Being able to stick to a workout routine at the gym and staying consistent with it involves many things, such as finding the time and the motivation to do it and choosing the right exercises for you. But there’s also a big problem that many beginners might face, especially when they’re new at the gym or haven’t trained with weights before - gym anxiety.
There are a lot of reasons why you could feel anxious or overwhelmed at the gym, whether it’s because you’re new there and don’t know where the machines are or because you don’t know which free weights to pick up to get closer to your goals. Confidence isn’t built in a day and the gym might be very intimidating and even frustrating at first, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll feel that way forever!
If you find yourself struggling with gym anxiety when trying to get your workout done, don’t panic - we’re here to help! We’ve put together a list of the main things to keep in mind next time you’re hitting the weights, so you can prepare yourself mentally before going to the gym and make sure that anxiety and fear are a thing of the past in no time!
Get familiar with strength training principles
When it comes to hitting the weights at the gym, it’s not as easy as just going in and picking up the nearest barbell you can find. Understanding how strength training works is crucial if you want to have a smooth and effective fitness journey, both physically and mentally, which is why you should get familiar with the main strength training principles!
The actual amount of principles may vary depending on who you ask, but the four basic principles that you need to keep in mind when establishing a consistent strength training routine are specificity, variation, individualization, and progressive overload. And while you could apply these principles to other types of training, it’s important to understand why they’re crucial for a successful strength training journey.
Specificity refers to your goals and what you expect to achieve with your training, not only setting clear goals so you can work toward achieving them but also being specific in the types of exercise that you choose. If you want to get better at doing squats, then you need to do more squats in order to master it, not just strengthen your legs with other exercises. Focusing on specific goals can help you feel less overwhelmed when stepping into the gym, which is why you need a good workout plan, but we’ll talk a little bit more about this in a moment!
On a similar note, variation refers to what you do during your routine and the different exercises that you try. You need to keep trying new things and keep a varied set of exercises in your routine to avoid getting bored or tired of it instead of doing the same movements over and over again. Even more, variety helps you hit your muscles from a wider range of angles and directions, helping you grow a bigger and stronger physique and allowing you to stay constant while still seeing results. This is all to say: break out of your comfort zone and you’ll start enjoying your time at the gym way more!
Individualization is a big principle that not many people tend to remember because comparing yourself to others is only natural - but it can be unhealthy and discouraging! It refers to how your journey is unique to yourself, and you can’t expect to make progress at the same time as other people or do the exact same exercises as them. A strength training journey can be long and full of difficulties that you will conquer with time, so try to focus on yourself instead of looking at what others are doing around you.
Finally, progressive overload is what ties all the other principles together, being the main focus of strength training. It’s about gradually increasing your workload and pushing your body to the limit to keep seeing results and avoid hitting a training plateau. Whether you increase your sets, reps, weight, or overall intensity of your workouts, your muscles need stimulus to help them grow, which is why working out without a specific goal (lack of specificity) and sticking to the same exercises on every session (lack of variation) won’t get you any muscle gains in your strength training journey. And yes, individualization also plays a big part here, because you need to evaluate your current fitness level to correctly apply progressive overload instead of looking at what others are doing and trying to replicate it!
Learn about the different types of strength training
Aside from the principles of strength training, there’s something else that you should get familiar with when starting your own journey: the types of strength training.
You don’t necessarily need to learn about every single one in deep detail, but having a general understanding of what they are and how they work on your body will help you make an informed decision when it comes to your routine so you can feel more confident at the gym. Choosing the right type of strength training for you and the goals that you have in mind will allow you to create a more effective and consistent routine. This way, you can make sure that you’ll get the results that you want instead of winging it at the gym, helping you avoid any anxiety that may arise from not knowing what to do with the weights.
The five main types of strength training are hypertrophy training, muscular endurance training, circuit training, explosive training, and maximum muscular strength training. And while they all involve lifting weights, they work for different purposes! Muscular endurance training focuses on building stamina and being able to last longer at the gym, while the goal of hypertrophy training is increasing the size and strength of your muscles by promoting hypertrophy, repairing damaged muscle, and building new lean muscle on top.
So, depending on your specific goals for strength training, you might benefit more from one type than the others so that your experience at the gym goes smoother and more effectively!
Create a workout plan before going in
When we talked about specificity in strength training, we mentioned focusing on specific goals and creating a workout routine that works for those goals. By knowing exactly what you’re going to do at the gym, you can skip the whole “I don’t know what to do and everyone will stare at me” situation that might be too uncomfortable to handle sometimes!
First things first - no, no one is actually looking at you, but it might feel like it when you’re insecure in what you’re doing, and that’s okay! This feeling will disappear eventually, but this is why it’s important to have a good workout routine to follow when you go in, so you can have your mind focused on one thing only instead of thinking about all the gym-goers around you when you first start.
The best way to create an effective workout plan is to first set SMART goals that will help you decide what you’ll do every workout session. You could focus on building bigger and stronger legs, a more toned upper body, or maybe increasing your resistance. What's important is that you choose one thing to do so you can create a routine around it. You can then start deciding your training frequency, rest days, and the different exercises that you’ll add to your routine, as well as the sets, reps, and weights for each one.
When deciding on the frequency of your workouts, getting familiar with training splits and implementing them in your routine will help you make more progress in less time by structuring your workouts throughout the week and dedicating each day to different muscle groups! Instead of doing full-body workouts and thinking about how hard it will be to get through it, you’ll just have to focus on building muscle on a specific part of your body for the day, such as your legs, or your back and biceps.
Avoid peak gym hours
Sometimes, the symptoms of anxiety are heightened by the fact that you’re surrounded by a bunch of people who are also working out. Seeing others in a better shape than you and doing movements that you wish you could do can be discouraging, or you just might not feel comfortable doing certain exercises when there are so many people around. The best way to tackle this issue is by avoiding peak hours at the gym!
At peak hours, the gym is super crowded because it’s when people have the time to do their workouts. And there’s probably someone using almost every piece of gym equipment, so not only are you surrounded by people, but you probably also have to wait for the equipment that you need to be available for you to use. This adds to the weight lifting anxiety and you might end up feeling overwhelmed and wanting to leave, which is why changing your gym schedule might be the best way to go at first.
You can ask the gym staff what time is their least busy and try to accommodate your daily schedule around those times! Going early in the morning or late at night almost guarantees a near-empty gym, or even in the middle of the day during the weekdays if you’re able to do so. Doing this will help you avoid that unwanted anxiety and help you feel more comfortable lifting at the gym, allowing you to make progress more effectively!
Take a gym tour beforehand
Just like you feel more comfortable in a new city or a new job when you already know the layout and can get around by yourself with ease, the same happens with gyms!
Getting to know the gym facilities and different areas will help you feel less anxious when working out. You can ask the gym staff for a guided tour around the gym if you feel comfortable with that, or just roam around by yourself when it’s less crowded so you can get familiar with your surroundings. Pay special attention to the weight room and take a look at the different weights and machines that you’ll be using, so you can save some time on your next session and get to the next station without the need to ask around where a specific weight or machine is.
You can also see how others use the machines so you have a better understanding of how to use them because theory and practice are very different. You might know how a machine works and still feel lost when it’s your turn to use it, so don’t be afraid to ask the staff or a personal trainer how to use it correctly, instead of avoiding the machine altogether! This way, you can also avoid the risk of injury when working out.
Feeling comfortable and confident while working out is a number one priority, and that includes knowing how everything works, so make sure you get familiar with the weight room and the gym in general before actually going in to work out so you can avoid feeling anxious or overwhelmed during your session.
Have a workout buddy
Very few things help you feel more comfortable in a new environment than being accompanied! Whether it’s an old friend that also wants to work out or a new coworker that shares the same fitness goals as you, having a workout buddy can improve your time at the gym and ease you from any anxiety that you might have.
It’s likely that you and your workout buddy won’t have the same training routine, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t go to the gym together and encourage each other while you’re there! You might be hitting the cable machine while they’re doing push-ups near you, but the mere feeling of not being alone can go a long way when building your confidence at the gym and sticking to your strength training routine for the long run.
Whether you pick them up on your way to the gym or just meet up there, having someone else there while you focus on your own thing is one of the best things a beginner can do to ease their anxiety about going to the gym, even if it’s just for a short time while you get used to it. With time, you can even make new friends at the gym, helping you look forward to your next session not only because you’ll get to train hard and make progress, but also because you’ll have a good time with others.
Keeping all of these things in mind will guarantee a better and more comfortable gym experience, whether you’re a beginner or you’ve been dealing with gym anxiety for a while - these tips on how to overcome the fear of gym are for everyone!
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