It’s a common joke, but there is an undercurrent of truth when people say, “I’m too fat to go to the gym!” Alternatively, you might hear, “I’ve got to get into shape so that I can go to the gym”. Of course that isn’t literally true; there are no weigh-ins with bouncers at the door of the local Y. But many people, particularly beginners, feel too self conscious in the midst of a gym crowded with toned, tanned gym rats.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t exercise! You should still find a way to work out comfortably, at your own pace.

Shop around. All gyms are not created equally. Ask for a tour of any gym you’re considering, or take advantage of free trial periods. While you’re there, get a feel for the environment. You are likely to feel more comfortable at some places than others.

If you’re a woman, join a women-only gym. In the absence of men, you might be surprised that you don’t feel so competitive with other women anymore.

Invite a friend. Working out with a buddy is better than working out alone, anyway. Chatting with your friend and encouraging one another will keep you from feeling conspicuous, and you’re less likely to even notice other people.

Picture everyone in their underwear. No, not literally. But the point of this old-fashioned piece of advice is to remind us that everyone has their own vulnerabilities. That woman with the long, toned legs is secretly self conscious of the stretch marks she earned during pregnancy. The man with the giant biceps feels stereotyped as a dumb jock. None of those people are actually looking at you. They’re all too worried about their own insecurities!

Don’t go to the gym. If your social anxiety about the gym is so strong that you can’t fathom going to one, then don’t torture yourself about it anymore! Remember it’s exercise that is important, not the gym. You can walk, run, ride bikes, swim, or Rollerblade outside. You can take a hike with a friend, or purchase your own stationary machine and work out at home. The important thing is that you’re taking care of your body by exercising regularly, not fitting into a stereotypical social mold.