By Jamie Grover
Staying committed to regular workouts can be tricky when the sofa and a Netflix marathon seems so alluring after a long day’s work. A high level of mental toughness and motivation is needed to stay disciplined whilst dealing with the physical demands of training.
For many who manage to get through these potential barriers, they face something even more challenging: gym anxiety.
This term is used to describe the feeling of judgement some trainees experience whilst at the gym. It destroys lifters’ confidence and motivation, and often reaches such a level that gym-goers give up training completely.
According to a survey by FitRated, 51.4% of people have ‘avoided the gym due to anxiety or fear of judgement’. Gym anxiety affects all levels of trainee, but it’s particularly common among beginners who are new to training.
A recent survey by PureGym concurred, revealing that half of all ‘non-gym goers’ are scared by the idea of going to the gym. 40% of the respondents to the survey said they were most worried about looking stupid in front of others while exercising. In other words, most beginners fear that they will be ridiculed by more experienced trainees for doing an exercise incorrectly or messing up in some other way.
It’s not just beginners that are affected by gym anxiety, however. In a stereotypical view, the gym is seen as a place exclusively for young people who want to get in shape to impress others. This is wrong, as frequent exercise has now become extremely common among all age groups.
A study by the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, found that 53.5% of 45–64-year-olds exercise at least three times a week, as well as 46.7% of those aged 65 and older. This compares to 59.7% of 18–44-year-olds. So, by age group, the proportions of those who exercise frequently are all relatively similar. However, gym-goers in older age groups still experience age-related gym anxiety.
Mark is a 58-year-old yoga veteran. He frequently attends the gym mainly to strengthen his core for yoga. But he also aims to improve his physical appearance and mental health. “I was quite old, 52 and underweight when I started. I did feel self-conscious… luckily at my gym they were happy to explain things. But at times I do feel that I’m not doing the exercises correctly and that people may be watching.”
Despite increasing numbers in frequent exercise among older age groups, Mark still sometimes feels self-conscious in the gym because of his age. He still manages to work out frequently, but the occasional worry has sadly had to become part of his routine.
Even the most advanced gym veterans can experience anxiety whilst working out. George Thomas, a national-level sprinter and established rugby player, who even once bench-pressed double his bodyweight says, “with gym anxiety… it can affect anybody, whatever level of gym performance they’re at. With beginners, I think the most important thing is to get a program, and to understand what is on there, and the correct form.”
George recognised that it’s not just beginners who can feel self-conscious whilst working out. “Once you hit a certain level, you begin to decline. You have to put your ego aside and accept that it’s fine to use lower weights, or not run as fast.”
Kyle Faulkner, a personal trainer and level 4 strength and conditioning coach, coached many clients through gym anxiety, and helped them to overcome it. “A lot of people are gonna be anxious stepping in there [the gym], especially beginners. Getting some form of coaching, gives them confidence in terms of their technique and what they’re doing.
“Getting them to understand the reasons behind why they’re training is a massive one for me. If they know why they’re training and they know they’re enabling themselves to be better, then one foot in front of the other is never a harm. As long as they’re making little bits of progress, there’s no need for them to worry.”
Gym anxiety is extremely common. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner, expert, old, or young. Pretty much everyone you see at the gym has experienced gym anxiety at some point in their fitness journey. Coaching, structured training, and reasoning are just some of the ways you can overcome gym anxiety. Focus on yourself, be kind, and know you’re not alone. Practically everyone’s been there. Get to the gym, work hard, and become your best self.
For a notion that will challenge the concept of self-discipline, both inside and outside the gym, read about how MOTIVATION IS A LIE