Dealing with Gym Anxiety

by Leanne Jacklin-GreyJan 22, 2020

Ok so picture the scenario: you’ve been following the home guide from the Tone & Sculpt app for a while now and you’ve made great progress. But, now you want a new challenge. Something different; something that’s going to take you out of your comfort zone and really test your physical strength. So you finally decide to go all in and join the gym. Good for you! Not only does the gym have some super exciting equipment for you to try, it's also a great opportunity to make some new like-minded friends…yay!

You turn up for day one, roaring and ready to go. You walk through the doors and suddenly find yourself completely overwhelmed. Your heart starts pounding, palms are sweating, your stomach is literally doing somersaults, and this is all before you even start your workout. What is this awful feeling that’s suddenly taking over? This, my friend, is known as gym anxiety.

I’m going to be very honest with you here, I have worked in gyms since I was a teenager. I started out on reception at a local health club and worked my way up to personal trainer. So fortunately for myself, I haven’t really experienced gym anxiety (unless there was a guy in that I fancied, but that’s a whole different story). I have, however, during my time as a receptionist, spent a lot of time talking to members about their gym anxiety and the fears they have of going to the gym.
I really want to guide you through why you may feel this way; I’ll give you a few fresh perspectives on what it’s really like at the gym and also provide you with a few of my personal favourite tips to get you in that gym so you can start doing this for you.

So what is gym anxiety and why do we have it?

Realistically it comes down to a lack of self confidence. When we’re in a new environment we can feel intimidated for a number of reasons: comparing ourselves to others, not knowing what we are doing or how to use equipment, and worrying about being judged by others.

Ok, so let’s start with comparisons, something widely addressed through social media at the moment. You could start the day feeling so super confident and sassy, but within 5 minutes on social media your confidence has dropped from a 10 to a 2. Sound familiar? The only difference with gym anxiety is you are comparing yourself in person. Do they have a better body than me? Do they lift more weights than me? Can that run faster than I do? It is almost the norm for us now to compare ourselves to others and it is not a healthy habit. I don’t know why we do this to ourselves. The thing you must remember is not only are we all built differently, but we are also all at very different stages in our fitness journeys.
There is no criteria you have to meet before you start going to the gym. Fitness literally is for everybody. It does not matter how tall you are, how much you weigh, the colour of your skin, or the shape of your body, if you want to be better and healthier for you, then do it.
Keep in mind even my own body looks very different now to when I first started working out, and the same thing goes for everyone. Once you become more comfortable at the gym and start to make friends with other gym goers you will be amazed by their fitness journeys too, like I said everyone starts somewhere and this just happens to be your turn.

Unlike social media, you can’t just unfollow people in real life that make you feel bad about yourself, so give this little exercise a try to help manage your mindset the next time you start to compare yourself to others. The idea is to take your negative thought and reword it in a positive light. So for example “She runs so much faster than me” becomes “I’m so excited to improve on my running abilities”, “Why don’t I have abs like her, I don’t look anything like that” becomes “Wow look how great her abs look, she must work really hard, good for her. What great motivation for my workout today” and “How come the other girls look so perfect when they workout” to “They look great but I’m doing this for me and no one else; I don’t care if my hair isn’t cute, I’m about to smash this workout”. It may seem far fetched now but try this consistently and you’ll see a massive change in your mindset and how you view comparisons.

So now you have conquered your fear of comparisons in the gym, let's move on to the next big issue - the equipment. You’re now comfortable enough to attempt a workout and according to the Tone & Sculpt app you have a 10 minute jog as today's warm up, no problem. You head over to the treadmill and…wait, what? Why so many buttons and what is the red string for? Is the string some kind of heart monitor? What if I press this Quickstart button and it goes so fast that I fall on my face, my pants get caught on the red string heart monitor and now the entire gym can see my underwear?! And now you’re already in a serious sweat and the workout hasn’t even started!
...And breathe! While gym equipment can seem seriously intimidating, most of it is user friendly and after a few sessions at the gym, very easy to follow.
My advice for how to use gym equipment is this:
Book your induction. Most professional gyms will offer an induction with one of the instructors. These inductions are usually around 30 minutes long and they briefly go over your goals and if there is any way they can assist you on your journey, as well as an introduction to all the equipment you wish to use. Generally as a rule for new starters they will introduce you to fixed equipment, but don’t be afraid to ask them to show you how to use the bench, barbells and squat racks too. Use this time to get as much information as possible. You can even show them the first few weeks of your Tone & Sculpt app guide and they can show you how to use all the equipment listed. Also, I just want to mention that if you are uncomfortable having a male trainer then please do not be afraid to say. I worked in the industry for a very long time and trust me we do not mind at all if you would rather have a female instructor.

Youtube. Fortunately the world of Youtube has videos on just about every machine you could possibly imagine. Try to search for the brand and the name of the piece of equipment you wish to use. BUT, I strongly recommend that you use videos from either the company who created the machine, from a trusted fitness company or from a qualified personal trainer. Unfortunately there are a lot of unqualified people on YouTube giving very unsafe advice on how equipment works so double check for these things before you watch the video and follow the advice. Don’t forget that Krissy has a breakdown for us on how to perform the movement in the Tone & Sculpt app guide so you only need to find out how to operate the machine.

Just ask. I know it might seem scary, but even the 6’7 bodybuilders are usually super friendly. Try not to interrupt anyone mid-set, and maybe avoid asking one with their heads down and headphones on. Other than that, ask away, you’ll be surprised at how many people will be willing and happy to help you, and bonus you might even make a new gym buddy!

Another major cause of gym anxiety? Ok picture this, you are about to perform squats on the squat rack for the first time. The squat rack is placed right in front of the free weights area and the gym is packed. Not only are your cute new gym leggings not squat proof you also have a massive sweat patch in your crotch area so it looks like you’ve peed your pants, I mean could it be any worse? Oh yup, your gym crush just walked in, perfect.
Ok so that is an extreme scenario but trust me I’ve been there…it happens. It’s the fear of being judged. Just because people can see you’re wearing underwear or you’re working out so hard that you’re sweating? They are normal things though right? But the thought of someone else noticing and making fun of us? It’s enough to make you want to turn around and head straight out the door. But let’s be honest that is not going to help you reach your goals at all.

And I’m going to let you in on a little secret…Most regular gym goers genuinely do not care. They have either seen it all before, the sweat patches, non squat proof pants, embarrassing gym movements, you name it. They’ve more than likely had a similar experience themselves too at some point, and that includes the men! Secondly, and this is something I have learnt from years in the industry so pay attention to her…most of them are too busy looking at themselves to worry about looking at you.
The majority of the general public go to the gym with the intention of improving their appearance, so guess who’s appearance they are most concerned about? You guessed it, their own!

It may sound like complete madness, but we are just as fearful of people not watching us as we are of them actually watching us. Think back to being in school, you have to talk in front of the entire assembly for the first time and you are absolutely petrified because literally everyone is watching you and you feel like they are all judging. Equally though, in the playground later that very same day if no one is watching you, if you are being ignored completely, you are fearful that nobody likes you and again, you are being judged. Equally frightening.

Some gyms can be quite ‘clicky’. It’s not fun. Nobody wants to be the outsider. It feels like you’re watching the live show of Mean Girls, and it sucks.
Honestly my advice here, just be yourself. Be friendly, but focus on yourself and your goals. The people you are supposed to connect with you will. Give it time. Until then just enjoy your journey.

If you are still feeling like you need an extra boost to get you in the gym try some of these great tips to get you started:

Before you get into the gym, go on to the Tone & Sculpt app and look at the workout you have set for the day. Start with knowing exactly what you are doing for your first two exercises. This way you can feel confident in knowing exactly what you are doing and where you need to be in the gym. Focus on your workout and find confidence in knowing it is all mapped out for you step by step, you just have to follow the guide.
Find a friend, family member, neighbour, anyone you trust to go with you for your first few sessions. If they don’t want to join the gym themselves, speak to your sales advisor and see if you are able to have a few guest passes to get you started (this is totally possible for them to provide for you).
Find your why. Having a strong motive for wanting to make a change is a huge part of getting started. Just wanting to tone up a bit sometimes just will not cut it to actually get you into the gym. If you need inspiration check out the Tone and Sculpt app Instagram and Facebook pages where our girls share their amazing stories.
Try a gradual exposure technique. For example day one try to stay in the gym for 20 minutes, even if it’s just a steady incline walk on the treadmill. On your next session aim for 30 mins, then 45 mins, then an hour. The idea is to slowly get you feeling comfortable in the gym environment. It allows you the opportunity to work out where the machines are for when you need them, you’ll get to recognise a few of the regular members and assess the overall surroundings. You can gradually expose yourself to different equipment too. For example you can start with cardio machines, move on to body weight exercises, then fixed machines, and eventually free weights. It’s a lot less intimidating when you take things step by step.
Get yourself a feel good playlist that gets you pumped for the gym. Tone and Sculpt app has different playlists for every workout, HIIT, cardio, lifting, running…it’s all there for you on Spotify ready for you to enjoy.
New gym clothes. I never need an excuse to shop, so what better reason than to get you motivated to hit the gym. Find an outfit that makes you feel so confident and rock it to your first day at the gym.

Whatever you decide helps you to get in the gym, remember you are doing this for YOU. And you always have the support of your Tone and Sculpt app family to help you along the way.
Comment and let us know what helps you feel confident in the gym?