Anxiety is a common mental health problem that many people experience. Anxiety can cause a person to feel worried, fearful, and stressed. Gym anxiety is related to going to the gym and working out in front of other people.

Anxiety affects around 31% of adults in the United States at some stage in their life.

Common symptoms of anxiety include feeling restless, worried, and irritable. Anxiety can also lead to fatigue, sleeping difficulties, and headaches.

This article explores people’s anxiety about working out in a gym. It will also discuss triggers for anxiety and what a person can do to feel less anxious.

A person opening a gym locker.Share on Pinterest
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Gym anxiety is the anxiety a person feels while exercising in a public gym or even at the thought of using one.

An individual may feel anxious about working out in front of other people. They may worry about what others will think of their ability in the gym or about their appearance as they exercise.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) suggests that not knowing what to expect can trigger gym anxiety for people new to the gym.

Despite gyms being a trigger for anxiety in some individuals, working out and exercising is also an effective way to reduce anxiety.

Learn more about anxiety.

There are several things that can trigger a person’s anxiety about the gym.

The perception of others

Social anxiety disorder is the name for an intense fear or anxiety related to certain social situations where a person may be the subject of scrutiny. An individual may fear that others will judge them and think negatively about them.

Social anxiety disorder may cause the person to fear being embarrassed or humiliated.

There are several elements of visiting the gym that can cause someone to develop social anxiety. They include:

  • limited knowledge of how to use the equipment
  • concerns about their ability when working out
  • worries about their physical appearance

One 2018 study looked at barriers to resistance training in college-age women. The study found that many participants were aware of the benefits of resistance training but still did not undertake the recommended amount.

Some participants gave reasons why they avoided resistance training because of how other people might perceive them. Reasons included:

  • not wanting to sweat in front of other people
  • worrying about their nonathletic physique
  • being uncoordinated while exercising
  • feeling uncomfortable and intimidated
  • having a lack of knowledge about what to do in the gym

The locker room

Using a gym locker room may also cause social anxiety. People may feel uneasy changing clothes in front of others or feel uncomfortable being around other individuals as they change.

Particular areas of the gym

Some people may feel uneasy using areas of the gym that males or females typically dominate. This includes the weight room, where resistance training takes place.

The 2018 study above suggested that having a women’s weightlifting class or a women-only area of a gym could help motivate females to undertake resistance training more often.

The NASM suggests several ways of reducing gym anxiety.

Do some research

Some people may be unsure what to expect when they visit a gym. This uncertainty may make their gym anxiety worse.

To feel prepared, a person can read online about the gym’s layout, equipment, opening times, and classes. They can also write down questions to ask staff members.

If an individual feels anxious in crowded spaces, they can find out when the gym is quieter and visit at those times.

A person could also go on a gym tour to familiarize themselves with the gym before using it to work out.

Go with a friend

Visiting the gym with a friend can be comforting and may help ease a person’s gym anxiety.

A friend who has been to the gym before can demonstrate how to use equipment and may help a person feel reassured.

Use a personal trainer

A personal trainer is a professional who works one-on-one with a person to help them achieve their fitness goals.

By using a personal trainer, an individual can build confidence in the gym. The personal trainer can:

  • explain the layout of the gym and show them where everything is
  • explain how to use each piece of gym equipment
  • show the person how to properly carry out exercises to ensure they are doing them correctly
  • answer any questions the person may have about their fitness, the gym, or certain exercises

Try a group exercise class

Group exercise classes may induce less anxiety than working out alone in the wider gym. Instructors sometimes tailor classes to particular fitness levels, and beginners may feel less intimidated working out in a group setting.

A person could also watch part of an exercise class before taking part in it, so they know what to expect.

If a person cannot overcome their gym anxiety, they may wish to exercise in other places. Alternatives to the gym include:

  • Running: Running is a suitable way to maintain fitness and reduce certain health risks. One 2017 study stated that people who run regularly have a 25–40% reduced risk of premature death and live approximately 3 years longer than those who do not run.
  • Cycling: Cycling can help a person get fitter, improve their fitness, lose weight, and improve their general health. A 2017 study showed that cycling could reduce an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes of death.
  • Walking: There are several health benefits to walking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that a single bout of moderate to vigorous physical activity can improve sleep, memory, the ability to think and learn, and reduce anxiety.

Learn more about types of exercise.

Gym anxiety refers to worry, fear, and stress related to visiting a gym. However, exercise is an effective way to reduce anxiety.

People may be anxious that others will judge them negatively when they work out. They may also feel anxious before they use a gym for the first time because they are unsure of what to expect.

A person can overcome their gym anxiety by researching the gym before going, visiting the gym with a friend, working with a personal trainer, and trying group exercise classes.

If an individual cannot overcome their gym anxiety, they can try alternatives, such as running, walking, cycling, or group classes outside of the gym.