Almost everyone has felt intimidated by going to the gym at one point or another.
Perhaps you are brand new to fitness and have no idea what to do at the gym. Many beginners have gym anxiety because they feel self-conscious about trying to learn different exercises in front of seasoned fitness buffs.
Or perhaps you used to work out all the time, but dropped off your routine for one reason or another so you’ve gained a lot of weight. In this case, you might feel gym anxiety because you’re worried you’ll see staff and other gym goers who knew you when you were fitter and you fear they will judge you now.
Whatever the reason or scenario, gym anxiety is so common that there’s even a hybridized term for it: gymtimidation.
Although many people feel anxious about going to the gym, it’s not something you should worry about. Of course, since that’s easier said than done, we’ve put together a guide to help you conquer your fear of the gym with tips for how to get over gym anxiety.
We will cover:
- What Is Gymtimidation?
- Why Do People Get Anxious About Going to the Gym?
- 8 Tips for How to Get Over Gym Anxiety
Let’s jump in!
What Is Gymtimidation?
Gymtimidation is a term used to describe feeling intimidated or anxious about going to the gym.
We all know that working out is important, but for some people, rather than being an issue of lacking the time, energy, or motivation to exercise, the primary hang up preventing them from getting started with working out or maintaining a consistent exercise routine is that they feel anxious or intimidated about going to the gym itself.
Whether you are a member at a large, public gym like the YMCA, a private gym, or a small boutique fitness studio with group exercises classes, when you exercise at the gym, you have to work out in front of other people.
This can be intimidating and stressful for beginners, people who are self-conscious about their body, and people with social anxiety in general.
But, interestingly, gym anxiety isn’t confined only to people who are in poor shape or haven’t been working out; it doesn’t discriminate based on sex, age, fitness level, body composition, or experience level.
Almost everyone has been unsure, self-conscious, or intimidated by being at the gym at one point or another.
Why Do People Get Anxious About Going to the Gym?
There are any number of reasons that people get gymtimidation or anxious about going to the gym.
It’s quite common to feel insecure over your body shape or size, and when you work out, you often have to wear tight clothing that may make you feel particularly self-conscious about your figure.
There are often lots of mirrors and you might get the sense that people are looking at you, and since you will likely sweat as you exercise, you may have fears about not looking picture perfect.
If you’re a beginner, you might feel insecure about your ability to perform exercises with the right technique or form, or you might feel like you’re “too slow” on a treadmill or cardio machine or “not lifting enough weight.”
People often get gym anxiety before trying a new exercise class, because they worry that they will not be able to keep up, will be the worst in the class, will not understand the steps, and will feel left out because everyone else might already know each other.
Finally, people with social anxiety often experience gym anxiety because they fearfully anticipate needing to make small talk with personal trainers, instructors or other gym goers.
8 Tips for How to Get Over Gym Anxiety
Even though we just covered a bunch of reasons why people might experience gymtimidation or feel anxious about going to the gym, the good news is that all of these reasons are merely fears and worries that our brains create rather than real threats that exist.
For this reason, the best ways to conquer your fear of the gym usually involve some degree of self-talk or mindset shift to dismantle your anxious thoughts and see the reality for what it is—the gym is a totally safe place to work out and there is nothing to be self-conscious or anxious about.
We will get more into this below. Here are some tips for how to get over gym anxiety:
#1: Remember: No One Cares
Humans tend to be egocentric creatures. We are all the stars of our own movies and the heroines or heroes of our own epic tales.
However, the truth is, every person is focused mostly on themselves.
A good portion of the people at the gym surrounding you that you worry are judging you are worrying the exact same thing about you.
We all worry that other people are staring at us at the gym, but everyone is really there focusing on their own workout, trying to quiet the voice in their head wondering if people are staring at them.
Don’t worry about other people; they’re simply not paying attention to you.
#2: Plan Ahead
Research shows that anxiety often is exacerbated by the unknown and unfamiliar.
If you are a beginner, returning to the gym after a long hiatus, or trying a new type of exercise or workout routine, one of the best things you can do to reduce your gym anxiety is to plan your work out ahead of time as much as possible.
#3: Stay Focused On Yourself
One of the common causes of gym anxiety is feeling “worse than” other people in the gym. Weaker, slower, fatter, clumsier…whatever self-degrading adjective you’re ascribing to yourself doesn’t matter, even if it’s true.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt is famously quoted as saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and how true this rings in terms of exercising at the gym.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the slowest runner on the treadmill or slowest cyclist in spin class, or if you lift one-tenth the weight of the next weakest person in the entire gym: you are worthy of being there.
There are no prerequisites for the gym in terms of how fit, strong, thin, or athletic you need to be.
Moreover, returning to the first tip, no one is critiquing you or concerning themselves with how much you’re lifting or how much you’re running; they are thinking about their own exercise or tuned into whatever pump-up music or true crime podcast they are listening to.
#4: Get an Orientation
If you are a beginner or are unfamiliar with the exercise machines at your gym, ask for an orientation session with a trainer.
Nearly every commercial gym offers a complementary orientation session and workout to new members.
Even if you have had your gym membership for a while but have been too intimidated to make a consistent appearance, the staff will be happy to show you how to use any of the equipment and perform basic strength training exercises like squats, deadlifts, planks, lunges, and push-ups.
You can also sign up for a few sessions with a personal trainer to get even more acquainted with proper exercise technique and execution, and to have a workout routine created for you.
Knowing what you are doing goes a long way towards increasing your confidence at the gym.
Plus, you won’t have to worry about feeling silly trying something on your own by mimicking what you see other people doing on YouTube videos, or trying to create a workout routine without any experience.
#5: Email the Instructor
If you’d like to try a group exercise class but feel intimidated about joining what you imagine to be an advanced, cliquish group, it can help to email the group fitness instructor prior to your first class.
He or she can give you a sense of what to expect in class, what to wear, and what the class atmosphere or group tends to be like.
Sometimes, just knowing what to wear can reduce a lot of anxiety about group fitness classes.
The instructor will also probably offer to have you come to your first class a few minutes early so that he or she can show you how to adjust a spin bike or how to use a kettlebell, or whatever you might need to know to get started based on the type of exercise class.
#6: Take a Friend
Is there a coworker who has also been mentioning his or her intentions of working out regularly? Would your spouse or significant other consider getting fit with you? Is there a neighbor you’ve noticed jogging around the neighborhood recently?
If you can head to the gym with someone you know, you have a buddy there for social support and to take your mind off whatever has you feeling gymtimidation.
Additionally, if you recruit a gym partner who is more experienced than you, he or she can show you the ropes and quickly do away with feeling insecure about your naïveté.
#7: Consider a Women’s-Only Gym
If you identify as a woman and feel intimidated about exercising in front of men or feel worried you’ll be hit on or sexualized, consider a women’s-only gym or exercise class.
There is some evidence to suggest that women’s-only exercise settings can reduce gym anxiety and boost confidence.
#8: Use Positive Self-Talk
The best thing you can do to get over your gym anxiety is to practice positive self-talk. Recite affirmations like “I can do it,” “I am an athlete,” and “I belong here.”
Remember, no one is judging you. Everyone secretly wants to be accepted by everyone there. Smile warmly to the person working out next to you at the gym; they’re probably just as nervous and anxious as you.