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When someone says the word GYM, what's the first image that pops into your head?

For some people, it's an intimidating place filled with hard-bodied models. For others, it's a place full of equipment that requires a degree in engineering to work. It's scary, foreign and expensive.

That fear may be stopping you from getting into shape. Don't let it. If you have "gym-o-phobia," there are several steps you can take to help you overcome it.

Repeat after me. "It's not just for models." People who join gyms come in every shape and size. It doesn't matter what you look like; almost everyone is there for the same reasons. To look better, feel better and get in better shape.

You will not be the center of attention. When you walk into a health club, most of the people are busy with their own programs. You might get a few looks when you first join, but that's only because you're the "new kid."

Go to the gym when it's slower, and you can take more time learning how to use the equipment. Typical slow times are late morning (from 10:00 am to noon) and late afternoon (from 2:00 to 4:30 pm). Not only are there fewer people, but you generally won't have to wait to use the more popular pieces of equipment.

If you're on a budget, go month-to-month. Most gyms have the option of having the money deducted directly from your credit card or checking account. While you can save some money by buying a full-year membership, by going month-to-month, you don't have to come up with all the money upfront. The average gym will only cost you about $2 a day. Your health is worth that!

Bring a CD player, radio or digital music player. Listening to your own music can help make you feel more comfortable and get you in the mood to work out.

Hire a personal trainer for a few sessions to teach you the basics. You'll learn how to properly use the equipment and have someone who will make sure you're getting the most benefit from a balanced routine.

Write everything down. A great way to stay motivated is to chart your progress by documenting every workout. You'll be able to see in black and white the changes as you grow stronger.

Bring a friend. It's easier to face a scary situation when a friend is along for support. There's strength in numbers! If you have a friend at the same fitness level as yourself, you can work out together.

Work up to it. If your goal is to run a marathon, start by building up enough strength to run a mile. Then as you get stronger, increase it to two miles. Slow but steady progress is easier, less stressful on your body and the healthiest way to reach your goals.

If you still can't face going to a gym, bring the gym to your home. There are several home gyms available; just be sure to read reviews from companies like Consumer Reports before making the final purchase. And once the gym arrives? Put it where you'll see it every day. If it's in your face constantly, you're more likely to keep using it.

Remember that you deserve it! Trying something new can be difficult at first, but over time you'll be exposed to new ideas, new people and make new friends. You'll feel more comfortable and relaxed. Your confidence will increase as you learn how the equipment works and see progress in your body.

Take a deep breath and decide to change now. Don't wait another day. Before you know it, you'll become one of those very people you used to fear. A regular gym-goer!

Want a custom workout built just for you? Check out our online training programs here.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.