God I’m out of breath. I can hardly breath. My chest is heaving as I draw in huge gulps of air in an attempt to lower my heart rate. My palms are sweaty and my face is flushed. My legs feel like jelly, I hope I don’t collapse “Okay you can do it, just push through. Go on, you got this”. I urge myself as I push open the gym door.
For me, going to the gym used to be an ordeal, but I also found it to be a release which would leave me in constant turmoil as to whether or not to go. I used to experience all of the above every morning as I parked my car and then had to pluck up the courage to even enter the gym. Although I still suffer with anxiety, my anxiety surrounding the gym has lessened and I wanted to share my experience and tips with you all.
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1.Have a Workout Plan
From personal experience I think this is massively important. Whether it’s a workout plan you have downloaded, or made up yourself, it doesn’t matter. Walking into the gym with structure and knowing exactly what equipment you will be using helps you to map out which parts of the gym you will be in so you can mentally prepare yourself. Every time you finish an exercise you can move on to your next one, without having to try and think on the spot. In the past, I have gone to the gym without a workout plan, panicked and left early because I didn’t want to look like lemon wandering aimlessly around the gym!
2. Practice at home and do your research
As the saying goes ‘fail to prepare and you prepare to fail’ so do your research. If there are any exercises you are unsure of I recommend watching youtube videos/googling them and then practicing them at home either with very low weights or just body weight. You ideally want to be doing this in front of a mirror so you can see your form and get it correct before you have to attempt the exercise in the gym. This way, you will feel more confident rather that trying to do a squat for the first time in a packed out gym.
3. Invest in headphones
They don’t have to be expensive flash headphones, just a comfy pair of headphones which will help you to block out the rest of the world. I personally have wireless, over ear headphones so I don’t have to worry about where to put my phone or getting my wires all tangled up. Get your music on and ignore everyone else.
4. Concentrate on yourself
It’s important to remember that people haven’t gotten up at 5am or dragged themselves to the gym after a long days work just to stare at you. Everybody in the gym is concentrating on themselves and you have to remember that most people in there are equally as shit scared as you are. They are just trying to get through their workout the same way your are. Don’t get me wrong, I often find myself gormlessly staring into space between sets, so if you do catch someone ‘looking’ at you, they aren’t really, they’re just spacing out during their rest before their next set.
5. Remember everyone started somewhere
Nobody walked into the gym on their first day looking like the incredible hulk. All these people you see in the gym that you want to look like were once you. The majority of gym goers appreciate that and will have the utmost respect for you just being there. They’re not expecting you to start whacking out muscle ups and doing 100kg squats. You’re there and that’s what counts, give yourself a bit of credit.
6. Don’t compare your three month progress with somebody’s three year progress
Remember you are new to the gym and potentially to working out. Don’t look at others and think about how they’re in better shape or what they will think of you. You are there to better yourself whether that be physically or mentally. You won’t make any progress by comparing yourself to others. Concentrate on yourself and your own progress.
7. It doesn’t matter how heavy you’re lifting
It doesn’t matter whether you’re lifting 2kg dumbbells or 20kg dumbbells. The most important thing is to concentrate on your form. Get that right and the weight will naturally come later. Also, for the record, I never notice what weight other people are lifting and quite frankly, I couldn’t give a shit. So, don’t worry that other people will judge you for lifting light.
8. Start on the machines and get a feel for the exercises
If you’re feeling anxious about entering the dreaded free weights area then I recommend starting on the machines. This will give you an idea of how the exercises should feel and will help you to get familiar with the gym. As your confidence grows you can begin incorporating one or two free weight exercises into your workouts and then gradually add more.
9. Not everyone is an expert
You may feel self conscious and like everyone is judging you, but you’d be surprised at just how many other people are feeling exactly the same as you. The majority of people there are not PT’s or full time dedicated fitness people but every day people like you and me. At the end of the day, most people probably don’t know if your form is correct unless they’re a certified PT or even care about what you’re doing as everybody is too busy concentrating on themselves.
10. Smile and say hi
It sounds simple but I think it goes a long way. You don’t have to be confident to smile at someone, you could make someone’s day if they’re feeling just as anxious as you are. A smile goes a long way. Smile and say hi at the front desk and in the changing rooms. Smile at people when you walk past them in the gym. People get used to seeing you there especially if you’re going at a set time every day. If you say hi, 9 out of 10 people will say hi back and it can give you that tiny bit of encouragement you need. Soon people will be saying hi to you as they remember your face. Over time, you won’t be the new person at the gym and you won’t feel as self conscious. You’ll just be another face in the weight section that everyone is used to seeing.
Besides the physical benefits, being in a routine at the gym has massively helped my mental state. My relationship with food has improved and on days when I work out I generally feel less anxious and sleep soooo much better!
I really hope you give the above a go and can overcome your fear of the gym. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. You can find me on social media or email me if you have any questions.