I don’t know about you, but when I first hear the word gym, I instantly envisage a group of sweaty, bulging men, lifting weights whilst admiring themselves in the mirror and grunting at an almost offensive volume. I can almost taste the testosterone.
As a five-foot-something, naturally petite female who had never lifted a weight in her life, you can probably understand why the idea of putting myself in this kind of environment used to make my stomach churn. I went red-faced at the mere thought of exercising in front of other people, and even worse, at the idea of ending up on one of those infamous #gymfailcompilation videos after making a fitness faux pas. Oh no, it was much safer to stay at home.
However, every year when the summer body season commenced, I found myself at conflict, desperately wanting to get in shape, yet being cripplingly worried about doing so. I used to do classes at my university gym and that was fine, but I wanted to build up muscle, and the thought of stepping into the area with weights and machines was all a bit overwhelming. It wasn’t until the start of this year when I tentatively typed ‘how to overcome gym anxiety’ into my search bar that I really thought about conquering my fitness fears, deciding it was time to get back on the horse (or treadmill) and face the music after all.
I recently did a poll on my Instagram story, asking my followers if they have ever felt awkward or embarrassed about going to the gym, and the results showed that I am clearly not alone in my unease, with 72% saying that they have experienced this feeling. So I felt that I wanted to do a post about it to hopefully help anyone who wants to start exercising but feels too nervous to do so!
I have now been a regular gym goer (3-4 times a week) since February of this year, after promising myself that I would dedicate more time to exercising. As you can imagine, this was nerve wracking for me, as not only did I have the anxiety about going to the gym itself, but I had the added stress of it being a French gym, where multiple people were coming up to me during my sets and asking things that I didn’t understand (I must have missed the lesson where we learnt gym vocab at school…) Nevertheless, I have been pushing myself to go, even when I don’t feel like it, and it has calmed my nerves massively over time! I generally go with my housemate which really helps, but since starting I have actually felt fine going by myself as well. It may seem like a small step but the thought of going alone would have once made me want to cripple into a ball of awkwardness, so this is definitely progress.
As someone who started off being terrified of the gym, and even now still has some awkward phases, I wanted to share a few easy tips in this post that could help you overcome your fitness fears!
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
I am really fortunate to have a lot of spare time on my year abroad as my uni schedule is undemanding to say the least, and this is something I have found to be extremely helpful and important when going to the gym. The first time I turned up to the gym it was 8pm, and I was pretty horrified by what I was greeted by. Virtually every square inch of space was taken up by a gym-goer, with people actually queueing to queue for the machines…what had I got myself in to?
Luckily, I was met with a much less chaotic picture the next day when I went at around lunch time. If you’re someone who has a fairly flexible schedule, for instance if you’re a student, then make the most of this! Try going to the gym at an off-peak time and you will find it much less stressful because not only will there be more equipment free to use, but you will be able to take your time when doing your sets.
VALUE FOR MONEY
So if you’re someone who works full time and doesn’t have the flexibility to go in off-peak time, then it might be worth considering one of the more upmarket gyms. The gym I go to is called Basic Fit and of course it is cheaper, but this also means that half of Toulouse’s inhabitants exercise there. Smaller, or more upmarket gyms may be a little bit more expensive, but this naturally means that there are fewer people who go there. So if you feel that you can afford it, then this can be a great environment to work out in if the thought of a crammed gym makes you want to self-combust.
TWO’S A COMPANY
This tip is the main thing that helped me get over my fears about the gym. I joined up with my housemate and since then we have gone and worked out together pretty much every time. Having someone to work out with takes away a huge amount of the anxiety surrounding going to the gym, so I definitely recommend this above everything else. Try asking around and seeing if any of your friends or family would be up for joining with you!
THE INTERNET IS YOUR BEST FRIEND
One of the main things that stressed me out about going to the gym and not doing a class where I’m told what to do, was that I had no idea what exercises to start with. It can be intimidating looking around and seeing everyone else as some kind of gym expert, but the reality is that everyone started in the same position as you did.
Something that has really helped me is Instagram and youtube. There are so many fitness gurus out there who post lots of different workouts that you can try in the gym. Try following or subscribing to a few of these people and you can start building up your knowledge about different exercises!
AVOID CENTRE STAGE
Like I said before, there are usually a few areas of the gym that are constantly occupied by bulging, grunting men, no matter what time of day that you go. If the thought of this puts you off going to the gym then I don’t blame you, theres still one corner of my gym that remains completely untouched by me. However this doesn’t have to stop you from going!
There are loads of circuits you can find online that can be done with or without a weight and are still really good for your body. If you don’t feel comfortable going on the machines or being surrounded by lots of other people, then try going to a quiet area in the gym and doing some of these. That way, you can work out in peace, and still feel the burn.
So those are some really simple things you can do to try and ease your worries about joining the gym. The main thing that used to stress me out about going was simply the fear of making mistakes, and subsequently being watched and laughed at by more experienced gym goers. Since then I have learnt that even in a busy gym like mine, people just really aren’t interested in what you’re doing. In fact, everyone is far too occupied with checking themselves out to even think about judging you. It looks like I’ve discovered that the world doesn’t revolve around me after all? Shocked and upset.
Exercising really does improve your mood and productivity rates so it would be a shame to let gym anxiety get the better of us! I hope this post could be helpful for anyone out there who is hesitant to join the gym, you can do this!