How to overcome gym anxiety

Three fitness experts share their top tips on how to overcome gym anxiety

woman in gym looking anxious

by Bryony Firth-bernard |

Looking to lose weight, build your strength or increase your overall fitness levels? Then the gym is a great place to start. However, there’s just one problem, you’ve never set foot in a gym before and the thought of it is already giving you anxiety and making you sweat.

Research from PureGym found that 50 per cent of people who don't go to the gym are scared, but gym anxiety affects people of all different fitness levels, even those who do go regularly.

“Gyms can be intimidating - particularly if you are new to exercise and already feel body-conscious,” says therapist and best-selling author, Marisa Peer, who was not only a trainer for Pineapple Dance Studio, but also Jane Fonda. “Concerns about being watched or judged, navigating unfamiliar equipment or even getting changed in the locker room can be enough to trigger situational anxiety and result in you throwing in the gym towel before even starting.”

woman in changing room looking anxious

However, it’s important to keep in the forefront of your mind why you want to go to the gym and to not compare yourself to others or their journeys.

“Every single one of those people that you see in the gym, who look like they were born to do this, started where you are today,” says Natasha Ram, a trainer at F45 Training. “They were also challenged at some point in their lives to get fitter and learn how to use weights and machines to reach their goals, and are still learning. Training is a personal journey and every one of us had to start somewhere.

“Once you get to grips with what you want to achieve and gain knowledge when performing exercises, you’ll be training with confidence in no time.”

Still feeling a little unsure about the gym? Read on for some top tips on how to overcome your gym anxiety...

1. Ask for help

woman getting help in gym

“The root of anxiety is the fear of the unknown”, says Marisa. “So if you’re new to the gym, request an induction. Ask questions, get them to show you how to use equipment and familiarise yourself with safety procedures so that you are confident using the facilities."

2. Go easy

If you’ve never stepped foot in a gym before, the thought of going there four times a week, possibly even alone, is enough to immediately put you off. “Don’t go hard from day one, instead set yourself small goals like 30 minutes at the gym twice a week and go from there,” says Marisa.

Going during ‘off peak’ hours is also a good option, says Natasha: “Aim to go to the gym or classes that are slightly less busy. This tends to be during off-peak hours after 9.30am until 4pm and then after 8pm.”

3. Get a personal trainer or take a friend

If you’re feeling really anxious, booking a few sessions with a personal trainer can really help with your confidence, or drag a friend along for moral support. “A support system can make the difference between achieving your exercise goals and giving up,” says Marisa.

4. Make a great gym playlist

woman on treadmill listening to music

Music is powerful, with research showing that listening to happy, upbeat tunes can help with the production of happy hormones. “I always have my music on when I am training,” says Natasha, “with specific playlists for cardio or strength sessions to push me through.”

Related: The best wireless earphones and earbuds

5. Join a class

If the gym is really still feeling like a no-go zone for you, why not give a class a go? “You’ll be blending in with other people, with everybody focusing on their own workouts, and following the instructor, so you will immediately feel less attention on you specifically,” says Jessie Jones, Personal Trainer at OriGym Centre of Excellence.

“There’s also plenty of verbal encouragement in a class, with the tutor specifically focused on motivating you as a group, so it’s a great way to spur you on and give your confidence a boost.”

6. Focus on YOU

We get this is a lot easier said than done, but trust us when we say, no one is concerned about what you are doing and it’s all in your mind. You are there for you, so focus on you.

“Have an idea of the equipment you want to use, the exercises you want to do, even areas of the body you want to focus on,” says Jessie. “This will mean you can focus on the task at hand without having to wander around, to see what’s free, feeling self-conscious.” Natasha also says keeping a journal helps.

7. Buy some home gym equipment

home gym equipment dumbbells

Doing some home workouts and buying bits of equipment, like a set of dumbbells or a kettlebell, is a great way to get familiar with gym equipment, build up a routine, as well as your confidence and physique before hitting the gym.

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