If you're new to working out or getting back into a regular routine, finding your feet at the gym can be daunting.
I was in a solid routine of working out 3 times a week last year. When I first joined the gym I was hyper-aware of everything I was doing because it was all new to me. I ended up focusing more on other people's perception of me rather than my training. I had no idea what I was doing so kept myself small and stuck to what I knew, which at the time was very little.
With the help of a personal trainer, I felt on top of the world. Looking back now, I’m really proud of the confidence I’ve built with working out. But it was a journey to get here.
I’ve moved location recently and changed to a new leisure centre. I’m pretty confident in my gym knowledge but there's something about walking into a new environment that is quite nerve-wracking. In this post, I explore what can trigger gym anxiety and how to overcome feelings of uncertainty to help you feel confident.
What is gym anxiety?
Gym anxiety is when a person feels anxious whilst exercising in a public gym in front of others. It’s completely normal to feel unsettled in the gym, especially if you’re around new people or learning a new movement.
Figuring out what causes your anxiety around the gym can really help to figure out the best way to settle your nerves and create a plan that works for you.
Common triggers of gym anxiety
You’re new to working out
Learning a new skill is a lot - especially when you’re learning with a crowd., You may feel intimidated by the people around you and worry about their perception of you. This was my experience!
Using new equipment
If you’ve ever stared at a machine wondering how it works, you’re not alone. Learning how to use new equipment is a process and can be very overwhelming if you haven’t used them before.
Different areas of the gym
Walking into new areas of the gym is daunting. The weights section in particular is often dominated by those who are ultra-confident in lifting. This can be an intimidating place for those who haven’t done it before and you can end up sticking to what you know.
You’ve changed gyms
If you’re like me and you’ve changed gyms, this can throw you off! Navigating a new layout, where the machines are and finding the locker room can be a bit awkward until you’ve found your way.
How do I overcome gym anxiety?
Go to the gym with a solid plan in mind. Even if it’s just to walk on the treadmill for 15 minutes to have a look around and get your bearings.
Choose some activewear you feel confident in and find your headphones if you plan to listen to music (headphones are also a great way to show people you’re not up for chit-chat!).
Ease yourself in
If you’re nervous about going to the gym, my best advice for the first few weeks is to find the times when it’s quieter. This way, you can do your first few workouts with less of an audience and give yourself a chance to build up some confidence before going at peak time.
If you’re serious about your new gym routine, there’s a chance you’ll have some fitness goals in mind too. Whilst it can be tempting to set ambitious targets right from the start, overdoing it at the beginning will leave you feeling sore, tired and not very keen to go back. Instead, start small and build your routine depending on what feels right for your body.
Try not to compare yourself to others
It’s easy to compare yourself to others but everyone is on their own fitness journey. There may be people around you who have been training for years, some may be recovering from an injury, some may be brand new to the gym.
Just remember the person you’re in the gym to focus on and look after is you. Most importantly, most people are way too involved in what they are working on to worry about what you’re doing. Tik-Toker Natalee Barnett is a great example of this!
Ask for help
Knowledge is power. If you’re unsure on how to use a machine or piece of equipment, ask. It’s the staff's job to help you feel comfortable. Let reception know you’re looking for some help and ask them to point you in the direction of a personal trainer.
Having someone show you how to perform an exercise properly will help you build confidence, teach you a new skill and even prevent serious injury.
Have some positive affirmations at the ready
In moments when you feel uneasy it’s easy to lose sight of why you’re in the gym. To distract yourself from nervous thoughts, write down 2-3 positive reasons why you want to be in the gym. This exercise has helped me refocus in moments of uncertainty.
Anxious thought: “I’m feeling intimidated and silly in front of these people. I don’t want to be here.”.
Positive thought: “I’m choosing to be here to care for and nourish my body. I’m just as worthy to be here as everyone else”.
Take a friend or try a group workout class
If you’d prefer not to go to the gym alone, team up with a friend for some company. If you can’t think of anyone who’d like to join you, you could also sign up to a class to workout as part of a group.
If you’d prefer to be left alone in the gym, wearing big headphones usually gives people the right idea.
Give yourself permission to take up space
If you’re feeling anxious, it’s natural to want to stay ‘small’ and introverted but you should feel empowered by your decision to be active and move your body. It may take time to feel like you belong but this comes with time.
You may want to shy away from the gym if you feel anxious about it. But the more you go, the more confidence you’ll build and the easier it will become to stick to a solid routine. If you need help with staying accountable and feeling inspired there is a huge online community of people sharing their helpful tips and workout ideas. Here are some quotes from two of our favourite experts:
“If you’re still really intimidated to set foot in the gym, start with some basic movements at home first. Once you have gained confidence, you’re all set to progress. Remember, the gym is for everybody, experienced or not. You’ll notice that the more confident you get that no-one is judging you other than yourself. Go get your goals. Feel that fear and do it anyway.” - Salena Mastroianni“The most important factor when it comes to consistency and getting the most out of your workouts is to find a form of movement you really enjoy. It also makes a massive difference if you can find someone who enjoys the same type of exercise. Not only will you enjoy it so much more but it will also ease any anxiety. They can become your accountability buddy too!” - Uta Boellinger