Overcoming gymtimidation | All you need to know about gym anxiety

Lisa Gunn Lisa Gunn Mental Health Prevention Lead
Gym anxiety, or “gymtimidation” is common in people joining the gym for the first time or returning after some time off. If you’re worried about how you look or that people will be watching you, you’re not alone. These thoughts and feelings are extremely common and typically stem from a fear of the unknown.

What is gym anxiety?

Gym anxiety refers to a range of different negative thoughts and feelings that can occur when a person goes to the gym. 

These thoughts and feelings can come at any time and are often related to self-image and worries about what others are thinking. 

Is gymtimidation the same? 

“Gymtimidation” is a similar term that describes the apprehension or intimidation some people feel when they go to the gym. Whilst this isn’t true, gyms can look like they’re full of people who know what they’re doing. If you’re already apprehensive, this may leave you feeling intimidated or put off. 

Whilst these feelings are most common in new members or people who haven’t been to the gym in a while, regular gym goers aren’t immune. Research suggests that 2 in 5 adults have avoided going to the gym because they’re self-conscious about how they look. 

Feeling intimidated in the gym can mean you avoid certain areas, equipment, classes, or going altogether. 

Why is anxiety in the gym so common?

Gym anxiety is more common today because more people are going to the gym.  

People who experience gymtimidation will often go to the gym outside of peak hours because it’s quieter. You might find you worry less about how you look if there are fewer people in the gym. 

Unfortunately, this only reinforces the anxiety. The best way to combat gym anxiety is to work through it in a safe and secure way. 

What causes gym anxiety?

Several factors can influence whether someone feels comfortable or not in the gym. These include: 

  • Returning to the gym after some time off 
  • How confident you are at trying new things 
  • An anxiety disorder or other mental health problem 
  • Fear of doing something wrong 
  • Fear of judgement and of people watching you 
  • Body image concerns 
  • Feeling overwhelmed in crowded or busy spaces 
  • Comparing your body or ability to others 

Common thoughts and feelings

You may notice you tell yourself: 

  • "I’m the only person who doesn’t know what they’re doing” 
  • “There’s so much I want to do in the gym but I just get overwhelmed” 
  • "People are looking at me because I look lost” 
  • “Everyone else is fitter and more capable than me” 
  • "I want to use certain equipment but I'm not sure how” 
  • “I’m worried I'll look silly if I ask for help” 
  • "What will people think if I look lost in a class?” 

Tips for overcoming gym anxiety

It’s important to remember that the gym should be a safe space for everybody. If you don’t feel comfortable working out around others, or you don’t feel confident claiming your space in the gym, you may be suffering with gym anxiety. 

If these thoughts and feelings have taken the enjoyment out of exercise, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 28% of all women experience some level of anxiety in a gym setting. 

Learn more about triggers and the best ways to combat gym anxiety by clicking the link below: 

Does gym anxiety ever go away?

We all know what it’s like to feel nervous when we start somewhere new. Most people find that these feelings go away when we get used to our surroundings and how things are done. 

For others, anxiety in the gym may never go away. If this sounds familiar, talking to a professional might help. Gym anxiety is often linked with negative self-image and worries about what others think.  

Talk-based therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you unpack and understand your thoughts and feelings so you can exercise and workout free from worry.

Last updated Tuesday 2 January 2024

First published on Tuesday 2 January 2024