gym-goers? Tell us about your gym experiences.

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