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How I Figured Out My Workout Routine In College

A rack of free weights in a gym. In the background is gym equipment and a woman working out.

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Coming from competitive gymnastics in high school, I had never really gone to an actual workout gym. With the beginning of college, my gymnastics career ended and I had to find a new way to work out.

The most simple answer was the gym at the school. 

Like other gyms at other colleges, the gym at Penn State Harrisburg, the university I attend, is sufficiently sized with a wide array of machines and weights.

However, having never gone to an actual gym before, coupled with the fact that I knew no one and was intimidated by the other people working out, meant that I hesitated to go.

The possibility of making a mistake scared me, and knowing that I was surrounded by dozens of other experienced people while I had almost no knowledge on how to use the machines gave me reason to stay away from the gym.

For the first few days after I moved in, I did not go to the gym. I chalked it up to being too busy with new student orientation and meeting all the new people on campus.

While the gym was admittedly open at odd hours during these first few days before classes, I still made excuses nonetheless. Thus, after classes finally started, I should have gone right? No.

Again, I still made excuses, this time citing the need to establish a set schedule and routine before incorporating another activity into my day.

I truly did want to go to the gym. I felt guilty not working out and could feel my muscles and health slowly start to deteriorate. I felt more sluggish and every time I decided to skip, a wave of guilt washed over me.

Fortunately, or perhaps not, that guilt was usually quickly washed away with the mountain of things I had to do. However, as much as I wanted to go to the gym, I refused to go alone, at least not until I developed enough confidence and knowledge.

My answer was to find other people to go to the gym with, ideally people that had gone to the gym before and knew what they were doing, but quite honestly, anyone would do.

Luckily, in our group chat at the time, some of my friends were already asking if someone else wanted to work out with them. Eagerly, I agreed to join them.

So, the very first time I went to the gym ever, I went with 3 other people, all of who had more experience than me working out.

Just the initial step into the gym was somewhat scary, but having my friends beside me assisted me greatly and made the task not seem so daunting.

My first workout was nothing special; in fact, I am grateful for how uneventful it was. I simply learned how to use some new machines and was pleasantly surprised at how much of my strength I had retained even though I had taken a decent break.

However, just going to the gym once was not enough. I had nowhere near enough confidence to go on my own. If I was the only one in the gym, I definitely could have gone.

But, my hesitation stemmed from the fear of being judged for making a mistake and also the inadvertent gaze of others watching a newbie at the gym. 

Unfortunately, the first time we went to the gym as the four of us was also the last. As each person found their own time best suited to their schedule to workout, or found better workout buddies, I was left still struggling to gather up the courage to go to the gym.

Again, my answer was to enlist my roommates to go with me. At this point in the semester, other than the people I had initially gone to the gym with, my roommates were my closest friends and my first choice of people to go with.

They were not as eager to go to the gym as I was and I had to do a lot of convincing to get them to go with me. However, after much persuasion, I finally got one of my roommates to go with me to the gym. 

As it turns out, one of my roommates used to do weight lifting and was knowledgeable in the aspects of form and how to use the different machines. With her help, she taught me how to properly do the bench press and introduced me to the squat.

Although she only went to the gym with me a few times, those first initial introductions to different machines and exercises were extremely valuable and instrumental in building my confidence. 

After a week or two, I had significantly more confidence than when I first started. Not enough to go on my own yet, but enough to start to consider the possibility.

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The issue I faced now was not as much confidence, although that was still a large factor, but rather motivation. Up until this point, I had not established a set time to go to the gym. Each time I had gone was mostly on a whim and with my class schedule, there was not a consistent time available each weekday that I was open to go to the gym.

Even though I had a somewhat strong start at the gym, I entered a period of about 2 weeks where I did not go work out. My excuses were being too busy and being too tired to go.

Two weeks came and went with my guilt for skipping growing ever larger. In the back of my mind, I knew that I should be going. However, I knew that if I did not find a workout buddy, I likely would not go at all.

By this point, I had made some friends outside of my roommates, and it was one of those friends who became my dedicated workout buddy. At this time during the semester, I had picked up a job in addition to all my classes, meaning it was even more difficult to find time during the day to workout.

So my solution? To workout first thing in the morning. 

I had proposed this idea to my roommates in hopes that they might agree to go with me, but as expected they were thoroughly turned off by this idea. I understood their thinking. I mean, waking up at 6:30 am does not exactly sound appealing.

I knew that if I could overcome the initial struggle of getting up, then I would thank myself for working out in the morning. Everyone works differently, but for me, I know that morning workouts help me feel more awake, refreshed, and ready to take on the day.

I would be able to focus better in class since I had expended energy earlier and I would eliminate the guilt that was always floating in the back of my head.

I knew the chances of finding someone else that would agree to go in the morning with me were slim, but to my surprise, one of my friends enthusiastically agreed. Like me, she had been wanting to go to the gym but could not find anyone to go with.

Also like me, she agreed that going in the mornings was likely the most efficient and best use of our time considering our schedule. It was a perfect match. Quickly, we formulated a schedule and began working out the following day. 

I won’t lie, waking up early for the first few weeks was horrible. I was used to going to bed at 1 or 2 am.

In addition, while I felt refreshed and awake during the workout and for the first 30 minutes or so after, the lack of sleep quickly caught up to me later in the day. The later the class was, the more I struggled to stay awake.

By the time I got to my evening classes, I was yawning so much that I was starting to second-guess my decision to go in the mornings.

Over time, I went to bed earlier. Since I was so tired that I could not stay awake as late as I used to, my body inadvertently adjusted itself to waking up early in the morning.

While I relied on matcha and coffee to initially power me through the rest of my day, after a few weeks, I stopped needing a caffeine fix to properly function for the rest of the day.

The refreshed feeling from working out lasted longer into the day, and I felt happy, accomplished, and satisfied knowing that I had worked out.

My workout buddy was less knowledgeable than I was on workouts, meaning that while I taught her some things, we had to figure out a lot of exercises together. If we were doing something incorrectly, oftentimes a coach we had befriended would come over and give us pointers. 

Going to the gym in the morning was not what we had thought it would be. We expected it to be mostly empty, since few students were like us. Most people, and rightfully so, would rather sleep in.

Unexpectedly, the gym in the mornings was packed. What we had failed to consider were the sports teams.

At the time we went, the men’s basketball team was in the middle of their workout and it was through this interaction that we came to know the coach.

As I mentioned earlier, he was extremely helpful in giving us occasional pointers and he became a huge motivating factor in keeping up our morning routine.

One time, we were 3 minutes late and he came over to us asking why we were late! Somehow, he had taken us under his wing and we now had the responsibility to not just maintain our schedule, but be consistently on time as well.

Just as the coach provided us with external motivation, working out with my friend also gave me motivation. Knowing that someone else was going with me held me accountable to consistently keep up my routine.

Had I gone alone, there would definitely be days when I would have skipped. However, knowing that my friend would be waiting for me forced me awake. I had made a promise to her and I had to keep it. 

Over the course of the next few months, we consistently followed our schedule. As we grew more experienced and got to know more people, we also revamped our workout routine.

By the end of the semester, we were working out far more intensely and both her and I could start to see some visible results. 

Looking back now, I should have known that working out was nowhere near as scary or daunting as I thought it would be. Even now, I understand the feeling of intimidation.

Especially as a woman, going to try to workout in a gym full of men can seem scary. For the most part, everyone else is focused on their own workout, not yours. If you do want to ask someone for help with things, they are typically nice and willing to do so.

Having a workout buddy, especially at the beginning, is helpful. Knowing that another person is counting on you helps keep you motivated, holds you accountable, and aids in building a healthy and lasting friendship.

Not only can you build healthy habits for the rest of your life, but you can also push each other to go further than anticipated. Working out your body is just as important as working out your brain.

If you struggle with going to the gym, take a chance and try going on your own. As scary as it seems, I promise it’s not.

As an added bonus, try to find a workout buddy. Everyone is different, but for beginners, two people is typically better than one!

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Author: Sophia

Sophia is a current college freshman at Pennsylvania State University with plans to major in marketing. When she's not studying or in the gym, you can find Sophia watching her favorite Youtube channels or streamers. In the future, she hopes to travel the world while developing her marketing skills and building her network.