Gym anxiety: What it is and what to do

Gym anxiety: What it is and what to do

What can go wrong at the gym? If you’re battling gym anxiety, you probably have an instant answer to that question!

Because, in your mind, plenty of things could go wrong at the gym! You could:

  • End up flat on your ass discovering that you lack the balance and coordination required for yoga
  • Be hurled off the treadmill backwards because you can’t figure out how to change the speed settings
  • Collapse in a pile of your own sweat after a mere 10 minutes of supposedly moderate intensity exercise while the gym junkies shake their heads at your ineptitude.

Yep, gym anxiety is a real thing. And it can seriously compromise your fitness goals unless you can find a way around it.

What is gym anxiety?

Gym anxiety is a type of social anxiety. Going to the gym makes you feel self-conscious, intimidated and embarrassed. You feel like you’re in a performance situation where you’re going to fail and face judgement. You finally realise how the kid at the back of the class felt when called on to answer a maths question.

Gym anxiety can show itself in many ways, including:

  • Worrying that you’re doing things wrong
  • Slinking around hoping nobody notices you
  • Feeling totally inept when faced with weird exercise contraptions that look like medieval torture devices
  • Feeling very conscious that you messed up the Zumba routine (but failing to notice that plenty of other people did too)
  • Feeling like the toned, muscled gym junkies are judging your body and your gym performance.

When you’re feeling like that, of course you don’t want to go to the gym. Who would?

But you do still want to get fitter and stronger. So, how can you overcome your gym phobia?

Our top 11 tips for dealing with gym anxiety

Quite a few people have been through the nail biting rollercoaster of gym anxiety. That means you can draw on their experience to help you overcome it. Here are a few ideas you can try.

1. Choose the right gym

Gyms each have their own vibe and clientele. Visit a few in your area before you pick. You might opt for a women’s only gym, one with a good range of beginners’ classes or one that throws in a few free personal training sessions to help newbies settle in.

2. Get a good orientation

No gym should let a new member just wander in and start using the equipment. They should offer you an orientation session or a free personal training session to help you learn how the machines work (they don’t want you to break them either!) and which settings are right for you. Make the most of that opportunity.

3. Have a workout plan

Having a plan gives you a sense of control. Feeling in control helps relieve anxiety (that’s probably why you went into a decluttering frenzy during lockdown).

When you enter the gym with a workout plan, you know which machines you need, which weights to choose, how many reps to do. You instantly feel and seem more confident and you’re saved from making all those decisions on the spot when you feel under pressure.

4. Start with easier classes

If group exercise is your thing, then scrutinise the schedule to find the easier, beginner classes. Most gyms make that fairly clear. If yours doesn’t, call the reception and ask for their recommendations.

5. Go with a friend of similar fitness

Do you have a friend who would also like to get a bit fitter and has similar availability to you? Then ask if they’d like to be your gym buddy.

Going with a friend boosts your confidence because you’re not alone. It also boosts your success because you’re more likely to exercise when someone else is depending on you to be there.

6. Choose a quieter time

If you feel self-conscious and don’t want anybody looking at you, then it makes sense to go when there are simply fewer people there to see you in the first place. Most gyms get busy first thing in the morning, at lunchtime and after work. If you can avoid those times, then you may feel more comfortable.

7. Remember, people aren’t all that interested in you

Ouch, right?! But it’s true. The other people in the gym are just doing their thing without really thinking about you much (if at all!). They’re trying to reach their own fitness goals and are probably lost in their own thoughts about last night’s disastrous date, that awful work project or Aunt Mary’s upcoming birthday.

8. Play that funky music

Workout music helps you push yourself physically but it has other benefits too. When you listen to music, your body releases feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin while reducing cortisol (the stress hormone).

9. Expose yourself (wait, no, that’s not quite what we mean…)

Exposure therapy is a psychological approach to helping people face their fears. The basic idea is to expose yourself to the scary situation (heights, spiders, the gym) in a relatively safe way.

Going to the gym regularly makes it less scary. You know you were fine last time, fine the time before etc. Over time, you gradually replace fear with comfort. You feel at home in the gym now.

Plus, you’re also in better physical shape because you’ve got into a good exercise routine. Go you!

10. See a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist first

Physiotherapists and exercise physiologists (EP) are highly trained health professionals on a mission to help you reap the benefits of a strong, flexible body.

If you’re keen to start at the gym, it’s worth seeing a physio or EP for an assessment first. We can help you learn how to exercise with the right techniques to target the intended muscle groups.

When you arrive at the gym, you’re already more confident because you know how to move and have a program of exercises to follow.

11. Pick another form of exercise

If you’ve tried all that and still feel terribly anxious about going to the gym, then it’s time to have a rethink. After all, your goal is to improve your fitness – and there are many other ways to achieve that.

Your physio or EP can help you find a different way to exercise that suits your personality and enables you to achieve your goals.

How can Sycamore Health help?

We love nothing more than someone coming to us and saying, ‘Please help me get fitter.’ That’s why we’re here. We want you to fall in love with exercise and enjoy your body’s strength and capability.

If you’re thinking of starting a new workout program, please get in touch with us first. We can help you learn how to exercise properly, using the right techniques to reduce the risk of injury. That’s particularly important if you’ve had previous injuries or live with a chronic condition.

Working with a physio or EP helps you to strengthen your body and improve your confidence, setting you up to enjoy belonging to the gym.

Book your appointment today.

All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.

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