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A crowded gym environment can be overwhelming, especially for those returning after extended time off. And if you’re one of the many whose gym closed during the pandemic, getting back into the groove of working out in a gym setting can be intimidating.
On the other hand, you may have experienced gym anxiety for years now and yearn to find ways to diminish it. With 15 million adults affected by social anxiety, it’s safe to say you’re not alone.
Gym anxiety, which is another form of social anxiety, can cause symptoms ranging from a fast heart rate to heavy breathing; but not due to actual exercising, unfortunately.
The good news is there are plenty of ways to help lessen the feelings of anxiety and gain the confidence you need to have a killer workout with every gym session.
These tips can help if your gym-related feelings of anxiousness are manageable. If you’re struggling with social anxiety in the gym or otherwise, consider speaking with a professional.
5 Ways to Relieve Gym-Related Anxiety
1. Bring a Friend or Trusted Fitness Mentor
Two are better than one, and in this case, having a trusted friend or fitness mentor there with you will help limit the feeling of gym intimidation, as it provides some level of security. When choosing a gym partner, select one that is positive, encouraging, and can help you move out of your comfort zone.
“Having a gym buddy will help to encourage you and allow you to focus on the task at hand, keeping you grounded and in the present moment, reducing much-anticipated anxiety,” says Alyssa Boardman, a Rhode Island-based licensed clinical mental health counselor. Not only does a gym buddy add a boost of motivation, but it can also help increase your commitment and follow-through.
“Setting small, obtainable, manageable goals together can help increase your confidence in the gym, as well,” says Boardman. Obtainable is a key word here. For example, having the mindset that you’re going to go right back into your old routine and work with the same weight or intensity — or any unlikely goal — may also increase anxiety once you realize it may not be in the cards. Having a trusted gym buddy to set goals with and keep you accountable will have you back at it in no time, feeling confident and strong.
2. Limit Caffeine Before You Head to the Gym
Although your pre-workout or morning cup of Joe are solid energy boosters, they may also boost feelings of anxiety. Studies have linked caffeine to anxiousness when consumed in excess. But don’t worry, you don’t have to omit it completely; just limit it. Let’s say you normally have 2 (or more) cups a day, try to stick one cup before heading off to the gym instead of a pre-workout loaded with caffeine. You may also want to try a natural energy booster with less caffeine such as green tea.
Although caffeine affects everyone differently due to factors such as weight, age and how it’s metabolized, you can get an idea of how much caffeine is best for your body weight here.
If you notice your anxiety levels increase after consuming any caffeine at all, it may be time to cut it out.
3. Exercise During Off-Peak Hours and Get a Tour of the Gym
Heading to the gym when it’s not as packed is a great way to avoid (most of) the crowd and quell any gym anxiety. This will allow you to lean the equipment at a slower pace in a less distracting setting, building confidence as you learn your way around the gym.
Off-peak hours vary from gym to gym, so ask the front desk clerk or a personal trainer when the gym is generally the busiest. It may be helpful at this time to ask a gym associate to show you around the gym so you can feel better about the location of the equipment. You may want to bring a notepad and jot down things about the gym you want to remember: where your favorite machine is located, what machine you feel most comfortable on, etc., helping boost your gym confidence.
4. Plan Workouts Ahead of Time
Writing your workouts down ahead of time and walking through the process in your mind will leave you feeling less unprepared as uncertainty frequently evokes anxiety. Planning the workout before arriving at the gym reduces decision fatigue and provides more space for positive, motivational thoughts, and mental focus.
When planning your workouts, start with what you feel most comfortable doing. If lifting shoulders is what you feel the most confidence doing, start there. This will help you get off to a great start as you ease your way back in.
If you need some guidance in writing a workout plan, look for an experienced, highly recommended personal trainer who can develop one for you. Let them know your feelings of anxiety and they may be able to configure workouts where the gym equipment is close to each other helping the workout to flow seamlessly.
5. Stick to One Focused Area in the Gym for a Full-Body Workout
By staying in the same area for the entire workout, you cut the risk of losing the piece of equipment you’re working with and are less likely to deal with working in or sharing the equipment with someone else. Plus, trying to figure out what to do or where to go next can be a source of stress when the gym is crowded.
You can even try using an app from a reputable trainer, like Kira Stokes Fit, to find body-part specific and full-body workouts built around one specific machine or piece of equipment. “Sometimes it can be a little intimidating to know what to do with the equipment in the gym; I want you to have the knowledge, and gain the confidence to be able to work your way through an entire workout efficiently and effectively,” says Stokes, who has more than 25 years of experience. It’s a great way to ease gym anxiety while getting a killer sweat sesh in.
With the right support and planning ahead you will be able to limit gym anxiety and gain all the confidence you need to put in the hard work you desire in the gym.