Do you feel anxious when it comes to hitting the gym? Worried that there are too many people around you or watching you? You aren’t alone in that feeling.
Gymtimidation - what is it? This is the fear of working out in front of others, also known as “gym anxiety.” Millions of adults are affected by some form of an anxiety disorder. Although exercise has been shown to improve certain aspects of mental health, including anxiety, gymtimidation can be a huge factor in why some people don’t show up to the gym in the first place. These anxious feelings usually come from a place of insecurity and fear - fear of judgement or criticism and insecurity in your own capabilities.
You are not alone, and more importantly, you are not crazy.
Let’s talk about it.
There are a few different studies researching the reasoning behind gym anxiety, but we are going to talk about a scale developed in PMID 24244069. Researchers in this study developed a special scale: SEAM. SEAM stands for “social exercise and anxiety measure.” SEAM demonstrates a three factor structure consisting of the following: 1. Social exercise self efficacy, 2. Gym avoidance, and 3. Exercise importance. Quickly, let’s discuss each structure for a better understanding of what each means within the study. Social exercise self efficacy represents how much an individual believes in their own capabilities. Gym avoidance represents avoiding the gym due to social anxiety or insecurity in a gym setting. Gym importance represents how important working out is to an individual whether it be for health reasons or social reasons. Social exercise self efficacy and gym avoidance have a higher correlation to gym anxiety than exercise importance and have a higher correlation to social anxiety.
Now the question is, how can we develop our skills to try and move past gymtimidation? If you fall into this group who experiences gym anxiety, take a moment to reflect. Where does your gym anxiety stem from? Are you afraid of failing in front of others? Are you scared of judgement? Are you socially anxious?
Let me start by saying, the gym is the most selfish place in the world. Everyone who is there, is there for themselves. Not for you. It can sound harsh, but personally, when it came to me getting past worrying about what those around me were thinking, I just had to keep reminding myself - I’m not that important. Of course, each one of us is individually important, but at the gym, you are not high up on the list of someone else’s importance (...unless they have a crush on you, and let me tell you, you probably are someone’s gym crush. I mean, hello, look at you!). Also, think about it. Have you ever scanned the gym looking for someone to judge? Have you ever put someone down because they needed help? Have you ever criticized someone for working on themselves? Probably not. Neither is anyone around you!
Sure, it’s easier said than done. I just wanted to point those specific points out to you because they helped me tremendously when getting past gym anxiety.
If you’re a novice trainee, or a beginner, your gym anxiety might stem from a place of questioning your capabilities or fear that those around you are judging you. Let’s get into your options if you are someone who doesn’t feel capable in themselves and fears judgement: learn the ropes, do your research, and walk into the gym prepared. It can be so easy to feel overwhelmed and lost in a place that is new to you. Learning new exercises and phrases at the gym is really like learning a new language. Luckily, all of this information is easily accessible! If you’re reading this, you’re most likely following the challenge programming - read through your workout routine for the day, figure out what you don’t know, and prepare yourself before even walking into the gym. That way, once you get there and start your workout, you won’t have to scramble for the definition of tempo or find a video tutorial of a bulgarian split squat. Some resources you can use to your advantage to expand your knowledge on fitness lingo are the “what you need to know” section of your challenge, embedded exercise links within your pdf, google, and youtube. If you have never performed an exercise before and you see it coming up within the next few days, practice at home. Watch tutorials, learn the proper form, and practice in a mirror. This can also be helpful in injury prevention! I would even go so far as recommending home workouts until you feel confident enough in your own capabilities to exercise in public spaces. It’s okay to work your way into things and you can still get a great workout from home.
Knowledge is power, babe! Gather as much information as you need to help you succeed.
If social anxiety is the reason for your gym anxiety, there are ways to help this, as well! Find a training time that works for you and doesn’t require interacting with too many people. Gym “prime time” is typically from around 4-7pm. This is when the gym is packed and you will encounter the most people. However, 1-4pm is typically dead. Personal trainers and managers will even leave the gym for their breaks during this time because of the little amount of potential clientele on the gym floor. What does this mean for you? No people to bother you during your workout! Another way to ward off social interaction (which, same. I do this at ALL costs) is wardrobe. Wearing a hat and headphones sends a signal to the gym goers around you that you are not there to socialize.
Personally, I used to have the worst gym anxiety. I used to hide in the group class room and do my routine in there so no one could see me. I ego lifted when I was on the gym floor because I was scared the people around me would judge the “light weight” that I was using. I was in a constant cycle of hiding from and proving myself to the people around me, when I should have been there to focus on myself and my own progress. What did I do? I shifted my mindset to “fuck everyone.” I decided that it was time to take initiative over my own life and do everything for ME. I started wearing makeup and cute outfits to the gym because it made me feel more confident. I started focusing on form and using weights that were reasonable for my fitness level. I created a “bad bitch playlist” with songs that made me feel like the baddest bitch in the room. I came to accept that I wasn’t perfect and that I didn’t know everything, this allowed me to have room to learn and grow rather than be embarrassed by my lack of knowledge. I started training in a way that made me happy and excited to go to the gym.
You are 100% capable of reaching every single one of your goals and being comfortable in the gym environment while doing so. It may not be easy, but difficult tasks spark character development. Self improvement has entered the chat and you are now the main character. Let’s do this damn thing.