I want to start off by saying that gym anxiety is a real thing. Almost everyone experiences it at some point regardless of size, gender, or fitness level.
If you don’t know what it is, it’s basically a fear of being judged at the gym. It can sometimes be something that stays with you even as you get more and more fit.
What am I afraid of being judged for at the gym? It depends. Sometimes it’s my lack of makeup, or how new and uncomfortable my workout is for me, my form on certain exercises, the amount of weight I’m using, or sometimes it’s for using gym equipment in an unconventional way.
The other day, for example, I used the Smith Machine as a leg press. I was afraid someone would comment and tell me I was using the machine wrong even though I knew I wasn’t.
It doesn’t always make sense.
This is a mental game. You can prepare for your gym sesh, have your entire workout memorized and have your form nailed down, but ultimately you need to be able to talk yourself out of negative feelings. You need to tell yourself how to think.
How do you do this?
I usually just chant a simple phrase in my head. Something like, “finish your entire workout and really push yourself.”
It sounds lame and has nothing to do with self confidence, but it does have to do with what happens when I lack self confidence.
When I have gym anxiety, I am less likely to complete my entire workout. I am more likely to justify doing less exercises, less reps, or less weight. So this phrase works for me.
It becomes my ONLY focus. By telling myself to think about finishing my workout, I am NOT thinking about what other people are thinking.
The thing is, probably 99% of the people at the gym are only concerned about themselves and their workout. They are NOT paying attention to your form, your clothes, your routine, or your fitness level. In fact, there’s a good chance that the person you are afraid of judging you is afraid that you are judging them.
The gym is full of people who are working on improving themselves. That means that, although some might be super comfortable with their bodies, most of the gym goers are not. They are working on their insecurities every time they step into that building. They don’t have time to pick you apart and they don’t want to.
12/2019 Update: Even now 1 1/2 years after writing this post I get self conscious in the gym from time to time. I’ve had several people compliment me mid workout on an exercise I’m doing or the amount of weight I’m using.
Every time they start to talk to me I immediately think they are going to correct me on something. It’s a huge surprise when they just want to compliment me or ask for tips on how to improve their own form. My point is, we are hardest on ourselves. You’re doing great and are your own worst critic.
Extra tips on how to overcome gym anxiety.
If you are comfortable at the gym, there will be less chance for anxiety. Check out these tips to help:
- Have a workout plan and be committed to it. Do not go to the gym and just wing it. Have a specific plan. If it’s leg day, know the specific leg exercises you will do, how many reps, and how many sets.
- Practice your form. Watch youtube videos, google pictures of exercises, and practice the moves without weight until you get confident that you have the correct form!
- Dress comfortably. Any clothing that is too small or too big may be too big of a distraction. The focus should be on your workout, not on adjusting your clothes after every exercise.
- Exercise when it’s least busy. You can ask the person at the front desk what time it is least busy. From personal experience, early morning gym goers tend to be cardio masters, that’s a great time to try out a new weight lifting program.
- Bring a friend. BUT make sure your friend is as committed to the workout as you are. You want someone there who will push you harder, not convince you to leave early.
- Be your own competition. Maybe everyone around you is running faster or lifting heavier. It doesn’t matter. I like to keep a log of the weight I use for which exercises, etc. When you log it you can see your strength grow. I love comparing myself to the last session or even my first session. Everyone is at a different level, so don’t compare yourself to anyone but yourself.
- Embrace embarrassment. Sometimes embarrassing things happen during a work out. For example, a few years ago, I was at the gym on the StepMill when it broke. I got off and then realized I left my Ipod at the top of the machine. So, I climbed back on trying to get up the steps to the top so I could grab my Ipod. Well, with every step I took, the belt just kept going faster and faster until I fell and got a huge gash on my shin. I was bleeding a ton and the swelling was immediate. It was disgusting and embarrassing. But, it didn’t keep me from the gym or the StepMill. I was back after I healed. Because it doesn’t matter. Embarrassing things happen all the time, it’s just life. Embrace it and move on.