How to Overcome Gym Anxiety

Nervous about going to the Gym for the first time ever? Maybe you are overweight, really skinny, or just generally out of shape. You are afraid you will get judged and people will laugh at you or think that you don’t belong. Many of us felt this way at first, but I am here to tell you no one there cares about what you are doing.

When I first started going, and this has been less than a year ago, I was mainly afraid of embarrassing myself. Sure I could walk on the treadmill for a little while and leave, but that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to lift weights, use some of the machines, and get buff. My goal was to gain muscle and I couldn’t do this by hiding out on the treadmill. At first I assumed:

  • I might use a machine wrong a get laughed at
  • I might not be able to lift much weight and get judgmental looks
  • I could potentially hurt myself because I am so weak
  • Everyone is else going to be strong and in shape and I won’t fit in
  • Generally though, I might embarrass myself somehow and have to leave in shame

People have different reasons for going to the gym, but most go to improve their physical appearance and/or stay healthy. They focus on themselves, not you. Sure you will find douchebags everywhere but that’s not a gym thing, it’s a life thing. For the most part a good gym is full of people who like to see people taking the initiative to improve their fitness. Some would be willing to talk about what they know and do not mind giving advice or tips. Below are some tips for getting over the anxiety of going to the gym and tips to turn it into a habit like I did.

1. Find a gym

If you haven’t already, go sign up for a gym membership. If you are anything like me, then knowing that you are spending money on it will make you want to go by itself. If you have some choices, then pick a gym that suits your goals. Do your research, some gyms are full of bodybuilders who may or may not be on steroids and will look like monsters compared to you. Other gyms will have people of all shapes and sizes. Planet Fitness may get a lot of hate for its notorious “pizza night” but it is a good starter gym and is cheap as fuck. There you will find obese people, skinny people, average looking out of shape people, as well as the very muscular types. They all have one thing in common, trying to improve their fitness. Try a trial membership or 2 and see which one you like the vibe of.

2. Pick a beginner routine or program to follow

There are tons of beginner programs to follow each different based on your goals. There are many websites out there like Muscle and Fitness or Bodybuilding.com where you can find such programs. I personally started on Reddit’s r/Fitness. There are several great options for a beginner here as well as a ton of great advice in the forum and wiki. Do a little research and pick one, try to stick to it for a few months. You can always change it later if you don’t like it.

3. Watch Youtube videos on your program’s exercises or lifts

There are hundreds of Youtube fitness channels out there, you really shouldn’t have trouble finding what you are looking for. A few of the ones I like are Jeff Cavalier, Scott Herman, and Omar Isuf. Between these 3 guys, you can find info on everything you need to know regarding weightlifting. Watching someone else do it is totally different than trying it yourself, but at least this way you will have a good idea and won’t have to stand there ready the instructions on the machine for too long.

4. Start going – start slow and with light weight

Make it a habit to start going. Even if you drive there, park and just walk on the treadmill for 15 minutes and leave. The idea is to make it a part of your schedule.  I started by going 3 times a week. Every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. I had already picked a workout routine at this point but was unsure how to do the exercises. What I did was try to learn 1 or 2 of them each gym visit. Examples of what I did:

  • Monday: 15 minutes on the treadmill then figure out the leg press machine and leg curl machine and leave
  • Wednesday: 15 minutes on the treadmill then attempt the bench press with very low weight and get an idea of how much I can do
  • Saturday: 15 minutes on the treadmill then do some tricep pushdowns and bicep curls with dumbbells

I continued this way for a couple of weeks until I had figured out all of the exercises in my chosen program. This also let me know how much weight I was able to do for each exercise. After that I could walk in the gym, do my prescribed exercises, and leave feeling accomplished.

5. Go when the gym isn’t busy

You may prefer to go when the gym is slammed and every piece of equipment is being used. I prefer uncrowded although it can’t always be avoided. Here are some times I’ve found to be the busy and not that busy, your milage may vary.

Busy

  • Mondays – The busiest day of the week for whatever reason, especially from 5-8 at night.
  • Weekdays from 5-8pm in general can be somewhat busy (excluding Friday night). If you can avoid this window it may not be as crowded.

Not Busy

  • Early as fuck in the mornings, go before work
  • After 8pm on weeknights
  • Pretty much any time on Saturday or Sunday
  • Fridays evenings is usually never busy. People don’t want to workout on Friday nights, this is my favorite time to go the gym.

6. Keep going

You have gotten past the initial fear of going to the gym. You picked out a gym and a beginner program. You are getting used to it now and know the times you like to go. Don’t get frustrated if you aren’t ripped after 2 weeks or haven’t lost much weight, it’s a process and it takes time. You may want to check out my other post Where are my gains?.

7. Practice good gym etiquette and don’t be an asshole

Here are a few pointers to help you fly under the radar at the gym and not piss any of the regulars off:

  1. Always re-rack your weights. If you take something out of place put it back when you are done.
  2. Always wipe down your equipment. No one wants to get your sweat and juices all over them, grab a paper towel and wipe that shit off when you are done.
  3. Don’t take up a machine or bench only to sit there scrolling on Facebook or texting. There’s a difference between switching playlists on Spotify between sets and giggling at your phone while watching youtube videos. One isn’t a big deal, the other is annoying af.
  4. Don’t do curls right in front of the dumbbell rack blocking other people from using the equipment. Get your dumbbells and back up, simple.
  5. If someone asks to work in, let them. It’s a good way to make friends and is the nice thing to do.
  6. Don’t stare at girls (or guys) like a creep. Focus on your own workout.
  7. Stay home if you are sick. Don’t bring your ebola virus to the gym, please.
  8. Practice good hygiene. Wear clean workout clothes and deodorant, but please don’t wear cologne and do not be that guy that reeks of BO.
  9. Dress appropriately. This one isn’t as big of a deal but kind of bothers me for some reason. I guess it’s none of my business but why come to the gym at all if you can’t be bothered to put on some sweatpants and a T-shirt. You will stick out like a sore thumb if you come in to work out wearing blue jeans and combat boots… just sayin.
  10. Don’t be a dick. Self explanatory, just be nice to people.

Comment below if you can think of anymore to add to this list.

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