Gym anxiety is very common, especially when you first start out, and can be extremely unpleasant for those of us who experience it. I struggle with anxiety, and when I first started out in the gym I really struggled to overcome it. For years before Jonny and I started working out together I would join the gym but then rarely go, and when I did I would be so nervous that I often didn’t actually work out. I completely understand how overwhelming it can be when you are first starting out and experiencing anxiety. In this blog post, I’ve set out some tips to help you overcome gym anxiety if you experience it – some of which I used myself, the rest I have used with my clients.
Research how to do some basic exercises
There are so many helpful resources out there to help you understand proper technique for exercises – from blogs to YouTube videos. Something that helps is if you go in with an understanding of how to do the exercises you are planning – you will likely find that you feel less self-conscious and anxious if you have an understanding of what you should be doing.
Have a plan for your workout
This ties in with the point above, but having a planned workout really helps! What helps even more is to have a backup plan for if the equipment you want to use is busy. That way, you can walk in looking confident and have a plan of where you will go and what you will do. I always found that having to make decisions about what I was going to do on the gym floor really triggered my anxiety, and often made me leave, so having a plan and back-up plan always helped.
Make yourself a super motivational playlist
Make yourself a workout playlist of your favourite music, or the music that gets you most pumped. Many people find it hilarious that my workout playlist is rock and heavy metal based – apparently I don’t seem like the heavy guitar/screamy type of person – but I really like that kind of music (much to Jonny’s annoyance) and find it really motivates me in the gym. Play about with different styles of music to see what helps get you in the workout zone!
Don’t force yourself to do exercises you don’t enjoy
This is one that is SO often ignored. Look, it’s just so much easier to do things we enjoy. That goes even more so for those of us who experience anxiety. I get bad social anxiety, but get me talking about a subject I’m passionate in and I could talk for hours and won't notice that I’m anxious. On the other hand, if I’m in a situation where I’m discussing something that makes me uncomfortable, my anxiety will go into overdrive and I’ll feel awful. The gym is a similar principle – doing something you like will be much easier and more sustainable in the long run than doing something you don’t like because you feel like you should be doing it. Obviously if your goal is to get a new 1RM deadlift then you should really practice your deadlifts, but unless you have very specific goals that require specific exercises, you should be able to find something you enjoy!
Consider whether a class would suit you
This really wasn’t for me, but has worked for some of my clients – have a look at what group exercise classes are on offer at your gym and think about whether you like the sound of any of them. If you are nervous on the gym floor, you might find it helpful having an instructor telling you what to do and a group of other people all working towards the same goal as you. I can guarantee you, they aren’t looking at you or judging you – everyone is focusing on their own workout, so if you find a class you like then hopefully you can just focus on yours in a supportive environment. The important thing here is to find a good instructor – there are some amazing instructors out there but there are also some terrible ones who might end up putting you off, so try doing a bit of research before joining a class!
Avoid peak times
Gyms can get SO busy at peak times. In addition to our online and private clients, I currently work as a personal trainer in a gym in London and the busiest times for us are in the mornings before work hours, lunch times, and in the evening after work hours. This is because these times are when most people are able to fit in exercise. Don’t worry if you can only make it during peak times, but if you are able to figure out when in your gym is a bit quieter, it can be helpful to work out when there are fewer people around if you suffer from anxiety.
Go with a friend
If this is an option for you then I would highly recommend it. This is what finally worked for me – working out with Jonny. When we first moved in together, he started his usual gym routine and I decided to tag along – and it changed my life! Having someone there to motivate and support me made all the difference and I actually started enjoying the gym! We were doing strongman training at the time, which is super fun, and I found that although my anxiety wasn’t completely gone, it was much more manageable.
Find a PT who understands you
Going to the gym with a friend might not always be possible, so if it is an option for you financially, why not invest in a personal trainer? I know I’m biased, but in general we are a friendly bunch who really want to help you! I work with a number of clients who experience gym anxiety, and not only do they benefit from my fitness expertise, they basically have their own cheerleader in me and I will always support and encourage them. Before now I’ve even done some exercises with anxious clients so that they don’t feel like they are doing them alone. Finding a good PT who understands you can be challenging (I once tried to hire a PT about 7 years ago and his method was to shout at me, which made me feel like I was going to have a panic attack – I didn’t go back), but if you build a good relationship with your personal trainer it can make all the difference to your gym experience.
Remind yourself that no one is judging you
I know this is so easy to say and so hard to believe, but honestly NO ONE is judging you. Most people in the gym are there to improve their own lives, and won’t be paying the slightest bit of attention to you. On the rare occasion someone does pay attention, the chances are they just want to help. I know this can be intimidating. Very early on in my gym days, I had a well-meaning gym owner come over to help me with my deadlifting form. I’m now very grateful he did, as my deadlifts improved significantly, but at the time I just wanted to ground to swallow me up! I was absolutely mortified and just wanted to go home. Luckily, I had Jonny there to help me see that the guy was just being helpful and that it didn’t mean everyone was watching me thinking I was shit. I got over it and carried on, but it was really hard not to spiral. If it happens to you, try to remember that 9 times out of 10 it’s coming from a place of someone wanting to help you, not judge you.
Work out from home
Finally, if going to the gym seems too difficult or too overwhelming – don’t worry! It doesn’t mean you can’t still follow a really good workout routine! There are plenty of things you can do from home with just your own body weight or with minimal equipment. Jonny and I are about to launch a 12 week at home transformation programme that can be done with just resistance bands, so if you are worried about going to the gym then this will be perfect for you!
I know how hard it is to overcome anxiety – it steals your confidence and can affect every aspect of your life. It still hits me sometimes, but I’m so glad that I found a way to overcome it and keep exercising – I have no idea what my life would look like now if I hadn’t, but I certainly wouldn’t be a personal trainer running a health and fitness business! Exercise is so beneficial for you, and you never know where it might lead you if you give it a try!