Do you feel intimidated by all the “fit” people at the gym? Do the thought of weights scare you? Do exercise machines make you feel nervous? Do you feel as though others are judging your form? Do you start questioning your physical ability as soon as you book into a class?
Did you answer yes to any of the above? If so, you, my friend, may have “gym anxiety” and not even know it.
What is gym anxiety?
“Gym anxiety is a type of social anxiety marked as a fear of social or performance situations in which a negative evaluation may occur,” explains Head of Fitness at Fitness First, Michael Cunico.
Cunico notes that gym anxiety is extremely common, and does not discriminate between gender, size, strength, or fitness level. It’s also seen as a major disruption for many people in achieving their health goals.
“The gym is a perfect platform for people to potentially look at and judge you and your performance. Gym anxiety is also heightened when you do anything new or that you haven’t mastered, or simply when you’re around new people or in a new gym.”
How do you know if you have gym anxiety?
Cunico lists the most common thoughts that will run through an individual’s mind:
- “How do I even use this machine?”
- “Am I doing this wrong?”
- “I look so weak.”
- “I’m sweating so much.”
- “Are people watching me?”
- “Is that person ogling me?”
- “Are people laughing at me?”
- “Is someone filming me?”
- “Am I going to be on the internet?”
- “Is this class going to be too hard for me?”
- “I hope no one comes up to me to tell me what to do.”
What causes gym anxiety?
There are four reasons gym anxiety occurs:
1. Not being sure what to do in the gym or with the equipment;
2. Comparing yourself to other people in the gym;
3. Feeling like people are judging you;
4. Feeling like you don’t belong because “you’re not fit enough” or “you don’t go often enough”.
“Humans are wired to base their decisions on the people around them and whether they are friends or foes,” Cunico explains. “This evolutionary behaviour allowed civilisation to ensure their safety by forming groups of trustworthy friends and keep enemies at bay. When going into a new environment such as the gym, whether people are looking at you or not, both can be perceived as intimidating.”
Cunico notes that much of it comes down to body image insecurities. “Outside of gym or social anxiety, when you are in the gym you are very aware of your body and other people’s bodies. This can cause you to begin comparing and ranking yourself against others.”
How can you overcome gym anxiety?
Overcoming gym anxiety is the first step towards not feeling judged and properly working towards your health goals. So how can you do it?
Just like you won’t drop 10kg overnight, overcoming gym anxiety takes time – but the main thing is that it is possible.
Here Cunico shares his 7 top tips to helping you conquer your gym fears:
1. Avoid peak hours
After the morning rush and after the lunch break are the best times for the gym.
2. Bring music
Bringing music is the one of the best ways to zone out, silence other gym members and motivate you to go harder.
3. Do your research beforehand
Roaming around the gym not knowing what you are going to is only going to increase your anxiety. Look online and/or map out what you are going to do in the gym. This will also give you tips on how to use machines and perfect your form.
4. Get a PT
If your wallet allows it, getting a personal trainer. Even for the first couple of weeks/months is a great way to make you relaxed and comfortable with exercising and the gym in general.
5. If you’re up to it, take a class
Classes are a good option for people who don’t know what to do with class instructors telling them what and how to do exercises. Classes are also always friendly environments as no one is an expert and most people are trying exercises that are new.
6. Bring a friend
A friend is a great option as they will put you at ease in the gym and are a great for motivation, asking questions, and easing nerves.
7. Be confident
Remember that hardly anyone is paying attention to what you are doing, at least far less than you think. Everyone has been new to the gym once in their life so everyone gets it. Put your earphones on, pull out your routine and get moving. The hardest part is getting yourself there. Once you get there you realise everyone is in their own world.