How to Conquer Gym Anxiety

Despite the benefits of regular exercise – more energy, boosted metabolism, decreased appetite, increased strength, improved mood – many people continue to experience anxiety just at the thought of going to a gym, and the reasons are just as many. Some may experience body image issues that prevent them from taking the first steps to improving their self-esteem. Others may hesitate to make the journey to the gym because of social anxiety, fear of humiliation, or something as simple as first visit nerves. Whatever the reasons for your apprehension, you're certainly not alone. Fortunately, there are a number of measures you can take to conquer this fear and get the workout you deserve.

1. Motivate Yourself with Group Classes
When you're first starting out, it helps to know that you're not the only beginner. When taking a class, not only are you learning proper techniques from experts, but you're also surrounded by your own personal support system. On your own, you can fall victim to discouragement, and as a result, you'll be more likely to give up. But if you make some connections with people who expect to see you every week, you won't want to disappoint! Plus, there are so many different classes – from dance and kickboxing to yoga and Pilates – so there's something for everyone.

2. Avoid the Crowd
I know I told you more people = more motivation, but if you're going solo, a busy gym can be intimidating. While experienced gym-goers have learned to tune out everyone else, the gym newbie will feel as if there's a spotlight on their every move and every mistake. To avoid these concerns, stay away from the gym during peak hours, which usually fall from 8 to 11 A.M. and 4 to 7 P.M. During off-peak hours, you won't have to wait around for equipment, you'll feel less self-conscious, and the people at the gym are probably there for the same reasons you are.

3. Plan It Out
Things tend to feel so much easier when you know exactly how they'll go, so write down your specific exercise routine and the duration of each set. This will facilitate a sense of comfort and expectation that will carry you through your gym visit.

4. Make It an Outing
If group classes aren't your thing, but you still don't want to go alone, invite a friend to come along with you. A fitness buddy can keep you accountable on your workout routine, and you'll work out harder with some healthy competition. If your friend has some more experience with certain exercises, they can also give you some constructive feedback on improving form and maximizing results. If you don't have anyone in your friend circle who likes to hit the gym, there are certain apps (e.g., Fitspur and SportsBuddy) you can download to find a gym partner in your area.

5. Jam Out to Some Tunes
If you have trouble focusing on your workout and ignoring the bustle of a crowded gym, the solution may be as simple as a pair of headphones. Create a playlist of fast-paced, upbeat music that will get you in the mindset to work out at your maximum capacity. Music also has a positive impact on mood, so it might be enough to fight off that initial anxiety once you step onto a machine. This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but if you have the desire to join a gym and get your health on track, these five strategies will prove a great jumping off point. The first step is always the hardest, but once you're in, you'll wonder why you were ever nervous to begin with.

Heather Lomax is a contributing writer and media relations specialist for Orangetheory Fitness. She writes for a variety of health blogs, and in her spare time, takes special interest in researching methods for achieving optimal fitness goals.

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