3 Actual Ways to Overcome Your Fear of the Gym
How my friend Naomi overcame her gym anxiety
Guest Post by Naomi L.
I avoided the gym for years. My self-consciousness was epic, I’m not talking a general feeling of awkwardness. I had severe anxiety even thinking of going into a gym. I freaked out at the very idea; it took me months to work myself up to believing that it would all be okay if I went to the gym. Thanks to the encouragement and pep talks from several friends, I was finally able to convince myself that it was a worthwhile investment and that I needed to get over myself and go. But making that decision didn’t mean it was an easy thing.
The day I signed up for my first membership, I sat in the parking lot for half an hour to psych myself up for it. I could barely handle the anxiety of walking through that door, but I gritted my teeth and I did it. It took maybe six sessions before I was walking through the door like I owned the joint.
Three years later, the gym is my happy place; in fact, I have TWO gym memberships. The gym is the place where I’ve developed enormous strength, mentally, emotionally, and physically, all because I did something uncomfortable and took that first step.
Here are three actual ways to get over your fear of being judged at the gym:
1) Realize that the “meat market” isn’t a real thing. Are there super-fit people at the gym? You bet. Are there super fat people at the gym? Absolutely. There’s an entire gamut of human body forms that you’ll see in the gym and chances are really good that unless you’re the second coming of Arnold Schwarzenegger or the star of TLC’s latest “OMG I can’t believe that person exists” show, you really, really will blend right in.
The fear that I would stick out as an unfit person in the gym was definitely something that held me back from going to the gym for a long time. But the very first day I went, I saw a woman that was probably 300 pounds walking on the treadmill, and let me tell you what: nobody paid her any attention.
Everyone is there to do their workouts. Will they notice you? Maybe. Will they really care or judge you or pay you any mind? Not really. And if they do, is that worth you sacrificing your health, your self-respect, or your potential for growth as a human being? I’d submit to you that the answer is no.
2) Have a plan for your workout. You’ll stick out more if you walk around without knowing what you’re doing. So don’t do that. Look up an exercise routine online and write everything down. Visit YouTube and look those exercises up. Watch form video after form video until you are confident that you can walk up to the machine and look like you have a clue what you’re doing.
Using this strategy, I was able to feel far more confident walking in for my first gym workout than I ever would have done otherwise. Did it keep me from making a few dumb newbie mistakes like putting clips on the Smith machine? Nope. But nobody is perfect, even with plenty of experience.
I once saw a man overhead press 135 pounds, fart loudly at the top, and then collapse under the weight because he couldn’t keep from laughing. Keep that story in mind whenever you worry that you’re looking ridiculous.
3) Check your ego at the door. You might think, “Ego?! I’m not fit, I’m walking into this gym and everyone is judging me, I’m about to make a fool of myself because I don’t know whether to use one or both handles on this here machine, what ego could there possibly be?!”
Here’s an example of ego: you don’t know how to use a certain machine, but you don’t ask the person who just got off it because you don’t want to look dumb.
Or you stand to the side getting increasingly frustrated because the person on the leg press should be able to read your mind that you want to work in with them between their sets.
Don’t be afraid to look stupid! Yes, looking up YouTube videos is great and will help you for 90% of the things you want to do, but for that last 10%, be okay with looking dumb. People in the gym are focused on themselves and their workouts, but are always willing to stop for a moment to answer a question, even if they have their focused face on.
Ask questions, learn, don’t take things personally, and realize that any growth requires some measure of discomfort. Are you willing to deal with the discomfort in order to better yourself?
The path to self-improvement is NEVER “well, let’s just take the easy way out!” To people who are struggling with the same thing I struggled with, I understand and I empathize, but I don’t encourage you to live in fear. Do the difficult thing, reap the rewards, and prove to yourself that you are capable of more than you imagined.
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