There was a time (not so long ago!*) when I really struggled to make fitness a consistent part of my life. I had a load of reasons not to go that seemed totally legit at the time: I had to work late, I was too tired, I was too busy, I forgot to put my kit in the car etc etc. However, I now realize that my “reasons” for avoiding fitness were actually excuses because I was afraid of the gym. It was somewhere that only really fit people went. Somewhere that the unfit got judged. And somewhere where I had literally no idea what I was doing, so I would rather avoid it if I could.
There’s no getting around the fact that for some of you the gym can feel like an intimidating place when you’re first starting out. But I am hoping to share a few experiences and tips that mean you might be willing to give it a go.
On the days I wasn’t able to give myself an excuse, I would walk across the gym floor, and the confident feeling would fade fast. I would walk in and then the feelings of insecurity would start sinking in.
Or, as someone else on the internet put it: “Hello, gym anxiety: that self-conscious, confidence-vanishing feeling one experiences when faced with an intimidating, embarrassing, or potentially awkward situation at the gym.”
I had zero clue what I was doing. I’ll let you in on a secret (I mean it’s not a juicy secret, just something you wouldn’t expect!)… the first time I ever went on a treadmill was during my Personal Training qualification 😲 Until then, I was petrified of them. I had no idea how to use them, they were always at the front of the gym, and I had witnessed someone face planting one twice in a row when I first joined the gym. My usual trip to the gym would involve the cross-trainer for 30minutes while I watched what everyone else did. Looking back, I probably wasn’t helping others that experienced gym anxiety, because I stared at EVERYONE 🤣 But I was staring in awe and trying my best to see what knobs they used to adjust the machines and how it all moved. For me, the worst fear was looking stupid on the machines.
And I knew I wasn’t alone – Gym anxiety is universally experienced by so many people. So how did I overcome this fear and make a career out of actually working in not 1 but 2 gyms?! Initially I just stuck with it. I tried my best and kept watching everyone else (I apologise if you have ever been at the other end of my stares – I promise I was just inspired by what I saw!) I accepted the fact that people that go to the gym everyday had to start somewhere, just like me! People are not born knowing how to use a squat rack!
There are four psychological reasons for gym anxiety:
1: Not being sure what to do:
Don’t worry – not many people really know what they’re doing! But most of the time, it doesn’t matter. As long as you’re doing things safely, there isn’t much you can do wrong. If you’re doing resistance training, just make sure to start with a light weight and slowly work your way up. Under estimate what you can lift – it’s much better than struggling and hurting yourself. And honestly – just ask! I was too scared to ask how things worked and it held me back for such a long time. Now, I always feel honoured when someone asks me a question – especially when I am not working! So you could even make someone’s day by letting them help you.
And this is not an advert for personal training, but it can honestly help so much if you have no idea what to do. If you find a decent personal trainer (like me 😉) they won’t mind if you just want a couple of sessions until you gain confidence to start going on your own. You don’t have to commit to months and months of training with them! Use them as your shield and ask them all the questions you need to.
2: Comparing yourself to other people in the gym:
Yep..I would do this too! I would always look at other women and think they had a better body than me, they were slimmer than me, they were stronger than me, they were fitter than me…all the comparisons were happening in my head. Again – this really held me back because I was always thinking I wasn’t good enough. So what did I do to fix this? I started to concentrate on myself, and consistently reminded myself of how great I was doing. As soon as I started thinking this way, my strength really started to improve.
When you’re seriously working hard, you won’t have time to compare yourself to others. Only you know where you started. And everyone that you look up to, were there at one point too. The only way to be as strong/slim/fit/healthy as them is to keep working on yourself. Have them as inspiration, but don’t have them as comparisons.
3: Feeling like people are judging you
I would feel like this all the time – it was exhausting! I thought people would be judging the way I did things, or judging the small weights I was using.
Not that long ago, a guy was next to me in the gym. I think he was doing some shoulder presses. I can’t quite remember, but I know he was sat on the bench next to me with some dumbbells in his hand (I was busy doing my own thing 😊). In-between sets he felt the need to tell me the weights he was using were smaller than mine. I smiled and said something like ‘yes, but only you know the reason for this’. His face lit up and he proceeded to tell me that he was recovering from an injury and didn’t realise that people would think like I did – he assumed everyone would be judging him for the weights he was (or wasn’t) lifting.
The more I invested in my own knowledge, the more I realised that everyone did things slightly differently, and not one way was the right way. Another thing to remember, is that only you know your goals and therefore, your programme. And what people see is a tiny snapshot of your workout. I used to worry that people would judge me for only doing partial reps of a bench press, even though this was what was programmed for me! I thought that if they didn’t see me doing a full rep, they would think I wouldn’t know what I was doing. But remember – these people are strangers. So if these strangers want to judge you for doing partial reps, does it really matter? I knew why I was doing them (it was to strengthen that part of the lift) and it meant I got stronger, so who cares what the stranger at the gym thought!?!
4: Feeling like you don’t belong.
Everyone belongs. Everyone starts as a beginner. If I could give one piece of advice here, it would be to pick the right gym. You may have to visit a few gyms before you find one that you’re even remotely comfortable with before you part with your money, and that’s OK. When I started going to the gym I just went for the cheapest option. It was a 24hr, commercial gym full of women looking super glam and men that seemed to go more for a chat than to workout…and I was neither of these 🤣
You need your gym to have like minded people in it – it’s really important to help with this feeling of belonging. You may even change gyms as you start to get more confident, and figure out what you really enjoy and how you want to train. You may feel intimidated, but remember: you do belong.
It is really important to keep in mind that everyone has started out in your shoes at some point or another, so don’t give in to those feelings of insecurity. Keep your goals in mind, and stick to your plans. It’s the only way you’ll ever reach those goals. You need to believe in yourself! As cheesy as it sounds, you are your only competition. Comparing yourself to others isn’t going to get you anywhere. Even if people are looking at you, convince yourself that it’s because they admire your motivation and dedication – I can honestly say that’s the only reason I look at people! (Oh and I might also be admiring your outfit and trying to work out where it’s from 🤣)
When you feel ready to join the gym, make sure you go and have a look around first so you know exactly what to expect. Most gyms insist on a free induction and this is where someone will walk you around and explain all the equipment to you. Wear clothes that you would workout in and tell yourself you’ll do 30mins after your induction, even if it’s just on the cross trainer while watching and taking everything in. Don’t just smile and nod as you go around with the instructor, ask them questions and ask them to let you have a go at setting things up while they are with you – that’s the whole point of an induction! The more you ask, the more you will get from the experience.
And if you think you might like some help from a Personal Trainer, get to know all the trainers in your gym, especially if you are a bit fearful and anxious about doing it. Take some time to read their profiles, find out what they specialise in and look at the kind of content they put out on social media as this will also help you know if they are right for you. Just like finding the right gym is important, so is finding the right PT. What works for one person might not work for you. If you have any questions or worries before you see them, just message them – they won’t mind! I nearly backed out of my first PT session because I was so nervous, but I forced myself to go. I knew that if I didn’t go, nothing would change. And guess what – I walked out of my first session feeling on top of the world because I wasn’t as shit as I thought I would be! (Top Tip: No one is as bad as they think they are)
What is the worst thing that can happen in your gym or PT session? You might have to walk during the run, you might have to stop and catch your breath or you might have to sit down for a moment. But I can assure you, you won’t explode or combust and you will feel better for it.
If you have any fears over going to the gym or booking a Personal Trainer, please email me and I will do my best to help. It doesn’t matter what gym you go to, it doesn’t matter if your Personal Trainer isn’t me….I have first hand experience of gym anxiety and will do my absolute best to help you.
*2014 to be precise