How to Overcome Gym Anxiety

Photos taken by Joni Mitchell

Advice to help you overcome feelings of intimidation and anxiousness in the gym

We all know that feeling when you step into the gym, blood coursing through your veins, heart beating a little too fast, feeling intimidated, scared, overwhelmed, and just wanting to turn around and give up altogether. 

This is the feeling of gym anxiety. Everyone experiences gym anxiety, you are not alone in this feeling.

UT student Natalie Murty shares her own experiences with gym anxiety. 

“When going to the gym, especially TREC, I always get anxiety. I am always hyper-aware of everyone and I feel like everyone is watching and judging how long I’ve been on the treadmill, how much weight I’m lifting or even just how I am walking…I felt stupid just walking around looking at all the equipment, it felt like everyone was thinking I didn't belong there,” Murty said. 

The feelings of intimidation and anxiousness that may arise in the gym are even more common for beginners, posing a particular difficulty to get into a regular gym routine. 

Although gym anxiety affects everyone, women can be more susceptible to these feelings due to a number of factors such as being a minority in a male dominated environment and being at a higher risk for harassment. 

With her own tips and advice, Personal Trainer Nikole Custer gives us some insight into how to combat these feelings and pursue your fitness journey with confidence and ease. 

  • Adjust your posture

Shifting your posture can enhance your confidence, helping combat feelings of intimidation and anxiety in the gym. Give attention to how you carry yourself while walking around in the gym.

“In situations where we feel anxious, we express this through our body language by slouching over or crossing our arms. Keep your shoulder back, head high and walk with confidence. This always helps me reduce my anxiety,” Custer said.

  • Dress to feel your best

Wearing clothes that make you feel confident and comfortable can massively shift your mood and experience in the gym. Whether it be a colorful matching set or your favorite worn out t-shirt. 

“When you feel comfortable at the gym, you will feel more confident and spend more time focusing on your workout and less about how you look or what others think of you,” Custer said.

  • Rethink your body image

Struggles with body image can be a major contributor to feeling anxious in the gym. Shifting your perspective on body image can go a long way in alleviating anxiety in the gym.

“Another tool that helps is taking a body neutral perspective on your body. With body neutrality, you mentally shift the way you perceive your body and focus on function rather than if something ‘looks good’. For example, instead of thinking ‘I hate the way my legs look’ you think ‘I’m grateful for the legs I have because they allow me to do movements I love,’” Custer said. 

  • Keep our routine simple

Finding beginner-friendly workouts that are simple and not so intimidating can help reduce anxiety in the gym. Take advantage of trends such as the “shy girl” or “lazy girl” workouts on social media. 

“With just a dumbbell (or even bodyweight) you can do exercises such as squats, bicep curls, bent over rows, RDLs, glute bridges, tricep kickbacks, bench press, etc. All of these exercises are very basic movements and you can build upon these movements as you move along in your fitness journey,” Custer said.

  • Formulate a customized fitness plan

Think about setting actionable goals that will inspire you to persevere through any uncomfortable feelings that may arise in the gym. Try using the “SMART” goal technique. 

“SMART” goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Setting up your goals in this way improves how realistic and effective these goals will be. Finding ways to track your progress such as through images, resting heart rate or mood and energy levels can help inspire you along the journey and improve your confidence in your abilities at the gym.

Creating a plan that caters to your specific needs and takes anxiety into consideration can reduce feelings of intimidation and encourage you to spend more time in the gym. Maybe avoiding crowds by going early in the morning or late at night can help ease the intimidation. 

Finding exercises that you feel confident in and enjoy can not only help maintain motivation and inspiration but will help you feel more comfortable in the gym.

“I emphasize enjoyment above all. There are a variety of methods you can use to reach a fitness goal and it’s so important to enjoy the process of reaching that goal,” Custer said.

  • Build your understanding

People often say that knowledge is power, but this isn’t just limited to academics. Staying informed and building understanding in the gym will help combat gym anxiety. 

Do your research on how to properly perform certain exercises or how to use machines. Oftentimes machines have QR codes on them that link to a tutorial video. Also feel free to speak up and ask someone any questions you might have. 

“People are a lot more eager to help others out in the gym than most realize. If you see someone who appears to be approachable and knows what they’re doing, you can definitely go ask them to help you. You might even make a new gym friend out of it as well,” Custer said. 

  • Lean on others

Build a community surrounding the gym. Bring along a friend to workout with and help keep you accountable. It can be much easier to tackle intimidating experiences with a partner by your side. One can also find community through attending group classes, socializing with other people at the gym or finding a personal trainer to help you along your journey.  

“While people are at the gym to get a workout in, there is a social aspect that makes the gym a more positive and friendly environment,” Custer said.

While gym anxiety is incredibly common it isn’t anything that you can’t tackle. Try utilizing these steps to help make workouts more fun, effective, and comfortable. 

“Take a deep breath before you walk through the door, wear an outfit you feel comfortable and confident in, have a workout plan before (but also be prepared to shift things around if need be), keep a confident posture, make some new friends, and crush your workout,” Custer said.