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How to Deal with Gym Anxiety

There are loads of reasons why you might be feeling anxious about going to the gym. Maybe you’re worried that everyone is going to look at you, or that you don’t know how to use the equipment. Maybe you’re more fearful of being in an enclosed space this year, or perhaps you’re nervous about a tough session that lies ahead of you. Rest assured that pre-gym anxiety is a very normal feeling. You’re not the first to feel like this and you certainly won’t be the last. Gym anxiety is extremely common amongst new gym-goers but it also affects experienced lifters too. Even I get nervous about going to the gym on days I’ve got to do heavy deadlifts!

So what can you do to make your gym session less intimidating? Here’s my advice based on techniques I’ve tried and tested:

1) Get your bearings

If you’ve just joined a new gym don’t plan to do a workout on your first visit. Go for a tour and have a chat with a member of staff. What’s the layout like? Where are the lockers, changing rooms, water fountains and cleaning stations? Where are the bikes and where is the squat rack? What are the rules re face coverings and cleaning your equipment? Getting your bearings and learning about gym etiquette beforehand will help you mentally prepare for future visits, as you’ll be able to visualise yourself walking in and going about your workout.

2) Have a rough plan

I always make sure I have a rough plan of what I want to achieve before each gym session. Often this is just a couple of exercises that I want to really focus on (e.g. squats and pull ups), rather than an intricate programme that I might not be able to follow through with if the gym is busy. Once I’ve ticked off those key exercises I allow myself some flexibility with my other exercises, depending on what I fancy doing that day and what equipment is free. I’m not going to wait ten minutes to do a barbell bench press if it’s being used by someone else - I’ll just swap it to a dumbbell bench press. If I can, I’ll try to plan my session so I’m using as few pieces of equipment as possible, for example I might do a barbell only or dumbbell and bench only workout. This means I only need to clean a few bits of kit and my movement around the gym is minimal, so it’s more Covid-friendly.

3) Invest in a PT

If you’re clueless when it comes to creating a gym plan, why not outsource that to a professional? After all, you’d hire a hairdresser to cut your hair and an accountant to prepare your tax return, wouldn’t you? Investing in a personal trainer will take the guesswork out of your exercise planning and help you to optimise your time in the gym. A good personal trainer will show you how to safely perform exercises that will support your health and fitness goals and help you to see the gym as a less intimidating place. I understand that 1-2-1 training is not feasible for everybody, however there are more affordable options such as small group training, and some gyms have now re-started classes, so do some research and you should be able to find a solution that works for your budget.

4) Seek out the quieter times

Ask the staff at your gym what the busiest days and times are (or this data may be available on your gym’s website or app). Then you can plan your workouts for quieter times and know that there will be plenty of space and equipment for you to choose from. Most gyms tend to be busiest between about 6pm and 8pm on weekdays, however this varies from location to location and gym usage patterns have changed slightly this year, since more people are working from home, so it’s worth checking with your gym.

5) Make a feel-good gym playlist

Create yourself a Spotify playlist with all of your favourite music that makes you feel like you can take on the world. Listen to this on your journey to the gym and during your workout. Focusing on the music will distract you from what’s going on around you, so you can get ‘in the zone’ and just focus on yourself and your workout. I have a specific playlist for the gym and another for running and I tend to find that listening to these help me to feel energetic and motivated to workout.

6) Visualise how you want to feel afterwards

Focus on how you want to feel after your workout. For example, after lifting weights you want to feel proud of yourself and energised. Keep this at the front of your mind when your brain is telling you to turn around and walk home because you’re nervous.

7) Celebrate your achievements

It’s important to celebrate all you have achieved in your fitness journey, no matter how small it may seem. Been to the gym by yourself twice this week? Done a workout in the free weights area? Asked a fitness instructor to check your deadlift technique? These are all fantastic achievements that should be acknowledged in your journey to becoming a confident, independent exerciser. Perhaps once you’ve hit a fitness milestone you might want treat yourself to something that will support your training, such as a new pair of trainers or headphones.

8) Remember, no one is watching!

Last but not least, remember this: other people in the gym are focusing on their own workouts, they’re not looking at you. I know it might feel like all eyes are on you when you’re in that squat rack, but I promise you they’re not. The majority of people are too busy either looking at their own reflections in the mirror or thinking about the exercise they are doing to give a thought to what you’re doing. So take comfort in this.

I hope these tips help next time you’re feeling worried about going to the gym. Let me know if you have any other techniques for dealing with gym anxiety!


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