Editor’s note: Consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Stop immediately if you feel pain.
It happens to everyone who goes to the gym once. When you get ready to go to the gym or start using equipment, you suddenly feel stressed and anxious. Perhaps it’s because of the clothes you’re wearing, your lack of fitness, or the uncertainty about how your group class will operate. Called “fear of the gym,” these negative feelings are real and can hinder you from achieving your fitness goals. That’s a real problem, experts say.
There is ample evidence that good physical health is the key to preventing chronic disease and death. Staying active also helps you sleep better, achieve or maintain a healthy weight, and control blood pressure. Additionally, exercise is a powerful force in fighting stress, anxiety, and depression. This is really ironic when it comes to gymtimidation issues.
“Gym anxiety affects everyone, young and old, men and women,” said Brooklyn Sadell, director of group fitness strategy development at Crunch Fitness in New York City. “The frequency and intensity varies from person to person, but it affects people of all ethnicities, races and ability levels.”
Dr. Erin Nitschke, a certified health coach, said gymtimidation is definitely common, but not many people talk about it. “If you’re unfamiliar with the gym atmosphere, have body image concerns or are unhappy with your body, or are in a crowded space, you may find yourself in a crowded space,” says Nitschke, program director of science at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming. “Anyone who feels uncomfortable can experience this.”
The anxiety about working out in the gym is also partly due to the fact that the gym is actually a special environment, Sadell said. While going to a coffee shop for coffee or going to the movies for entertainment, people go to the gym for a variety of reasons. Gym-goers may go to the gym for health benefits, such as to address a health concern, to achieve a specific exercise goal, or to be socially accepted and respected.
“I mean, all these people are very close to each other and they come for their own reasons, but I don’t know what everyone’s reasons are,” Sadell said.
This ambiguity can lead to feeling valued or inadequate, especially if you can’t achieve what others can, or if you don’t know how to use the equipment. Insecurity and fear of others’ opinions may be two of the driving forces behind the popularity of her shy girl workout videos on TikTok, which collectively have more than 530 million views. view. One viewer posted a common sentiment, “I want to do this so much, but I’m most afraid someone will judge me.”
There are many ways to make going to the gym more enjoyable. But first, Nitsche said, you need to identify exactly what’s making you uncomfortable. One way he does this is by pondering a few simple questions. How would you describe your concerns about the gym? What is my main fear? What will help me feel more confident and belonging at the gym?
Once you’ve identified your fears and concerns, see if you have one or more of these options shared by Nitschke and Sadell. help alleviate them.
Gyms come in many shapes and sizes. A small boutique or a women’s-only gym might be just what you need to boost your confidence. Or you may prefer a large facility with many classes and facilities to choose from. Also pay attention to the location. You will need something close to work or home.
Whatever style is trending at the gym, wear comfortable clothes that make you feel comfortable, especially if they’re tight or revealing. A shy girl’s TikTok video suggested her baggy T-her shirt and shorts. However, if you feel more confident in tights and cropped tops, you should wear them.
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Most gyms offer tours, explain how to use certain equipment, and provide information about popular classes and busiest times. Armed with this knowledge, you can choose to go when there are fewer people or use your equipment in safer areas. Or maybe you choose a convenient time to shower at home instead of going to the locker room, even if you’re busy.
Some people find that working out with a friend or two makes them less visible and more secure. Doing so also provides accountability and social support. Group classes are also a good option. If it’s your first time, setting it in the back of the room may help until you get used to the routine.
If the gym isn’t for you, outdoor exercises like one-on-one fitness training, online workouts, walking, running, and biking are always available. Most importantly, don’t let anxiety in the gym stop you from training altogether.
“Fitness is for everyone,” Sadell said. “It might take a little more digging, but there’s something out there that ignites your soul. I hope nobody gives it up.”
Melanie Radzicki McManus Freelance writer specializing in hiking, travel and fitness..