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There’s no question that going to the gym for the first time or after a long hiatus can be intimidating. After all, different exercise classes often have their cliques, yoga and Pilates sessions may be filled with sculpted bodies, and the weight-lifting area may have hardcore exercise enthusiasts trying to best one another. Who wouldn’t be nervous in that environment?
But it’s a mistake to let your jitters deter you from seizing the opportunity to become healthier or fitter. Remember, at some point, there was a first class or workout at the gym for every member, so you’re in good company, even among the more experienced. To ease your trepidation, it can help to remind yourself of this fact.
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Why the anxiety?
To get over gym intimidation, try to identify the root cause of your anxiety. Is it that the environment feels foreign and overwhelming? Are you worried about not knowing how to use the equipment or what to do in a class? Are you afraid of looking silly, sweaty, out of shape or uncoordinated? In a study published in 2017, in the journal Stigma and Health, researchers surveyed 389 adult gym members who were overweight or obese and found that they experienced weight-related stigma, such as feeling negatively judged or embarrassed about their weight, at the gym. Fortunately, this didn’t affect the frequency of their attendance, but these feelings did take a toll on the participants’ coping behaviors and emotional well-being. “Irrespective of body size, there can be a sense of self-consciousness or vulnerability in fitness facilities,” says study coauthor Natasha Schvey, an assistant professor of medicine and clinical psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
Ten strategies to try
Overcoming gym anxiety may help you achieve your fitness goals. Try these 10 strategies to discover the underpinnings of your gym anxiety.
1. Check out the scene.
If you’re new to a fitness facility, “go into the gym and ask for a tour,” advises Rachel Goldman, a licensed psychologist in New York City and a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “The more we avoid things, the more anxiety-provoking they become. Exposure in small increments can help.” If you plan to take a class, stop by the aerobics, yoga or cycling studio a day or two ahead so you can get the lay of the land. If a class isn’t in session, go inside and take a look around. “If you’re joining a new gym, many offer a complimentary session with a trainer,” Schvey says. “Ask for an orientation to the equipment you’re interested in.”