Gym anxiety and feeling too overwhelmed to step into a gym (or any exercise environment) is very common. It stops a majority of people reaching their fitness and health goals. Many of us know the scenario; you want to get fit and lose weight so you decide to join a gym. You start paying a weekly membership for your joggers to gather dust.
A couple of months pass and you decide “OK I better go”. You spend yet another week trying to find what to wear.
“What do most people wear these days?” You spend two nights frantically searching for trendy active wear on Instagram. Then you end up at Kmart and buy whatever you think won’t make you look like a wanker in a tank top.
You finally pull up in front of the gym… “Fuck I forgot my drink bottle… I will just have to go tomorrow” …yet another excuse.
Returning the next day, your heart starts racing and thoughts start flooding your mind;
“I have no idea what to do in there”
“What if everyone stares at me”
“What if everyone here is super fit and I’m not”
“What if I have to ask for help”
You start to sweat… You get so mad at yourself, “Don’t be silly”. You finally take a deep breath and walk in.
Once inside, you head straight to the treadmill (hell the only thing that doesn’t look like a torture device, and how hard could it be to use a treadmill). You step onto it and then proceed to stare at what looks like a spaceship control panel.
Five minutes after trying to work the bloody thing you end up on a cycle bike, barely breaking a sweat whilst googling a million different exercise plans in panic.
There’s no way you have the courage to ask the gym staff to show you how to use the equipment. How could you possibly expect a personal trainer who is qualified in exercise to show you what to do (sounds kinda ridiculous reading it doesn’t it). However, this is a very real and common thought many people have!
Gym anxiety is unfortunately so very common. Heck I’ve been there before, when I first started my weight loss and fitness journey. I remember going through phases where I would go to a few classes for a couple of weeks and then stop, I was never consistent. Ultimately, I decided enough was enough and put my tunnel vision on and decided not to care what anyone thought of me. I also ended up working at the gym- so I’ve been at both sides of the spectrum; the nervous rookie and the experienced gym-goer and staff member. I’ve decided to write this blog to hopefully shed some light on the reality of gyms and many exercise environments. This blog may come across as a bit of tough love, but my intentions are simply to open your eyes. I am also hoping to make you feel less alone, as the feeling of anxiousness surrounding the gym and any exercise environment is more common than you think.
Firstly, let’s go through the main fears women (and men) have stepping into a gym.
This is probably one of the main reasons people tend to shy away from the gym and also don’t go consistently. It’s natural for humans to feel somewhat anxious around the idea of uncertainty, especially if you’re also in a new environment. When I reached out to my readers/followers this was the main reason alongside judgment, which can also go hand in hand. We ultimately worry what people will THINK if they see us struggling to use a piece of equipment, or see us doing it wrong (which I have to say as someone who worked at a gym for a couple of years, I saw many seasoned “gym-goers” with horrendous technique and doing exercises wrong).
Honestly every single one of us starts off here, not knowing what machine does what, what exercise trains what body part. No one is born with that knowledge. So, you need to stop expecting to become a trained exercise professional overnight. There are a few different ways you can help overcome this feeling;
- Book in a personal training session or see if your gym does a complimentary introduction session. I know some people may feel too scared to take this step because they are embarrassed. But here is a reality check for you; personal trainers and gym instructors are actually TRAINED in this field; IT’S THEIR JOB. Trainers actually want you to come up to them and ask questions and possibly become a client. I was fortunate enough to have a PT approach me when I was an anxious newbie. She offered me a free session which turned into regular sessions, and eventuated into now being a certified PT myself and making exercise part of my life for the past eight years! If I didn’t take that first step into trying a PT session I probably wouldn’t be where I am now! As someone who has worked at a gym, I have never heard or seen a staff member laugh or make fun of a new member asking for help. It’s what they are there for! It’s like you being nervous to ask a barista to make you a coffee; it’s what they do- so use them!
- Ask any of your friends that go to a gym to come with you and show you what they do, or better yet try a class or a group PT session with them. Experiences are always less nerve-racking when you do it with a friend. Once you attend these classes or sessions together a few times you should start to feel confident enough to go alone and you’ll even meet some other awesome people.
- Research! If the previous solutions aren’t your cup of tea why not do your own research. There are an overwhelming number of programs out there, so you could ask people who have done programs before their thoughts on them. Before diving into a paid program check out free workouts on Pinterest. Then you can YouTube each of the exercises on the day you go to the gym, so they are fresh in your mind. When I was still relatively new to exercise I would even keep my phone with me at the gym (which 99% of people do anyway) and Google exercises while I was there. (Please note that doing any exercise incorrectly could lead to injury, so I would always recommend asking gym staff for help if you feel unsure.)
This is sadly a very common reason as to why people shy away from the gym. However, I used to feel the same and this was both at my heaviest and unhealthiest stage, and at my “ideal weight”. You will learn it has everything to do with your mentality and absolutely nothing to do with your appearance.
You walk into the gym rocking your Kmart tights that are five years old, using an old baby burp cloth as your gym towel, and joggers that really need to be replaced. You look around and see a couple of girls that look like they came right off a Victoria Secret runway. You start freaking out and thinking to yourself “fuck I look like a douchebag what are they thinking?!”.
Truthbomb: You wanna know what they are thinking?
“Oh man I don’t wanna work this afternoon”
“I wonder when the Bachelor is back on”
“Oh I hate my freckles”
“I hope my tights aren’t see through”
“Why is my boyfriend such a wanker”
“OMG this exercise burns”
“Oh I love her headphones”
So you wanna know what they are thinking about you?
That’s right. People are way too busy worrying about their own crap and their own lives – they don’t give a shit about what you’re wearing or what you’re doing (in the nicest possible way).
It doesn’t matter how fit someone looks or how amazing their active-wear is; EVERYONE has their own insecurities. We are all human and no one is better than anyone else. Everyone is at the gym for the same reason; fitness.
I have to admit sometimes I might catch myself staring in the direction of people at the gym but it’s because I’m completely zoned out staring into space listening to Beyonce. Alternatively I could be thinking; “oh I like her shoes I wonder where she got them…oh shit she caught me staring”.
So, next time you walk into a gym try to see in tunnel vision, and focus on your workout. I honestly like to think this way in every situation when it comes to judgment; there is no use racking your brains trying to figure out what everyone is thinking, it’s simply impossible and you are just wasting your time. Overthinking is the devil and not productive or helpful whatsoever so stop thinking and just start doing!
“I want to lose a couple of kgs before I go”
“I’m going to do a few home workouts first to get a bit fitter before I go”
Believe me I had that same mentality in the past when I had 20kgs to lose, and couldn’t even look at a treadmill without feeling like I needed an oxygen tank.
Again, here is another reality check for you; the gym is designed for people TO GET FIT. I think sometimes we can put unrealistic pressure on ourselves; besides we are human it’s what we do. However, it really just has to come down to you realising this. You do not need to BE or LOOK a certain way before walking into a gym, it’s not a sorority, it doesn’t have prerequisites (besides being physically able to participate in exercise with clearance).
When I worked at a gym NEVER did I hear someone say “Omg that person is so unfit why are they here”. Would be pretty ridiculous if someone did say that right? Not to mention they would be an absolute wanker if they did. Instead you would see people working their asses off and trying their best (no matter their fitness level) and look at them with admiration. I don’t care how much you weigh or how “unfit” you think you are, if you go into any exercise environment and try your best the only looks you will get are ones of respect. On the very rare occurrence it’s not admiration then that person is an ass-basket and doesn’t deserve a second of your time, but 99.9% of the time I can assure you that is not the case. You would be surprised how many people YOU will actually inspire just being there.
I do gym classes weekly, and being seven months postpartum I am nowhere near as fit as I used to be, do I give a shit how unfit I look now? Nope. I am there and I am trying and that’s exactly what people see. Postpartum or not- if you are there that’s all that matters.
You went away on holidays a few months ago and just haven’t gotten back into the gym since.
You got sick and just fell out of routine with the gym.
You’re simply just not feeling it lately.
“I can’t go back to the gym now it’s been too long, what will I say?!”
Truthbomb: You don’t have to say shit. Why do you need to have an excuse? The gym staff are not your boss, you don’t have an obligation to go if you don’t want to. Are you being paid to go to the gym? No.
You don’t owe anyone anything.
This of course doesn’t mean you should slack off and not go if you are able to! But don’t feel as though you should be embarrassed because you haven’t been in a while. You would be surprised how common it is. Most of the time the staff might not even realise you’ve been away for a while, they are too busy watching the clock wishing it was home time.
Life gets busy and the gym staff know that, so don’t sweat it!
I hope this blog has given you a bit of a reality check and also made you feel a bit less alone when it comes to the gym. Exercise is too good for people to miss out on because they are worried about being judged. So tomorrow you’re going to make use of that old gym membership, dust off those joggers and start. Also give yourself some credit for getting there in the first place – starting is always the hardest part.
You got this!