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Feeling Scared of the Gym?


There’s no getting around the fact that for some of us the gym can feel like an intimidating place when you’re first starting out. Our latest research shows that 50% of non-gym members say they find the idea of going to the gym scary, with one in five saying they would find it very scary. But don't worry, because we have found the best ways of overcoming this.

To learn more about the concept of ‘gym fear’ we asked people about other fears they have, to see how they compare. So, how scary is the gym? Well some are so spooked by gym that one in four people said they would rather choose to have an injection with a needle, or be alone in a room with a spider than go to the gym!

30% of millennials said they’d rather give up their phone for a day instead of going to the gym alone, and 25% of females said they’d rather go on a rollercoaster than head to the gym.

But the gym doesn’t need to be as anxiety inducing as spiders and needles and heights! We delved a little deeper to uncover exactly what thoughts people have about the gym which make it feel scary before a first visit:


  1. Looking stupid in front of other people: Many of us (nearly 40%) are nervous about the gym because we’re afraid of showing people that we don’t know what we’re doing
  2. Feeling self-conscious about your fitness: Nearly half of the females we spoke to (45%) said they would be nervous in the gym if the other gym-goers were fitter than they were (29% of men felt the same way)
  3. Lifting weights: A third of us (32%) said the most intimidating area of the gym was the squat rack, followed by the pull-up/chin-up machine and then the bench press. 64% said they didn’t know how heavy the weights they use should be
  4. The treadmill: A whopping 44% of the participants didn’t know how to turn on and set up a treadmill for a workout
  5. Asking for help: Almost half (48%) said they’d be too embarrassed to ask another gym goer for help, and 44% said the same thing about asking a staff member for help 

Exercising provides many benefits, but other things that are good for us, like eating healthily or brushing our teeth, doesn’t seem to fill many of us with the same dread as working out does.

Dr. Margee Kerr teaches and researches everything ‘fear’ related at the University of Pittsburgh. She explains the reason why the gym is different to other healthy activity in our minds is because “Going to the gym is a social experience, meaning it carries all the potential gains that come with socializing, but also all the fears and anxieties too.

In terms of understanding and overcoming your anxiety, it’s better to compare going to the gym with other social situations. Dr. Kerr says going to the gym can tap into the same insecurities as starting a new job, a new school or giving a presentation to peers. She says “We, as humans, are constantly comparing ourselves to our peers, analysing how we’re similar, better, or worse. We also compare ourselves to our own expectations of what we think we should be capable of, our internal representation of our ‘best’ self.

Where we might be able to hide some of our vulnerabilities in the workplace or school, our weaknesses feel on full display in the gym, inciting intense feelings of vulnerability, of self-doubt, of fear.”

Any of the above sound familiar? We’re here to help you!

Remind yourself that you are in control. Studies show a sense of 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 for a purpose, whether it’s to improve your general fitness, to help you run a 5k, or get strong – whatever it may be, your doctor, spouse, family member, coach, etc. didn’t make you go to the gym, YOU did. Which means YOU get to own and celebrate your wins, big and small.

Don’t ignore that you feel scared. Denying, or attempting to suppress your fears doesn’t work. In fact studies show it does the exact opposite. The more we try to NOT think of something the more salience, or importance we give it, and the more it commands our attention, making it difficult to pay attention to anything else.

Educate yourself. Fear is all about the unknown, so you can do yourself a BIG favour and reduce a ton of anxiety by making an appointment with a staff member to learn about the gym before your first workout. Learn where the locker rooms, water fountains, and exits are located, and learn any important gym protocol like proper equipment use and class etiquette so you can get familiarise yourself in a new environment.


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