On top of all the other reasons you might skip a trip to the gym–you’re busy, you’re tired, it’s expensive–at one point or another, you may have also felt anxious, intimidated or embarrassed.
Gym anxiety, or “gymtimidation,” can affect anyone–whether you’re stepping into a new gym for the first time or your local fitness studio for the first time in a long time. Maybe you’re worried about other people watching you, or not being familiar with the equipment; maybe the intensity of the class description is holding you back, or the fear of being judged by people around you.
The good news? You’re not alone. Experts say many gym goers experience these same emotions from time to time. The even better news? Pushing through those worries can have a huge payoff.
“One of my favorite sayings is: ‘There is no growth in the comfort zone,’” says Ally Rising, Orangetheory Fitness Quality Control Analyst and Certified Personal Trainer. “That may be challenging yourself with heavier dumbbells, choosing a faster speed or just showing up for class. Choosing to do something that scares you will not only benefit you inside the fitness space, but can make you a stronger and more resilient person in all aspects of life.”
There are some simple steps you can take to overcome gym anxiety and get the results you want. Here are five ways you can lean into your fears and conquer a scary-for-you fitness challenge.
Choose a group class.
A big misunderstanding is that you must have a base level of fitness to begin working out in a gym or take group fitness classes, says Rising. “Just like with everything in life, everyone starts from zero! Participating in group fitness classes is a great way to dip your toes into the water and learn from certified coaches within a supportive and uplifting environment.”
Show up early.
Coming to class early is one of the best ways to reduce fear and intimidation. “At Orangetheory, we ask new clients to arrive 30 minutes early for this exact reason,” says Rising. “Prior to the workout, they’ll have the opportunity to meet the coach and become familiar with the studio and the equipment.” No matter the fitness studio or workout class, Rising recommends introducing yourself to the coach or trainer and letting them know you’re a little bit nervous. “This is also a perfect time to let them know if you have any existing injuries or exercise restrictions, so they can customize the workout experience to meet your needs.”
Put your blinders on.
Even if the room is packed, try to imagine it’s just you and the instructor. “Focusing on the coach’s instructions and less on the other members in class is a great way to ease intimidation,” says Rising. “Remember, everyone is on a different journey and is working toward their own individual goals.” If you are going to look around, use the comparison to your advantage. See someone who’s clearly a few chapters ahead of you on their fitness journey? That’s great! It’s a reminder that it’s possible for you to get there, too.
Experts often point to “exposure therapy” as a way of overcoming fears and anxieties–exposing yourself to the thing you fear in a safe environment. Tap into the benefits of exposure therapy by signing up for a week-long fitness challenge, like Orangetheory’s annual Hell Week–eight days of intense (but doable) heart-pumping workouts. While it may feel scary, you will be led by supportive, certified coaches to ensure it’s completely safe. “All of our workouts are reviewed and tested, before being launched in-studio,” says Rising. “If we think a workout or a specific exercise within the workout may be challenging, we ensure that multiple options are provided.” Will it be hard? Absolutely. But can you do it? Without a doubt.
Use mind control.
Studies show a sense of agency–or the feeling of control over your actions–makes scary events like gym anxiety easier to tolerate and overcome. Remind yourself that you are the one choosing to take on this challenge. Your doctor, family member, or trainer didn’t force you to do this, you chose it–and on some level, you know you can (and want) to do it. Use that as your mantra to help walk into a new gym or class with a bit more confidence.