Gym intimidation is a very common phenomenon experienced by people new to the gym environment.
And it is completely normal.
As human beings, doing anything that pushes us out of our comfort zone can be an anxiety-inducing experience.
In this blog post, I’ll outline some actionable strategies that you can implement to overcome your fear of the gym environment.
These are techniques I have used myself as well with clients in the Workday Physique team with great results.
At the end of the post you will find a link to download a free worksheet to help you in this process.
Although I have been weight-training on and off since 2011. There have been multiple instances in my journey when I have gone out-of-shape.
And each time this has happened. And I have had to go back to a gym after a long break. I experienced the dread and nervousness I felt as a beginner lifter.
I have had to do a lot of soul-searching to find the root cause of such anxious behaviour.
I have outlined simple steps to cope with this so that you don’t have to deal with it any longer than required.
The source of gym intimidation lies in our internal thought process.
Both you and me. And everyone around us. Has an internal dialogue in our heads.
It is the voice that screams: “Damn I’m good.” after a sense of accomplishment.
This same voice is also our biggest critic.
“Wow I really look fat in this.”
“I’m sure everyone thinks I’m stupid.”
“I feel so out of place.”
“Everyone is staring at me.”
This critical voice is the voice of your gym intimidation bully.
And silencing it is the key to feeling confident in a gym environment.
Before I get into the strategies to tackle this problem. I’d like to briefly talk about a psychological phenomenon called the spotlight effect.
The spotlight effect is the phenomenon by which people tend to believe they are being noticed more than they really are. The reason for the spotlight effect is the innate tendency to forget that although one is the center of one’s own world, one is not the center of everyone else’s.
We are the main character in our life. But everyone else is the main character in their own individual lives.
The way we are hyper-aware of how we appear to others. Others feel the same way about themselves.
Just understanding this will take off a lot of pressure you experience in uncomfortable public environments.
You may also like: Goal setting and fitness: how to make your journey enjoyable.
Actionable steps to deal with gym intimidation:
Realise that everyone in great shape in your gym was once a beginner. Each one of them knows the work it takes to lose bodyfat and to build muscle.
When they see someone making an effort. They know how much willpower it must have taken for the person to take their first steps.
They want you to progress.
Go with a friend or someone you know who loves to workout
Having someone you know for company is always helpful in unknown environments. It is even better if that friend has some experience with exercise and weight-training.
Ask someone you trust if you can join them for a few sessions till you feel confident going on your own.
Take advantage of any free personal training sessions
Some gyms offer a trial period where a personal trainer guides you. This could be for 2-3 sessions. Make use of this time to ask a lot of questions.
Learn the ins and outs of how to use the different equipment.
Get accustomed to the layout of the place.
Read about weight-training and exercise on your own
There are many free resources available on the internet these days. Pick a source you trust and try to learn about the basics.
Read about different exercises and how they work different muscle groups.
What is the correct way to execute a certain exercise? How many sets and reps should you be doing?
The increase in knowledge would carry over to boost your confidence at the gym.
You may also like: Picking the right training method: 3 things to keep in mind.
Listen to high energy music that lifts your mood
Music has a big influence on our state of mind.
Take advantage of this by creating a playlist of songs that get you hyped.
Put on this playlist on your way to the gym and during your workout.
Catch your negative self-talk and evaluate your thoughts.
This is possibly the most powerful strategy among all.
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Our internal thought process is the source of our gym anxiety.
And being able to work on it consciously will help you overcome your gym intimidation the quickest.
Download the worksheet here. Or at the end of this post to help you with this exercise.
Here are the steps to restructure your negative thoughts:
- Write down your thought.
- Write down the facts supporting and contradicting this thought as a reality. What facts about this thought are accurate? What facts call it into question?
- Is this thought based on evidence or is it simply your opinion?
- Is this thought truly a black-and-white situation, or whether reality leaves room for shades of gray? This is where you think about (and write down) whether you are using all-or-nothing thinking, for example, or making things unreasonably simple when they are complex.
- Are you misinterpreting the evidence or making any unverified assumptions?
- Might other people have different interpretations of the same situation?
- Are you looking at all the relevant evidence or just the evidence that backs up the belief you already hold? Try to be as objective as possible.
- Is your thought an over-inflation of the truth? Some negative thoughts are based in truth but extend past their logical boundaries.
- Are you entertaining this negative thought out of habit or because the facts truly support it?
- How did this thought come to you? Was it passed on from someone else? If so, is that person a reliable source of truth?
- Finally, complete the worksheet by identifying how likely the scenario your thought brings up actually is. And whether it is the worst-case scenario.
These questions encourage a deep dive into the thoughts that plague you and offer opportunities to analyze and evaluate those thoughts.
This awareness building exercise will help you cope better with irrational thoughts that may be triggering your gym anxiety.
Remember to take things slow.
Building new habits can be overwhelming.
Instead of trying to go from 0 to 100 at once. Take small steps.
What this means is. Instead of trying to go to the gym every single day of the week for 2 hours a day.
Just go for 10 minutes every alternate day. Get used to walking on the treadmill.
Use the machines on another day.
Let yourself adapt to the environment over a period of weeks.
The gym will feel like a second home to you in no time.
Download the free Cognitive Restructuring Worksheet to help you in this exercise.