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A few years back I discovered a hidden gem for social butterflies disguised as a gym. I used to compare gyms to libraries– quiet and solitary. But it turns out my perception was off by a lot.

About two years ago I joined my first gym. I had no idea what I was supposed to do there, what ‘gym etiquette’ was, when I should (and shouldn’t) go, or any other aspects associated with the fitness community.

Since I knew nothing about fitness, I asked someone at the front desk if they had any suggestions. Their simple feedback has served me well to this very day. Here’s what they said: 

“Take time to acclimate by using a piece of cardio equipment. While you walk, look around for people using the machines and you’ll catch on. Also, if you want to meet people take your headphones out of your ears.”  

Take your headphones out? Have you ever heard of such a thing?

I spent the first few weeks watching people use the machines. Then, when I was ready to use the weight training equipment, I took my headphones out of my ears and soon enough people were talking to me. When they needed a machine, they asked. When I wanted to know what muscle they were working on, I asked. It was a fluid give and take and best of all, there was no judgment.

I was hooked. The camaraderie was incredible. I had met executives, administrators, trainers, models, and a variety of fabulous people. Perhaps the networking came so easy because people who go to the gym already have a few things in common. You have fitness goals, maybe a similar diet, and you’re both likely ambitious. These commonalities make it easier to connect and meet your personal and fitness goals.

If you want to make the gym more of a community instead of just a place, here’s what you can do: 

How To Make The Gym Work For You

////When using weight training equipment, take out your headphones

////Find reasons to talk to everyone (a great time to talk is in the locker rooms).

I’ve had many conversations started over a “selfie.” If you’ve taken a few pictures and don’t know which one to post to your social media, get an opinion from some of the people in the locker room.

Look for fitness accessories you’ve been wondering about. If someone has a Fitbit or is using a recovery ointment, it might be worth striking up a conversation to find out more about the product.

////Compliment people (notice their successes).

////Ask for help as much as you offer help. If there is something you know how to do, but think you might be able to do more efficiently, see if there’s someone you can get advice from. The same goes for someone you notice struggling, offer simple techniques that they might find beneficial to their routine. Most advice is received with open ears and usually leads to prolonged conversations.

Investing In Yourself

We spend money on memberships to professional organizations, but a gym membership can be just as beneficial. People assume a membership costs a fortune, but community gyms like D.C.’s YMCA has multiple locations and even offers financial assistance to those who may have a hard time paying a monthly fee. It might take a little time to find the perfect fit, but when you do you’ll have a new network of go-getters rooting for your personal and professional success.