Overcoming Anxiety to Hit the Gym: 3 Tips to Get You Started
A lot of the time, it’s not that people are just lazy that makes them want to avoid coming to the gym, but that they may be fighting an underlying battle with anxiety that is preventing them. If it feels like you’re being handcuffed by anxiety when it comes to going to the gym, you should know that you’re not alone. In fact, even as someone who started going to the Y at age 9, and started going to the weight room as a high school athlete, even I get bit by the anxiety bug when I go to a new gym.
While there are plenty of ways that you can be healthy without having to go the gym, since working out there is my forte, here are a couple tips for those with gym anxiety to overcome it and become a gym regular, themselves.
Start Small and Gradually Increase
Before you take the dive and join a gym online, you want to make sure that you check it out for yourself, in-person. Some gyms hired amazing website designers that make them look amazing online, but they’re anything but in real life; on the contrary, other gyms didn’t invest quite as much on their website or social media, but it might be the perfect fit for you.
When you’re someone who struggles with anxiety and looking to start working out, the first thing you want to do is to find the gym that allows you to feel most comfortable. Make a list of the gyms you’re considering and check of them out for yourself by taking a tour of the gym to familiarize yourself with the equipment and layout. Most gyms offer free tours or orientation sessions, which can help alleviate anxiety and make you feel more comfortable in the space.
For those of you who have anxiety about working out in public and you’re determined to begin working out in a gym, try practicing exercises at home. There are many online resources, such as workout videos or fitness apps, that offer guided workouts that you can do in the comfort of your own home — even on my own website, I have a menu of instructional videos for over 100 exercises. This can help build your confidence and physical fitness before heading to the gym.
One of the most common errors that gym newbies make whenever they join a new gym is trying to tackle the entire gym all at once, and this is entirely because they have no plan. If gym anxiety is a problem for you, start by focusing on one area or piece of equipment at a time. For example, start with the cardio machines, and gradually work your way up to weightlifting or group fitness classes. The goal is to become more comfortable with the surroundings and movements, and helping build up confidence and prevent feeling overwhelmed.
Create a Routine
As I mentioned earlier, one of the most common errors made by gym newbies is going to the gym without a plan and wandering about the gym, from machine to machine. This always reminds me of the saying “A failure to plan is a plan to fail”. For the person who struggles with anxiety about going to the gym, making a routine for yourself could be your plan that allows you to increase your comfort level.
Before heading to the gym, have a workout plan in advance. This can help alleviate anxiety by providing structure and direction. Decide which exercises you want to do, how many sets and reps, and how long you plan to spend at the gym; if you’re a total newbie, you can generally start with 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for most exercise. Besides giving you structure and direction, your workout plan can help you stay focused and motivated during your workout.
Just like you schedule appointments and meetings in your calendar, adding workouts to the calendar can help those of you who are anxious about training at a public gym. Set a specific time each day or week to go to the gym by blocking off that time in your calendar, and treat it like an important appointment and making it a priority. This will help you establish a routine and make going to the gym feel like a regular part of your day.
Do you have a friend, co-worker, or family member that also wants to start being exercising? Having a workout partner can help a person with gym anxiety stay accountable and motivated, and provide a sense of support and encouragement. Not only does having a workout buddy can make going to the gym feel more enjoyable and less intimidating, but having someone else counting on you to show up to the gym in the first place can make flaking out on your workouts less likely.
Quiet the Mind
One of the reasons why I hate those gym fail videos, regardless if they’re real of no, where it appears that people are filming others without their permission to post it on social media. Consequently, this gives the impression to people with anxiety feel more discomfort. You should never feel uncomfortable at the gym, and if you happen to notice someone filming you, it is your right to bring this to the attention of the gym staff, so they can take care of the situation. In most situations, gym-goers are only interested in working on themselves, but if you struggle with anxiety, it might be your negative thoughts getting the better of you.
Anxiety about working out can cause racing thoughts and negative self-talk, which can make going to the gym feel overwhelming. Practicing mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, can help calm the mind and reduce anxiety. Try taking a few deep breaths before heading to the gym (you can even do this in your car as soon as you park), or practice a short meditation session to help center yourself.
Positive self-talk can help shift negative thoughts and reduce anxiety. Instead of focusing on the things you're afraid of, try reframing your thoughts in a positive way. For example, instead of thinking "I'm too out of shape for the gym," try saying "I'm taking steps to improve my fitness, and every effort counts.” If it’s a lack of training experience that is triggering your negative self-talk, hiring a personal trainer can help you learn how to perform the exercises and feel more confident.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, just by going to the gym is a victory, and this needs to be celebrated! Give yourself credit for the effort you put in, and don't be too hard on yourself if you don't reach your goals right away — remember, you want to make yourself feel more comfortable and confident about going to the gym. Every small step counts, and celebrating those wins can help create a positive feedback loop and reduce anxiety.
If you struggle with anxiety, you should not be ashamed, but it does mean that you will have to put in extra effort to workout at the gym. By starting small, creating a routine, and practicing quieting the mind, you can make going to the gym as regular as routine things like making the bed or doing laundry.