Life

7 Things People Always Get Anxious About In The Gym & What To Do About Them

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Going to the gym is the one thing that gets me up most mornings, but it can also be an anxiety nightmare. Constantly wondering if you look weird while you're doing wall sits, or if people are judging you for using that three pound dumbbell can freak anyone out. Everyone has workout anxieties, including the dudebros grunting in the corner.

Gym anxiety can make you feel super self-conscious during your workout, especially when toxic fitness culture says there are no excuses for taking a modification or going at your own pace. Hacking your way through gym anxiety, though, can be a huge help, as I've learned through my experience as a personal trainer. The biggest fears I hear from clients all have workarounds that can help people feel more confident in the gym.

The common denominator with all of these anxiety cheat codes is research and practice. Look up what the proper form is for that exercise you want to try, and practice the form at home. Ask around about what to expect in that new class.

No matter what your specific gym anxiety is, remember that you're not the only one who has it. The most muscley human in your gym probably feels the same exact way.

1
"I'm Going To Look Stupid Doing This Exercise"
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You've looked this lift you want to try up on YouTube. You've even tried out the form without weight alone in your bathroom mirror. (Also good for building muscle memory.) But now you're in the gym, and you've got weights in your hands, and there are people around you, and oh no you look stupid.

Record scratch: First of all, you don't look stupid. Secondly, those folks lifting super heavy in the bro corner? A lot of the time, their form is way off. And it was definitely off the first time they tried something new.

It's hard to convince your thumping heart and sweating palms to remember that everyone learns a lift for the first time at some point. You might look new to the game, but you're not going to look ridiculous. And even if you did, everyone in the room has also been there. Practice ahead of time (thanks, YouTube!) and, if you can, bring a supportive friend or two. Hell, if someone's form looks really good, they'll probably to show you how to do it if you ask. And then you make a new friend!

2
"Everyone Else Is Stronger Than Me"

It's tempting to believe this. Pretty much everyone looks around at the people near them and finds something to shame themselves for, including the folks lifting the heaviest weights with the bulgiest muscles. But being gentle with yourself, as opposed to beating yourself up and trying for higher weights, will get you stronger faster.

Even if you'll never add another pound to your deadlift, so what? Physical strength does not equate to your value as a person. Besides, you have no idea how long that woman benching 135 pounds has been training.

If your competitive streak needs to be fed somehow, try focusing on having better form than the guy squatting a lot of weight. Remember that super strong-looking gym rats are (a) probably hyper-focused on their own workout and (b) even if they are paying attention to you, you can focus on lifting your small weight with excellent form very, very slowly. This "tempo lifting" is recognized as a super cool form of training by anyone legit, and you've gotta lift relatively light to do it. Plus, it's just great for your own workout. So you win on all fronts.

3
"This Modification Looks Weird"

When fitness culture tells you that you have to go as hard as possible for every rep, taking a modification can be kind of a let down. Maybe you're just coming off surgery or you have chronic pain, and your physical therapist told you to modify your squat to look like this, not that. Even though you know your modification is right for your body, it's tempting to think that other people will judge you or try to "correct" you. And honestly? People are jerks, or just think they know best (or both), so that might happen. But here's the thing: you're in the gym for you. And your body is the one you're going home with.

So if you know a modification you're supposed to use for a certain exercise, I've got no advice for you other than to use it. You are not an imposter in the gym, and your body does belong in fitness spaces, no matter how you need to move.

4
"I Don't Know How To Use This Machine"
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Bro, neither do I. In 99% of cases, there is a little diagram pasted somewhere on the machine that will tell you (in both pictures and words) how to use it and even what muscles it's meant to work. But who wants to "admit" they don't know by getting caught staring at the picture? Not I! Just remember that everyone looks at the picture, even if they know what they're doing. The overwhelming likelihood is that no one is staring at you, just waiting to catch you scoping out the machine.

Try glancing at the picture more subtly as you're walking by the machine, or watching how other people use it. If you get nervous and decide to abort the mission, that's OK. You'll probably have gained some intel and can go back for more later — possibly after looking the machine up on YouTube to see how it's done in video form.

Feel silly strategizing how to read the darn instruction manual? Don't! It's an anxiety that pretty much every client I've ever had shares (as well as all my trainer friends!).

5
"Everyone Else Can Keep Up With This Class And I Can't"

I have about seven left feet and my body has the coordination of an awkward teenage white boy, so you're not the only one in your Zumba class who feels awkward and disoriented. And if you did happen to walk into the one class where everyone already knows the moves and each other, then they'll likely know you're new and be very willing to help you out. (If they're not, the problem isn't you, it's the tone of the class, and you never have to go back.)

Speaking as someone with extreme social anxiety about how my body moves in space, it can be a lot of fun to laugh while you're moving in a group of other people. You'd be surprised at the amount of goofing around that happens in (good) group fitness classes. If a class sounds super intense, try working out on your own a bit longer until you feel more confident to join the crowd. Then, before you take the class, scout it out by asking about the instructor and glancing in yourself. You deserve a welcoming environment that will encourage you to make the same mistakes as everyone else.

6
"I'm Not Flexible Enough"

I'm a powerlifter, so pretty much everyone can do deeper stretches than me. But those people who can touch their toes without bending their knees, and even get their palms to the ground? They're been working on their flexibility for a looong time, or their bodies are just built a bit differently, or both. And there's nothing wrong with any of those things.

As you're learning to deepen your stretches, think about what your goals are. If you're a climber, then yeah, you might really want to build your hip and hamstring flexibility to get past those problems. Check the wonderful world of YouTube for stretches that you might need to meet your goals, and practice at home. Still feeling awkward when you hit the gym? Start with what you know you can do and what you know you're good at — "I can do a tricep stretch really well" — and spend some time doing those until you're feeling more settled and confident to try something newer. And never stretch your body past the point of pain.

7
"I Can't Even Hold A Stupid Plank"
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As a personal trainer, I'm allowed to say planks are stupid. Well, I mean, sort of. They're a great way to learn to brace your core and develop isometric strength, but they're a bad exercise to teach if someone's body isn't ready for them. It's the same deal with lying straight leg lifts — sometimes your body just isn't built for certain exercises, and that's OK.

You can find different ways to get similar benefits, even if everyone else in your boot camp class is doing something different. Can't hold a plank? Cool! Balance on your forearms to give your wrists a break and let your knees drop to the ground (like you would in a modified push-up). Lying straight leg lifts getting you down? No worries! Keep your knees bent at about 90 degrees and get some reverse crunches in instead (don't worry if you can't lift your butt off the floor).

8

It's natural to feel like you're on stage when you're at the gym, even if the stage is just a lifting platform or lat pulldown machine. Going to the gym is a very vulnerable experience, so it's important to know that you're not alone in feeling anxious and on display. Even though it can be hard, try to remember that your workout is your own and no one else's. You've got this.