I have been wanting to write this post for quite some time. If you want to get over your gymophobia, please don’t waste your time reading articles from people who know anything about anxiety disorders. I have read countless articles on this very topic and I can tell you all the things that do NOT help.
Things that won’t help you get over your gym anxiety:
- Pep talks from people who don’t understand.
- Listening to pointless advice like, “Everyone is at the gym for their own workout. They’re not paying attention to what you’re doing.” Duh! Anxiety is not about this. We know that people are not ACTUALLY watching us. It doesn’t make the anxiety go away. (And, in fact, sometimes people are actually watching you, but that’s not the point.)
- Mind over matter. That’s it. Today is the day I no longer have anxiety. This has always worked for me, HA!
- Finding a partner. Yeh, that’s going to be more difficult for me than the gymophobia itself. Okay, to be fair, this one might work for you, but it was a useless piece of advice for me.
- Joining a class and/or getting a trainer. Eh, this one might work for some people. I personally would find a class even more stressful. And a trainer, yeh. I’ve tried that a couple of times, both with an online and offline trainer. If they don’t understand your anxiety disorder, it’s only going to make you more frustrated. However, theoretically, this could help. It didn’t help me.
How I got over my gym anxiety
After 1 year, 5 gyms, and many, many failed attempts, I am finally over my gymophobia. It was NOT an easy feat. The first time I joined a gym, I hired an online trainer who was very pushy, insisting that I had to workout at a gym. I tried to do his plan but his plan called for me doing exercises at a gym, with machines that I didn’t know how to use. I was frustrated because every time I asked him to give me advice on how to do these exercises at home, he just kept insisting I go to a gym. I ended up going about six months without really working out because I just kept trying to do it his way. And he didn’t get it.
Advice #1: If you can’t handle the gym DO SOMETHING AT HOME!!!!! Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t give up. Do a home workout. I am a big fan of Beach Body for home workouts. If you don’t know what to do, check them out. Or look on YouTube for a home workout.
Eventually I got rid of this trainer and started doing my own thing at home. But, I still wanted to get over this gym anxiety. So, I joined another gym. It was the kind of gym I wanted to go to. They had a pool and lots of equipment. It wasn’t a baby gym. It was a big girl gym. I was determined to get over this. I went in and walked to the smith machine, not having a clue how to use it. Freaked out. Cried. Went home. Took me a week to go back. Talked to a trainer there and their staff. But they really just didn’t get it. I cried in the parking lot several times more. But only made it inside that gym maybe three times before I finally said I hate this gym and quit.
Advice #2 Find a beginner friendly gym. I highly recommend finding a beginner gym. I am a fan of Planet Fitness but I will say, even though I love Planet Fitness NOW. It was one of the gyms on my five failed gym attempts. You are going to be successful, but you need an atmosphere with people who get it. If you have found a beginner gym, keep on reading.
Advice #3: Tell everyone at the gym about your anxiety. Let them know that you need help with this. When I finally decided I was getting over this I told everyone about my anxiety disorder and how difficult this was for me. You might be surprised at how understanding people are. I remember having a panic attack mid workout. I went into the lady’s locker room and cried. Then I came back out with tears still on my face and just told the guy at the cable machine next to me that I had an anxiety disorder and how stressful it was. He was very nice. Let me share the equipment with him, and helped me realize that people do get it.
Advice #4: Get inside the doors. It took me so many attempts to figure this out. Don’t worry about what you get accomplished at the gym. Get yourself into the building. Even if you do one exercise on one machine. Or, for that matter, even if you only accomplish walking in the door. Just do it. DO THIS. Again. And again. Eventually the getting in the door part will be easier.
Advice #5: Keep it simple. Start off with a few exercises and/or machines you can do. If you need help just ask someone. But don’t overwhelm yourself. If you are trying to follow a plan, substitute exercises with ones YOU feel comfortable with. This is my best, best tip. When I started I was trying to follow a plan. The plan was screwing me over. I was spending so much time freaking out about doing something new that I wasn’t getting a good workout. You are better off to do something you are comfortable with, and actually doing it, than you are freaking out about something new and not doing it.
Advice #6: Breathe through one thing at a time. If you’ve ever had a baby, you remember what contractions felt like. If you haven’t well they suck. But when you’re in labor, you don’t really get a choice about dealing with it. I approach my anxiety just like labor. When I get to the gym, I pick ONE exercise and say I’m going to get through this exercise. One set. Okay. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Tensing during labor makes the contractions more painful, and anxiety is much the same way. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Okay. One more set. Sometimes my only goal was to get through that one exercise. If I was still having anxiety after that, I could go home. Just do this one exercise.
Advice #7: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. You won’t get over this overnight. But you’ll never get over it if you don’t try. If you don’t want your anxiety to hold you back, you have to keep trying. Come back and read this again. Post in the comments. I would love to help you through this.
One more tip: So I forgot about this little extra tip. You may not be able to use it, but if you can, go to the gym during non-peak hours. Ask your gym the best times to go. Try to schedule your workouts, if possible to go during slow times. It is so much easier when the gym is quiet. This isn’t always an option. So do your best. <3