Scared of heading back to the gym? 5 simple ways to address – and overcome – gym anxiety

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  • Let personal trainer Stef Williams guide you.

    Don’t worry if you feel like your gym anxiety is very real right now. Sure, it may seem like everyone is celebrating gyms reopening and their newfound exercise motivation, but for others, working out in a sweaty room full of strangers after a year self-isolating might fill you with dread.

    What if you’re out of shape? Or if you forget how to use the equipment, or see someone moving around the space without social distancing or a face mask? It’s been a full year since you exercised around other people, after all.

    Don’t worry – you’re really not alone. One survey found that 47% of members are unlikely to return, as they prefer their new home workouts or routines. For others, getting back to the gym will be a lifeline and a welcome break from monotonous living room sweat sessions and endless Instagram scrolling in search of celebrity workouts.

    Everybody is different, after all. So if you’re on the fence about returning to the gym or just feeling a little worried about it all, let these tips on overcoming gym anxiety from personal trainer Stef Williams, founder of Stef Fit and the WeGlow app, help.

    5 tips for overcoming gym anxiety as gyms reopen

    1. Accept that you won’t be at the same level

    Bottom line: that’s ok, Stef shares.

    “Regardless of the type of workouts you enjoy in the gym, any extended time away from using certain machines or performing certain exercises means you will lose some of your strength and proficiency,” she explains. “However, that doesn’t mean you’ll never get back to the same level, or even surpass it with time!”

    Thanks to muscle memory, you’ll likely regain your strength faster than it took you to achieve it in the first instance, she reckons.

    Top tip: Stef advises starting with a lower weight and reducing the total number of exercises or sets for each exercise in your workout. Oh, and check out our beginners guide to strength training for a handy recap, while you’re at it.

    2. Be patient

    In other words, don’t do too much too soon. “I know it’s frustrating to feel like you’ve lost progress, but being patient is vital,” Stef explains.

    Remember that above all, exercise is a form of self-care: it’s about working with your body to feel your best self, the PT shares. “Work with the strength and energy you have now and build this up over time – if you’re consistent, you’ll soon be back to where you were,” she adds.

    Top tip: Don’t be tempted to do too much too soon. “You’ll only increase your likelihood of getting an injury and could end up spending more time out of the gym than in it,” Stef shares.

    Gym anxiety: a woman working out in a gym

    3. Have a plan and structure in place

    That way, you won’t feel overwhelmed. “There’s so much choice and so many options in the gym that even in normal circumstances, it can feel overwhelming,” she says.

    Top tip: Now more than ever, it’s important to go in with a plan and a structure you can follow. Stef is easing herself back into the gym by following the Intermediate 3-day gym programme from her app We Glow. Our round up of the best fitness apps will help, too.

    4. Keep in mind that habits get you further

    Still searching for the fitness motivation you lost, ahem, this time last year? Short answer: don’t.

    “I get asked how to stay motivated all the time,” Stef shares. “My advice is always the same: I’ve built my routine on sustainable habits, because from experience, relying on motivation doesn’t get you very far,” she explains.

    Top tip: She reckons that a huge part of building a sustainable workout routine is about finding a type of exercise you enjoy and finding a routine that works for you. “You don’t need to start going to the gym five days a week right now; start with small weekly goals – like one or two sessions – and build up from there if you want to,” she recommends. “Soon enough, those gym sessions will feel like a habit and you won’t be sitting there waiting for motivation to strike.”

    5. Zone out from others 

    This one’s important. “I know it can feel like everyone is staring at you in the gym, but I promise they’re not”, Stef says. “People are far too pre-occupied with themselves to focus on you.”

    Also make sure you’re in your favourite pair of workout leggings and weightlifting or running trainers, depending on what exercise you’re doing. “There’s nothing worse than constantly adjusting your clothes when working out; worrying about that camel toe or having to re-jig that sports bra strap,” Stef explains.

    Top tip: Always pick a gym outfit that makes you feel comfortable and confident – “this will help you keep your focus on your actual workout,” she shares. “Likewise, nothing helps me zone out from others more than a good playlist – the right music can make all the difference.” So do pick an epic playlist before your visit.

    So there you have it – your complete guide yo gym anxiety, sorted.

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