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How to Beat Gymtimidation 

For many people, a new year often starts with new goals – a large portion of which will be focused around feeling healthier, from both a mental and physical point of view. 

One way to achieve this is by joining a gym, but if you’ve never visited one before or it’s been a long time since you last went, it can be an intimidating experience.

In fact, the latest UK Fitness Report from PureGym reveals that 56% of people find going to the gym to be intimidating, with 1 in 4 (22%) not feeling confident once they’re there. 

It’s no surprise then that for some, gymtimidation can be more of a hurdle to overcome than a lack of cardiovascular ability or strength. The good news is that gymtimidation is a barrier that can definitely be broken down. 

To help any new 2023 joiners or people simply suffering from a lack of in-gym confidence, PureGym Leeds PT Kat Crisp has given her top tips for beating gymtimidation, alongside Dr Margee Kerr, an expert in the subject of fear. 

Gymtimidation heartrate data graphic 3


In addition to surveying current gym members on what helps them to alleviate their gymtimidation, PureGym wanted to see how their findings translated to a real-world setting, by monitoring the heart rates of a group of participants who currently don’t use the gym due to feeling too intimidated to join.

Stress levels were tested by monitoring heart rate spikes when simply entering the gym alone for the first time and exploring the various areas of a gym setting vs. a visit with a friend, PT, or having a clear workout plan and instructions.

The tests, which involved very little to no exercise to avoid affecting the results, revealed that stress levels were significantly higher when exploring the gym alone.

Simply entering the gym armed with a clear workout plan including instructions on how to use the desired kit saw a 20% decrease in maximum heart rate.

PureGym Personal Trainer Kat Crisp has provided her top tips for reducing intimidation within the gym:

1. Take a tour of the gym before you start 

Helping yourself to visualise your environment is the first step to beating gymtimidation, as Kat explains: “Whether you’re new, or are confident in your training but have moved gyms, it can feel intimidating not knowing where any of the kit is, as every gym is set out differently and uses different equipment.

Taking a tour of the gym before you start, either through an induction or simply walking around, can help alleviate nerves. Knowing where everything is, from the changing rooms to the water fountain and the pieces of kit you need, will also mean you spend less time in the gym for your workout, making it feel easier to get it done”.  

2. Acknowledge your fears, but remind yourself that you are in control 

Dr. Kerr explains that to tackle fear, you should acknowledge that it’s there in the first place: “Take the time to think about what exactly makes you nervous about going to the gym. Is it not knowing how to use the equipment? Judgement from others?

A fear that maybe you won’t be as strong as you want to be, or perhaps as strong as you used to be? After each fear you write down, ask yourself why it scares you, and if it is worth giving up all you stand to gain”. 

Crucially, pairing this acknowledgement with reminders that you’re in control of the experience can be a game changer. Dr Kerr adds, “Studies show a sense of agency, or control, makes scary events easier to tolerate and overcome.

So, acknowledge and frequently remind yourself that you are the one choosing to take on this fear-inducing challenge. Your doctor, spouse, family member, coach, etc. didn’t choose this, YOU did”. 

3. Make a list of all the positive gains you will achieve by going to the gym 

Keeping an easily accessible list (such as on your phone) of the reasons why you’re going to the gym can be a big help in those early sessions says Dr. Kerr: “Fear likes to push all your positive thoughts to the back of your mind and increase anxiety the closer you get to a scary situation.

Having your list handy to review before you go to the gym and even on your way to the gym when your anxieties are at their peak, will help give you the boost to push through.”  

4. Wear comfortable clothing 

This sounds simple, but actually feeling comfortable in what you wear can go an extremely long way, as Kat explains, “Social media can make us believe that everyone is training in just a sports bra and the tightest, shortest shorts.

If the idea of donning this kind of gear makes you feel uncomfortable, you are not alone. You do not need to be wearing a certain brand of clothing to fit in at the gym; if wearing something baggy makes you feel confident then wear that!

Likewise, if you feel more comfortable in a sports bra and shorts go for it. Whatever your outfit, make sure that you can easily move around in it. You don’t want to be constantly having to readjust your clothing because you don’t feel comfortable in it”.  

5. Remember, it’s normal to sweat 

Kat adds that alongside wearing comfortable clothing, it’s also essential to get comfortable with sweating, “Sweat patches and red faces are a part of the gym environment.

Few people look nice at the gym, so don’t feel the need to apologise for sweating or going red. It’s just your body’s response to help you keep working out! 

If you are worried, take a towel with you so you can wipe down yourself and the kit as needed. All of our gyms also have cleaning stations to wipe the kit down before and after use”.  

6. Accept you can’t do everything and go at your own pace 

In addition to normalising sweating, accepting what you can and can’t do early on can really help to minimise the intimidation, as Dr. Kerr explains,

“We have to accept what we are capable of right now, and for many that’s a hard truth to confront. It’s okay that you don’t know how to work every machine, you can learn.

Remember, there’s a good chance everyone around you is just as scared! Accept where you are, let go of where you wish you were, and commit to focusing on the now.”  

Kat also adds, “When you are just starting out, it can feel like everyone knows what they are doing and know you don’t and are watching you, but that’s not true.

Most people in the gym are there for themselves, and are too busy working on themselves to pay attention to what other people are doing. 

Remember that training is a skill that needs to be learnt, and everyone in the gym was once a beginner too. Don’t compare the beginning of your journey with the middle of someone else’s: it’s okay to be a beginner!  

If you’re worried that you aren’t fit enough for the gym or classes, don’t be! Everyone has to start somewhere and it’s okay if you can’t keep up the same pace or lift the same weights as other people. Let your body dictate the pace and focus on improving your strength and fitness, one day at a time.” 

7. Avoid peak hours 

Visiting the gym for the first time when it’s at its busiest can worsen any feelings of intimidation you have. Avoiding these peaks and visiting when the gym is quiet allows you to start in a more relaxed environment and have more space to explore, says PureGym PT Kat.

“Every gym has peak and quieter times, and going outside of these hours when the gym is quieter, can be less intimidating. PTs and gym managers will be able to let you know the most popular times, and the PureGym app updates in real-time so you can always monitor the app for a few days to know when it is generally quieter”. 

The latest PureGym UK Fitness Report reveals that the quietest days to visit the gym are between Thursday and Sunday, with Sunday the quietest of all.

The report also shows that gyms tend to be quieter in the late morning (11 am-12 pm), in the afternoon (2 pm-4 pm) or later in the evening (8 pm onwards) 

8. Follow a plan 

Many people can experience gymtimidation when they get to the gym and feel unsure of what to do once they’re there. PT Kat explains that a clear plan will cancel this intimidation out immediately, “Having a plan to follow can help you to feel much more confident in what you are doing at the gym each day. 

For example, imagine you are in the gym and plan to make up your workout on the spot depending on what kit is free. You see something you recognise is available but as you are walking over there, someone gets there before you.

Now, you are in the middle of the gym unsure what to do and convinced everyone is watching you squirm (even though they’re not). 

In contrast, when you have a plan in place, you can move on to a different exercise until the equipment you need is free”. 

9. Celebrate your accomplishments as often as possible 

Finally, Dr. Kerr explains that a mindset change is needed to focus on the positives rather than the negatives, “We tend to elevate and focus on the negative, so take time to write out all the steps you look forward to taking and celebrate each one, starting with congratulating yourself for choosing to take on a new challenge”. 

For anyone feeling up to taking on the challenge and leaving their gymtimidation back in 2022, PureGym are making it even easier, with a £0 joining fee and 50% off the first month new member offer running until the 16th of January. 

To help with planning and goal setting, the PureGym app also features hundreds of free workout ideas.  

Stephen Rowe, Chief Marketing Officer at PureGym commented: “With universities returning, schools going back affording parents more time in their days, and daily life returning to a ‘new normal’, we’re ready to welcome a host of new members across all of our gyms, however we are always mindful that some people are intimidated by the gym, especially if they haven’t visited one before.

Making everybody welcome is at the core of what we do at PureGym and we hope our findings can help all members build their confidence, alongside everything else we have in place. 

Our app shows how many people are in your gym at any one time, helping you to keep an eye on how busy it may be, while also featuring over 600 workout ideas, so you’ll never be lost for what to do.

All of our gyms have cleanliness and friendliness at the front of mind too, so if you need help using equipment, just ask a member of staff or arrange an induction. Embarking on your fitness journey whatever the goal should be great fun, and we’re here to make sure that’s the case every step of the way!”

For further information on the PureGym study and tips from fitness experts on tackling gymtimidation, visit: www.puregym.com/blog/