Once you hit adulthood and leave education behind, it can be really hard to make friends.
Sure, there’s work, but what if you work mostly from home, or just don’t vibe with anyone in the office?
Gone are the days when we’d get shoved in halls and classrooms full of peers the exact same age and on the exact same friend-needing page as we were.
Once you leave that environment, putting yourself out there suddenly gets a lot harder, and loneliness can more easily creep in.
But, for many, the gym can be a great place to reach out.
Hayley made a group of friends at the gym through a small group personal training session set up by Matty Ramsden, a PT at PureGym Leeds.
‘Everybody knows the benefits of exercise for your physical health,’ she said. ‘If I’m being honest, I didn’t really understand the benefits on my mental health until I started at training with Matty.
‘I feel clear-minded, energetic and happy after a workout. It gives you a positive frame of mind.
‘Along with my trusty to-do list, exercise allows me to get everything done. If I miss a few sessions or workouts my mood is terrible. As soon as I get back to the gym, my mood lifts. It’s a win-win all round.’
She said having gym pals has made a big difference to her life both in and out of the gym.
‘Having gym buddies is great,’ she explained, ‘it keeps you motivated as you don’t want to let yourself down, but mainly you don’t want to let your teammates down. We always do a finisher in pairs which is great – you cheer each other on to beat the others.
‘I have hit my deadlift personal best of 90kg because I had my buddies chanting and cheering me on. From never lifting a free weight to this, is a great achievement for me and it’s thanks to Matty and the girls for pushing me.’
Sue, another person who joined PureGym in her retirement, made a group of friends there who now regularly meet for coffee and have their own WhatsApp group chat.
She said: ‘Meeting people in the gym has enriched my life and expanded my social contacts. I am in a group of 12 ladies who I met at Halifax PureGym, all different ages and different backgrounds, but we just gel – we call ourselves the Gym Buddies.
‘It began with just three of us talking at classes, and has built up – now we meet for coffee after classes, go for meals, and support each other through good and bad times.’
How to put yourself out there at the gym
Hayley advised: ‘My advice would be to swallow your nerves and be open to having conversations with people. Everyone is very friendly and no matter what you think, everyone in that gym has been in your position.
‘A lot of people are happy to say hi or give advice, you can always smile and take their lead from there.’
Matty agreed that simply smiling is a great way to start. He said: ‘Everyone comes across as more approachable when they smile. This can open up the opportunity for people to talk to you.
‘Remember, if you’re feeling nervous and a bit out of place, there will be others feeling exactly the same too. A smile can go a long way.’
He added: ‘Say “hello”, ask people how they are, or what they think of things such as a class.
‘This can help you to gauge whether people are open to chatting, and you will begin to build up a conversation over time.’
‘Don’t be afraid to join the classes, suggested Sue. ‘It’s a great way to bond with people by encouraging each other through the physical challenge, and this can turn into chatting about families, holidays, and becoming good friends.’
Matty also said there’s no reason to feel like ‘an outsider’, adding: ‘Every single person in the gym is there for one reason and that is to become better.
‘Most people are open to being asked for advice, or to spot a lift, and this can be a good introduction to start to get to know someone.’