With January around the corner, many people will be getting ready to start healthier habits in the New Year. Getting back in, or joining, the gym is one of the most common resolutions when it comes to fitness, and with most of the busiest days at the gym each year falling in January and February, it’s clear the fresh start is great for kickstarting fitness routines.
However, for many people, going to the gym can be a very intimidating experience including for such sports stars as Venus Williams.
In fact, more than a fifth (21%) of people say they find the gym intimidating according to data from PureGym’s new UK Fitness Report, with women significantly more likely (25%) to experience ‘gymtimidation’ than men (16%) and avoid the gym for this reason.
To help combat these feelings so people can feel comfortable in the gym in 2024, Along with assistance from PureGym, who spoke to Dr Margee Kerr, an expert in fear, and PureGym personal trainers Ian Scarrott from PureGym Loughborough, Jamie Thorp from PureGym Leeds and Molly McHugh from PureGym Plymouth.
- Book an induction or workshop
If your gym worries stem from not knowing where the equipment is or how to use it, one of the best things you can do is to book an induction.
Every gym will offer induction sessions – this is where a member of the team will show you around and how to use the equipment so you can become familiar with the space before your first workout.
Ian explains: “Inductions are a great way to get to know the gym and feel more comfortable in the different areas. It’s also a good way to learn what weights are manageable and get ideas for exercises to try on your own.
“PureGym also runs Learn To Lift workshops which are perfect for new gym goers to learn safe and effective lifting techniques, and also meet people who are in the same situation as you and start to build a community in the gym.”
- Acknowledge your fears, but remind yourself that you are in control
According to Dr. Kerr, acknowledging your fear is the first step to tackling it: “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?
Write down each of your fears on paper, then ask yourself why it scares you, and if it is worth giving up all you stand to gain”.
Acknowledging that you’re in control of your own experience can also help to reduce the fear too: “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”.
You’re always able to stop a workout and leave a gym at any point, so if you’re feeling particularly nervous, set yourself mini-challenges to build up to a full workout – for a gym newbie, walking on a treadmill for 10 minutes could be the perfect place to start, and help you settle into the surroundings.
- Make a list of all the positive gains you will achieve by going to the gym
Reminding yourself of the reasons why you’re going to the gym will also help to motivate you to push through the fear.
According to 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.
Why not make a list on your phone and take a look at it before your next session to give you that much-needed boost?
- Make a playlist with your favourite music
It might sound simple but playing your favourite songs on your headphones can be a good way to override your nerves while you’re in the gym.
Molly explains: “Eliminating outside noise distracts your brain from the gym environment, so you spend less time worrying about what’s going on around you and more time focusing on yourself.
Making a playlist of your favourite upbeat tunes will help to make the gym a more positive experience so you can improve your confidence.”
A previous study by PureGym found that listening to music improves your gym performance too, which can also help you to feel more confident about your gym sessions.
- Workout with a friend
Going to the gym with a friend can help to reduce nerves and keep you motivated, ideal for new gym goers. Ian says: “Having a friend with you helps to distract from the perceived threat of people who ‘know what they’re doing’ in the gym watching you.
Most people feel more comfortable trying new kit or exercises with a friend, which can help you to learn your way around the gym faster so you feel comfortable even on your own.”
Jamie agrees and adds “Bringing a friend not only makes working out more fun, but also gives you the boost you need to stick with it over time.”
- Focus on your progress, not someone else’s
Comparing yourself to other people can increase gymtimidation for many, as they feel they aren’t ‘good enough’ to be there.
In fact, PureGym found that 1 in 10 people (13%) now compare themselves to fitness influencers on the likes of Instagram and TikTok, a number that rises to 32% for those aged between 18 and 24 years old.
Molly explains why this type of thinking isn’t true: “Every single person you see in the gym was a beginner at some point – even the PTs! We’ve all been there, which means we’re not judging.”
Breaking free of this habit can be difficult but liberating. 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.”
Jamie agrees: “Remember, you’re there to focus on your own progress, not to compete with anyone else. Put your blinders on and keep your eyes on the prize – you!”
- Avoid peak hours
We all known that gyms can be very busy at peak times, such as 5-7pm, so visiting for the first time during these hours could make any feelings of intimidation even worse.
Jamie says: “If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the gym environment, picking quieter times can be a game-changer. You’ll have more space to move and breathe!”
Molly adds: “If you can only make it during peak hours and find yourself overcome with anxiety, grab a mat, find a quiet corner, and work through a few core exercises.
This can help you to stay and accomplish more when you’re feeling worried, giving you the confidence to keep turning up when gymtimidation strikes.”
According to the latest version of the PureGym UK Fitness Report, Sundays tend to be the quietest days on the gym floor, so could be a good day for your first visit. However, Tuesdays tend to be the busiest, so could be worth avoiding while you build up your confidence.
- Follow a workout plan
Jamie advises mapping out your workouts to reduce nerves: “Going in with a plan gives you a clear roadmap and reduces the feeling of bumbling around not knowing what to do. A structured gym experience with set exercises can make everything less daunting.”
Molly agrees, adding that “Having a structured plan, whether that’s from a PT or an app, can give you the guidance you need to feel comfortable going into the gym and moving through a workout.”
The PureGym app is one way that you could do this – with free training programmes, workouts and demos of every piece of equipment, you won’t need to feel lost on the gym floor again.
- Celebrate your accomplishments as often as possible
Finally, Dr. Kerr explains that switching your mindset to look at the positives rather than the negatives will also be very helpful, “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”.
If you’re feeling up to taking on the challenge of beating your gym fears in 2024, PureGym is making it easier than ever to get started early with a free 3-day pass (available until 31st December): https://www.puregym.com/freepass/