Gym Anxiety – How to overcome it

Someone once said to me that London is a good place to be lonely because there are so many other lonely people there.

If that’s true, then the gym is a good place to feel intimidated.

Believe it or not, we’re all on the same page. Feeling gym anxiety couldn’t be more natural. Especially in the early days.

After all, we are challenging ourselves, we are doing something new, we’re stepping outside our comfort zone, and we’re trying to overcome our insecurities.

All at the same time!

These are not little things, these are big deals.

So if we feel a little unsure on the way, who can blame us.

Regardless of how natural it is though, it’s definitely regarded as a set back. Feeling insecure can stop you going to the gym altogether. Or, at the very least, failing to overcome it could – and likely will – prevent you from doing your best and significantly hinder your progress.

A few tricks to combat initial newbie gym anxiety are:

  • Find a gym buddy – even if it’s just until you know your way around.
  • You could visit at quieter times to avoid the rush and more crowded environment.
  • Bring your headphones – This can be a great way to ‘zone out’ from what’s going on around you and help keep you focused in your own world.
  • No gym buddy?? No Problem!! Instead you could hire a good Personal Trainer – Not only can they help you stay on track and achieve your goals, having somebody with you in the early stages can help take away any feelings of isolation and intimidation.

These should ease you in and eventually, intimidation should fade away as you learn the ropes and get into the swing of things.

If your intimidation stems from deeper than general ‘Newbieism’ (yep, I just made that word up!:) )and instead comes from the likes of low self esteem and lack of confidence, you may find that it has a much more detrimental affect.

Here are some common reasons you could feel so intimidated by the gym and how to rationalise and overcome them.

Overcoming Gym Anxiety

#1 Your Preconceptions of the Gym could be off

At first I was going to write about how I understand why the gym was intimidating. I was going to describe the gym as being full of fitness freaks and big burly men throwing big burly weights around looking mean and sniggering at their lesser counterparts. I was then going to mention the scary equipment and the fact that the stuck up gym staff think we’re all stupid!

But then I realised something… I have never actually been to a gym like this. In fact, although you hear about them, I’m not even sure they really exist.

Throughout my personal training courses I trained at 4 different gyms. I have been a member at 2 gyms, and I’ve had trial days at 4 other gyms.

That’s 10 different gyms and I’ve probably only ever come across 2 people who looked like they could be fitness models.

Everybody else was normal. Yes, some were in better shape, some bigger, some smaller, some leaner, some meaner – although that’s probably their focus face – but as I mentioned above, everybody was just ‘normal’.

Overall everybody has been polite, some even smile or nod. If anything, people are actually nice. Like at times when I got stuck, I could sense people wanted to help. They refrained, they waited until I asked for help first (seems to be the etiquette). No one wants to be ‘that’ person in the gym. The Mr know-it-all that interferes with everyone, but everyone wants to be ‘the’ person that helped someone today.

So if no one jumps out at you to help, it may not be because they don’t want to, rather they’re waiting for the “OK” to do so.

Basically choose your gym wisely, not one full of jerks. Ensure you pick a gym that has a good training atmosphere and that it’s suitable for your needs. If it has a good environment and it will not take you long to realise that actually, there was never anything to worry about in the first place.

Combat strategy:

#2 Nobody is judging you.

It’s easy to feel like everybody is looking, staring and judging you, but the reality is that they’re not.

Those who actually know what they’re doing are generally too focused to pay attention to anybody else and those that are a bit unsure are likely experiencing the same level of gym anxiety as you. They’re likely just as self-conscious and intimidated as you are.

Whoever’s at the gym, there’s more chance of them staring at themselves in the mirrors than you – you’d be surprised at the level of vanity in some gyms. That said, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t occasional glance upon other gym goers, sometimes I do.  I watch for the same reasons you probably would – just to see what everyone else is doing.

To me it seems quite normal, pretty sensible actually, to watch and to learn, after all it is how humans have evolved.

But just because I have a look sometimes, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m judging anybody.  Sometimes I’m just looking for tips, or idea’s.

Should you feel the tickle of judgment in the air though, ask yourself this question, “Is it because you are unsure if your doing it correctly?” If so, learn it, practice it, perfect the movement. That way you know onlookers shouldn’t be judging you, but actually looking for tips.

If you feel as though they’re judging you in the sense that that you shouldn’t be there though, or because of your body shape or size, then quite frankly, they can do one. Jerks to be avoided.

Inevitably judgment occurs everywhere in the world we just need to remember – Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and we are all entitled to ignore it, lets live and let live.

Combat strategy:

  • Wear flattering clothing so you don’t feel so insecure if people do happen to look your way.
  • Focus on the task at hand so there is no room for negative thoughts/worry. Knowing how to change your mindset so that you can train your best – even on a bad day is an awesome tool to have in the gym.
  • Start off slowly, with the machines and exercises that you know and are comfortable with. Don’t try to impress by lifting weights that are too heavy to handle. Instead, take your time and perfect your form. Trying to be too clever too soon may bring unwanted attention.

#3 You don’t know what to do

No one expects you to just know how every Cardio or Resistance Machine works, that’s why they give you inductions on the label and it’s also why Personal Trainers and Gym Instructors exist.

There are literally thousands of exercises you can do with free weights and you can’t possibly know them all so it’s just as well you only need a few to get started.

Feel free to ask for help, gym staff or friendly looking fellow members. As mentioned above, most people enjoy helping other people and are very supportive of new comers. Afterall we’ve all been there at some point. Think of when the day comes that you get to repay the favour.

Knowing what to do isn’t a pre-requisite of joining the gym. Not everybody knows what to do.

Heck, some will never know what to do.

What’s important is that you recognise this is a learning curve. The journey never ends, even for those at the very top!

Combat strategy:

  • Learn some basic movements and exercises – You can read about the 7 Best Gym Exercises here.
  • Turn up with a plan or program and follow it. This will tell you what to do during your gym sessions so you don’t wander and squander.
  • Ask a member of staff for help.

#4 You feel everybody else in is better shape

You may feel small and intimidated because you think you’re the one in the worst shape.

This is highly unlikely, but even if you are the ‘worst’ one in the gym: IT DOESN’T MATTER. Its only temporary and your still miles ahead of the couch potatoes and the 92% of New Year membership sign ups that fail to follow through and achieve their goals.

If anything, many will see you as inspirational.

That’s not me trying to patronise you by the way. Just think about it: We all know how hard training can be but if you’re feeling intimidated due to worry about how you look, it will likely be even harder for you so many will admire your strength and conviction. So take one for the team and show everyone how its to be done and be a role model!

We all have to start somewhere, some people started earlier, and some will start later.

You may even feel as though you’re already behind so you don’t want to start at all. The problem is, that attitude wont get you anywhere.

Dig deep and get going, you wont be the ‘worst’ for long. You’ll thank yourself in a years time, especially whilst others are still only talking about getting fit.

Oh, and please don’t fall into the trap of feeling hard done by because others may be in better shape than you currently are. Yes, some people are genetically gifted but, most are not.

Most people’s shape are a consequence of their daily actions and choices. We don’t know how much they’ve been through, what they’re still going through and what they’ve given up in order to achieve their current physique.

So rather than feel sorry for ourselves and belittle their efforts perhaps we could use it as a driving force. If anything, at least you know this gym thing works if you do it properly!

Plus, it would be silly let others achievements deter you from starting. Your starting point really doesn’t dictate where you finish. Let it motivate you. It could be you in better shape if you want it to be. The sooner you start the sooner you’ll get to where you want to be.

Nobody will laugh at you for trying, You can never look foolish for trying.

Remember the grass is greener where you water it. So get watering.

Combat strategy:

  • Take control and responsibility of your starting point, make a plan to move on.
  • Follow your plan regardless, don’t let noisy emotions stop you. Just keep moving.
  • Find a role model, and follow in their foot steps until your happy making your own.
  • Run your own race – it’s not a competition. Focusing on your own journey will massively improve your results.

#5 No right to be there

For some crazy reason, its not uncommon for people to feel like they have no right to be at the gym.

Perhaps they feel they are too large, too skinny, they’re not ‘gym’ people, they don’t like exercise, they don’t like being out of breath, they don’t like the burn, in fact they don’t like the gym at all.

If this is you and you feel like you don’t belong to the gym, believe me, you still have every right to be there.

That’s what the gyms are made for: Self Development – You could even argue the more room for development, more right you have to be there.

One thing you couldn’t argue though, is if you pay your membership then you definitely have the right to be there.

Combat strategy:

  • Pay your membership
  • Revise gym etiquette, if your behaving appropriately then you belong.
  • Repeat it to yourself as many times as necessary, you have every right to be there.
  • Remind yourself what gyms are actually for, if you are doing this, you are in the right place. It is not a place to be jerks to other people. Those people have no right to be there.

Sometimes our fears get the better of us. We lose rationale and we cant help but feel intimidated, even if we know we shouldn’t.

But remember keep going, Because as time passes, and you rack up the gym hours, the body fat % will fall and your confidence will rise.

Its inevitable.

Thanks for stopping by!