Gym anxiety is a real thing. Many people experience it. It is that feeling of self-consciousness, unease, dread and even fear over working out at a gym. It can be very intimidating as a newbie to go workout with all those jacked gym rats. We feel like people are staring as we walk in. Gym anxiety leaves us feeling awkward and embarrassed. We compare ourselves to those around us and we are not as strong, fast, coordinated or flexible.
Title Photo Credit: Sherri Dafoe and Nexus Gym
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I have gym anxiety. Yes, I fully admit to it now. What? How can that be? I have been going to gyms on and off since graduating from high school… so, yes, a long time. I have had years of experience dealing with the fear of starting in new gyms. But, I know that gyms can offer me different workouts that I can’t get on my own. So, I overcome, preserver and I force myself to go. It becomes easier the more you do it, like most things that cause us anxiety.
Starting is the hardest part.
1. Start By Working Out At Home
I totally get it! Going to work out at a gym can be intimidating.
I still have gym anxiety when it comes to yoga. I am not flexible at all and think I look ridiculous doing some of the poses. Sometimes… okay… a lot of the times, I lose my balance and even fall over occasionally. So, I bought a great yoga for beginners video that I do at home. It helped me develop some balance, strength and flexibility before I started going to yoga classes.
My yoga DVD also helped me learn some of the terminology, like “upward dog” and “child pose”. Now I don’t feel like such a noob when I go to yoga classes at my gym.
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Body weight exercises are a good place to start
You don’t even need to buy stuff to workout at home. If you want to develop some muscle or bone strength, you can do body weight exercises. These are valid exercises that just use the weight of your own body for resistance. Experienced and professional bodybuilders even use these in their programs.
When I had a personal trainer develop a strength program for me a few years ago, it incorporated a lot of body weight exercises. It is a great way to start building muscle and strengthen bones. And these exercises can be done any where at any time; home, office, when travelling. You’ve probably heard of some of these…
- Mountain Climbers
- Wall Sits
- Calf Raises
- Arm Circles
That list alone is a pretty good whole-body workout. Try doing 2 or 3 of each to start and see how that feels.
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Stream a good aerobic video for a little cardio in your life
You can do some cardio at home too. The workout video industry has been around for decades. Sure, you could purchase a DVD or video, but there are tons of great free workout videos that you can stream off sites such as YouTube. Search “cardio workouts for beginners”. Find one that looks like fun and try it. Start with an easy one that is maybe 5 to 10 minutes long.
Be sure to work to your level. You are doing this in the privacy of your own home. No one is watching. Don’t even try to look like the video instructor who has had years of fitness and training. You shouldn’t even expect to come close. Just do what you can. If you need to take a break after 1 minute, that is totally acceptable. Rest, then start back into it again. This is a process of improvements. Don’t expect to nail it off the start. If you do, then it was too easy for you. Find a more difficult workout.
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But don’t lose sight of going to the gym
If there are such great workouts to do at home, why do you even need to consider going to a gym?
Well, the gym can offer you so much more. They have knowledgeable staff to teach you how to exercise properly. Classes that are offered can make workouts both challenging and fun. They have quality equipment that you don’t likely have at home. And they do the maintenance on that equipment so that you don’t have to. You will meet like-minded people that can support, teach and motivate you to improve your health and well-being. We are more likely to stick to a program if we have encouragement and support from our friends.
Going to a gym can be a rewarding and life-altering experience. You just have to go!
2. Find The Right Gym For You
What do you want to get out of a gym? Memberships can be costly. It is important to sit down and take a few minutes to think about what you want to accomplish at a gym. For example, do you want weight loss, to become stronger, improve or maintain bone density, or keep your heart healthy? These are all good reasons to join a gym.
But different gyms have different focuses and, thus, different equipment and amenities. A gym that focuses on bodybuilding may not have a pool for aquatic fitness classes, for example. A gym that focuses on cardio and spin classes may not have weight machines or free weights. Not all gyms are created equal. But, there is a great gym out there waiting for you to find it.
What can you afford? Joining a gym should be a long-term commitment. It will be important to add a gym membership into your personal budget.
Some gyms have different payment options. Some will allow you to pay as you go. You may even be able to purchase punch cards that may be discounted or give you a free entry after multiple paid entries. This may be the way to go if you just want to try the gym for a while. However, this cost can add up.
So, if you are committed to the gym and are going several times per week, it may be worth looking into monthly or yearly subscriptions. Usually, the longer you commit to the gym membership, the cheaper it gets in the long run.
Be sure to ask about the gym’s cancellation policy too. You never know what life may bring. Illness, moving, other commitments may derail best intentions. Ask upfront if you can get a partial refund if you need to cancel down the road. Get this in writing before signing up so you can reference it later if you need to.
If you find the perfect gym, but it is on the other side of town, your commitment may waver later. For example, getting out of bed to go workout early in the morning can be tough. Trust me, I have been there. When that alarm goes off, you want to just pull the blanket over your head and go back to sleep. Knowing you have a 40-minute drive in heavy traffic to get to the gym may make the difference in your decision to sleep in. If all you have to do is hop out of bed and drive a few blocks, it doesn’t seem so daunting and you are more likely to do it. So, try to find a gym that has what you need, but is closer to home.
Your gym should be convenient to get to.
Once you have decided what you want out of a gym, check out their website. Go to the list of amenities and see what they have. Does it fit with what you need to achieve your goals? If so, give them a call.
What is your first impression on that phone call? You are just starting out, so you want a gym that is friendly and helpful. If they seem pre-occupied, robotic or unfriendly on the call, move on. There are so many gyms to choose from, find one that welcomes you with open arms.
Go on a tour of the gym
It will be important for you to go on a tour of the gym before signing up. Not only will you see what the gym has to offer, but it will also help ease some of that gym anxiety.
Go tour with absolutely no intentions of signing up that day. Take that pressure off yourself. Be straightforward from the start. Just tell them upfront you are only looking around today and will decide later.
Take home any information they give you. Think about it. It is a long-term commitment, so you need to take the time to think it over.
You are new, so will have lots of questions when you first start out. Do you know how to use the equipment? Many gyms have instructors or even personal trainers to answer questions and show you how to use the equipment. Some gyms will even develop a fitness plan tailored to your needs. So, if you want this, you need to ask if it is available before signing up.
There are no-frills gyms too. They may not offer these services. So you do need to ask.
Ask if there are any additional fees for these services. Don’t assume it is included in a membership. Personal trainers can be costly but are a great way to stay motivated and workout properly.
Another way to orient yourself at a gym is to take their fitness classes. Ask what classes are available and if they are included in the membership. Usually classes are included or at least at a discount for members. It is the main reason many people join gyms.
You will also want to ask for a schedule of the classes to see if the classes you are interested in fit with your schedule. No point joining a gym for yoga classes if the classes are during your work hours. You will also want to ask if the class schedule changes frequently or is stable from month to month. Will that yoga class be during your lunch hour next month?
Some examples of specialty gyms are women only, aquatics/aquarobics, body building, and spin/cycling studios. There are even no-frills gyms that are a lot cheaper to join, if you only need the basics.
Again, look for a gym that has the equipment you need for your workouts. You hate treadmills? Then don’t sign up to a gym that only has treadmills and no indoor track. If you love to use a leg press machine, don’t settle for a gym that only has free-weights. This seems obvious, but you may be tempted to compromise if other things seem great. However, if it is important to you, don’t settle for alternatives. You won’t stay committed to your exercise schedule if you aren’t enjoying your workouts.
If you have no idea what equipment you need, that is okay too. You can find a gym just by knowing that you want to do strength workouts or cardio exercises, for example. Chat with the people giving you the tour. They will help you find joy and excitement in working out. That is why they are there.
3. Go During Off-Peak Hours
If you have gym anxiety, go when there are less people around. Every gym has quieter times. Ask about this when you talk to the folks that work there. You can also see this for some larger gyms when you search in Google. It is under “popular times”. Those quiet times will usually be early in the morning or late in the evening. An early morning workout can be an invigorating way to start your day.
4. Join A Class or Hire A Trainer
Many gyms have professional instructors that can help you with proper form. They can develop programs that are adjusted to your current fitness level. They can determine safe exercises while pushing you that little bit harder so that you improve. So, as a beginner, joining a class or hiring a trainer is a safe way to exercise and learn about fitness. It can help ease a little of that gym anxiety.
There are so many different types of classes and programs at gyms, it can be overwhelming. Here is a list of some classes that may be offered, so you have the some of the lingo down…
- Zumba – combines high energy dance with cardio and strength fitness
- Yoga – combines breathing techniques, strength, stretching and meditation
- Spin – cardio fitness using stationary bikes
- Tae bo – high energy fitness routines using martial arts techniques
- BoxFit – high energy fitness routines using boxing techniques
- CrossFit – branded conditioning program that combines varied workouts for strength and cardio
- Aquarobics, Aquacise or Aquajog – fitness routines that take place in water
- Bootcamp – interval training using a variety of military-style exercises for cardio and strength
- HIIT – high intensity interval training using short bursts of maximum energy
- TRX – bodyweight strength routine involving a trademarked suspension cable
- Fusion – combines spin class with other strength and cardio workouts
- Pilates – low impact exercises for strength, posture and flexibility
Of course, this is no where near a complete list. Gyms are always adding weird and wonderful variations into their programs, like Animal Flow and Hoop Fitness. This is a good thing, as it keeps our attention and prevents boredom of the same old workouts. It can be fun to try new things.
How does this help with gym anxiety?
Having a structured class where you are told how to move can take the guesswork out of working out. All you have to do is follow along.
Most classes face the instructor and away from the participants. Other gym-goers are watching the instructor and are not looking at you. They are busy trying to follow along, so they will be paying very little attention to what you are doing.
Not buying it?
Hang out at the back of the room, away from the instructor, if you are still feeling a bit insecure. That is completely acceptable.
Go a little early and have a chat with the instructor before everyone else shows up. Meeting the instructor and letting them know you are nervous can help ease that gym anxiety. A good instructor will even give you a few tips on how to modify some of the exercises to your beginner level.
Take a Class for Beginners
Some classes are even designed for beginners. So, you can be in a class with people who are just starting out too.
Most gyms rate their classes easy, intermediate or expert and will let you know what level the program was designed for. They don’t want you exercising outside of your fitness level either. Look for easier rated classes that say they are good for beginners. Ask gym staff if you aren’t sure.
Some gyms will also let you try a class for free to see if it is right for you. So, go give it a try.
No one does the workout to perfection
And do me a favor… While you hang out at the back of the class, look around. I guarantee that absolutely no one in that class is doing the routine to perfection, not even the instructor. No one is perfect. Everyone in that class will be at different levels of fitness. What counts is that everyone in that class is moving, one way or another. They are there at the gym working out. So, take a deep breath, relax and just have fun.
Strive for progress, not perfection!
5. Workout with a friend
Still nervous? Ask a friend to join you. If that friend is new, you can learn the workouts together. You can be a support system for each other. It is also more fun to exercise with friends.
I have had many a good laugh while working out with my buddies. Just ask my buddy Michelle about doing planks in the fitness class we took together. We were so bad at first, we had tears streaming down our faces from laughing so hard. I am not so sure the instructor thought it was as funny though.
Gym-goer friends can help ease your gym anxiety
You could also ask a friend who already goes to a gym to take you to one of their workouts. Most friends will jump at the chance to teach you their routine. They know that working out with a buddy is more fun too. It will mix up the monotony and motivate them too.
At the beginning of this article I told you a secret about myself: I too have gym anxiety. So, while we are telling secrets, I have another one…
Remember those gym rats I mentioned before? They started as noobs too. Shut-up! Right?!
Of course you know they weren’t born that way! But, we tend to forget that fact when we see them working out all buff and polished. They’ve been where you are right now. But they worked through it, stuck with it and what you see is where they are now. A lot of hard work, consistency and persistence got them there. It isn’t something to be jealous or fearful of. It is something to admire and strive towards. Find motivation in it. If you keep going to the gym, you will get there too. You can do it!
You just have to start!
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