It can be daunting and anxiety-inducing to begin a fitness program, especially if you're not used to exercising or going to the gym. The idea of working out, especially in front of strangers, or adhering to a schedule can be overwhelming. All of these factors can contribute to exercise or gym anxiety. Yes, there is anxiety related to working out or going to the gym. Let's be honest, the gym can be unnerving, but don't let that stop you from achieving your goals. The right tips and strategies can lessen your misgivings about beginning a fitness program.
Understanding gym anxiety
Does the thought of working out at the gym in front of others make you feel so uneasy that you avoid working out altogether? Do you cringe thinking of people watching you while running through the neighborhood park? You may be experiencing gym anxiety. Gym anxiety refers to the feelings of nervousness, self-consciousness, discomfort, or fear that people experience when they exercise in the presence of others or at a gym or fitness facility.
Gym anxiety is quite common and can be caused by a number of factors, such as inexperience with fitness or exercise equipment, fear of criticism or judgment from others, and insecurity about your appearance or fitness level. It can show up in many different ways, including physical and mental symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, a lack of appetite, nausea, sweaty palms, excessive worry, or fear.
People experiencing gym anxiety may be intimidated by the other gymgoers, who they assume are in better shape or have more experience with fitness or gym equipment. Comparing ourselves to others can negatively affect our mental health and lead to low self-esteem, self-doubt, and feelings of inadequacy. For some people, the anxiety is so crippling that they cannot even enter a gym, much less engage in exercise, which can harm their physical and mental health.
Why is it important to reduce anxiety around starting a fitness program?
For various reasons, reducing anxiety before beginning a fitness program is critical. You are more likely to keep up with your workouts and make the necessary effort to reach your fitness goals when you feel at ease, comfortable, and secure in the gym. This will help you better focus on your goals without feeling overwhelmed. Your physical and mental health can also significantly improve by lowering your stress levels. Exercising regularly has been shown to help reduce anxiety and provide many health benefits.
By reducing the stress and anxiety you feel, you can avoid a lack of motivation, increase your commitment to your fitness journey, and prevent feelings of burnout.
Seven tips for starting a fitness program and reducing gym anxiety
It can be difficult to begin a fitness journey, especially for women who may not know where to begin. But you can lessen your hesitation or gym anxiety by using the right tips and strategies, like the ones discussed below. It only takes one step to start your journey.
Before starting any exercise routine, remember to consult with your doctor or primary care provider to see if you have any health conditions that would prevent you from performing certain types of exercise.
Explore your fitness options
When choosing a fitness routine, finding a fitness program or activity that suits your lifestyle and capabilities is essential. Considering your goals and what you define as fitness and selecting activities that meet your needs are equally important.
There are many different types of exercise activities that you can choose from, like yoga, swimming, high-intensity training, and dancing, to name a few. Include activities you find interesting — doing so can help you stay motivated and engaged. You'll feel more confident, be more committed to sticking with it, and be more likely to achieve your fitness goals if you choose an exercise program that you like and that fits you.
Set realistic goals
We spoke to Kia Williams*, 2022 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year. She advises, "When starting out on your fitness journey, it's crucial to know your why and to truly believe it's worth your effort." Once you've determined your " why," it's' time to work on identifying your goals and developing a plan for achieving your fitness goals.
Williams recommends using SMART goals. "SMART Goals are helpful for planning for your success. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. To be SMART goals, your fitness goals should be realistic and relevant to you, attainable within a specific time frame, specific or clearly defined, and measurable or trackable.
I discuss SMART goals in detail and have a helpful journal template in my book, Functional Core for Women: Targeted Training for Glutes and Abs, to help guide you along starting your new fitness journey."
Try not to try to take on too much too soon. The key is to start small. Creating smaller, more manageable mini-goals from your primary goals is an excellent place to start. This will help you focus on the more specific, attainable, and measurable steps to get you to your main fitness goal and increase your chances of success. You'll be able to enjoy your fitness journey while appreciating your achievements by taking small steps along the way. Some ideas include:
- Going to the gym at least twice a week rather than planning to attend daily.
- Starting with quick, low-intensity workouts, gradually increase the length of time and intensity as you feel more comfortable.
- If you run, start with a quarter mile and work to improve your time to reach your mile-long running goal. Add another quarter mile after you reach your time targets to bring you to your final distance.
Don't compare yourself to others
Remember to give yourself grace. Everyone's fitness journey is unique to them, so don't compare yourself, your progress, or your goals to others. Beginning a fitness program is a journey, so it's critical to recognize your accomplishments as you go. Concentrate on your own goals and successes and celebrate your small wins.
Reward yourself with healthy options
To keep you motivated, don't forget to celebrate your progress and accomplishments along the way by rewarding yourself with healthy options like having a spa day, buying an accessory you like, or visiting a place you've never been. Rewards can also help reduce your exercise anxiety by shifting the focus away from your trigger and on something more in your control.
Hold yourself accountable with a workout buddy or personal trainer
Find someone to exercise with. Having a workout or accountability buddy, joining a fitness class, or hiring a personal trainer can make your fitness journey more enjoyable, and help keep you motivated, accountable, and committed. Going to the gym with a relative or friend also offers support and familiarity, which can help ease your anxiety.
It makes sense that you might want to stay away from the gym, but it will only worsen your gym anxiety. Motivation and commitment lead to consistency, and consistency is essential. Make exercise a habit and continue to be consistent. Going to the gym and exercising regularly will help you feel less anxious and more confident.
Following a fitness routine and having an anxiety-coping technique that is effective for you will make it simpler for you to achieve your fitness goals. Reminding yourself of the benefits of regular exercise, such as improved mood, increased energy, and improved overall health, can also help keep you motivated.
The good news is that there are ways to reduce your gym anxiety and begin your journey to health and wellness through fitness. Remember that everyone starts as a beginner, and the gym is a place for self-improvement, not self-criticism. You can learn to overcome your gym anxiety and begin your fitness journey with practice, consistency, determination, and by recognizing what triggers your anxiety and which techniques work best for you.
Getting started is always the hardest part, but we believe in you, and remember, we have your hair covered. Striking + Strong is here to support you in all the ways that make you unique. Because we believe there is beauty + strength in self-care. With hair care items made specifically for women with active lifestyles, and wavy, curly, and kinky-coily hair, we've got you covered from workout to wash day.
*Kia Williams, MBA, MS, 200hr E-RYT, ACE-CGFI is a global presenter, creative writer, business leader, program specialist, and the 2022 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year. Miss Williams has a love for all health and wellness categories. Overall, she is committed to helping others live a creative, sustainable, gratifying, and healthy lifestyle and work-life balance.