How to stop gym anxiety in its tracks and get fit with confidence

Do you feel intimidated or unsure during workouts? Research shows gym anxiety may hold you back from reaching your fitness goals. Here’s how to beat it.

Recent statistics show only one in four Australian adults is doing the right amount and combination of exercises to meet official physical activity guidelines – and one reason may be something called gym anxiety.

Research by Curves Australia shows gym anxiety is holding a fair few of us back from exercising regularly.

The survey found 20 per cent of Australians consider themselves “gymphobes”, and nearly one in two of us regularly experience anxiety about exercising in public.

While gym anxiety typically triggers feelings of panic and worry when faced with a trip to the gym, experts say there are ways to overcome it and feel confident about reaching your fitness goals.

What’s behind gym anxiety?

According to Therapy Fitness director Emma Masters, many of the beliefs and attitudes that feed gym anxiety stem from uncertainty around what to expect.

Contributing factors may include a fear of being judged or hurt, and worry about not looking good in gym gear.

“Questions such as, ‘Will I be fit enough or strong enough?’, ‘Will I be able to work the equipment?’, ‘Will people judge me?’ or ‘Will I know what to do?’ can cause great uncertainty for people, whether you’re brand new to fitness or not,” Emma says.

Flow Athletic founder and director Ben Lucas agrees.

“Entering a new venue where you don’t know what the environment will be like or what’s in store for you can be very daunting for some people,” Ben says.

“Worrying that you won’t be able to do the exercises properly is another big one.

“There was also a big trend towards the message of ‘train hard or don’t train at all’ a few years ago, which can be very off-putting to a beginner,” he adds.

5 ways to feel more confident in the gym

To help turn any anxiety you feel about hitting the gym around, our experts suggest you try the following:

1. Do some research

“Create a level of safety by compiling as much information as you can about the gym or the studio you’re stepping into,” Emma suggests.

“If there’s a gym induction or an introductory session with a trainer, jump on board and bring all your questions so you can clear up some of the uncertainty in your mind.”

2. Enlist a friend

“If you can, bring a friend to ‘wingman’ you on your first trips to the gym or studio until you feel comfortable,” Ben suggests.

3. Seek expert help

Ben also suggests you ask for help if you don’t feel comfortable with the equipment.

“Book a session with a trainer so they can show you around the floor and help you make a program, or sign up to a fitness class where you’ll be prescribed a workout,” he says.

And as for that message to train hard or not to train at all? Ben says to forget it.

“People can achieve their goals without smashing themselves in the gym,” he says.

4. Get to know the community

“When it comes to fitness studios, community is one of the biggest drawcards for members, so say hello and make friends,” Ben suggests.

5. Take it one week at a time

To begin with, Ben recommends just committing to going for a week.

“Just by walking in the door you’re breaking the ice, and that will help to tame some of that anxiety,” he says.

Emma agrees. “The first session will always be the hardest, but it will never be as bad as you think,” she says.

“Make a commitment with yourself to show up and once you’ve done your first session, you’ll have ripped the band-aid off, ready to move forward into your new fitness routine,” she adds.

Remember, there’s more than one way to exercise

Still not keen to join a gym? Don’t let that stop you from making exercise a regular habit.

“A fitness studio with a great community can be a beautiful place … but if that doesn’t gel with you, there is so much you can do,” Ben says.

“Go for a power walk, a bush walk, a run, a swim; or try online workouts – as long as you’re getting your heart rate up, you will be doing some good.”

Written by Karen Fittall.