Overcoming gym intimidation

The gym can be an intimidating space, especially if you are the type of person who is struggling with body image issues. We’ve put together some helpful tips that will help you overcome your insecurities and become more confident in a gym environment.

For some people, the gym is a haven, it’s a place where we can lose ourselves in the rhythm of our breathing or the pounding of our feet on the treadmill. For others, the gym sets off a different type of racing heartbeat (one that’s not because we just smashed our PB on the treadmill). If that sounds like you, the gym is probably an intimidating place that evokes a sense of unease and mild panic.

This mild panic could have something to do with our skill level, body image or simply the fact that we prefer to do yoga in our back garden. We’re here to help you get over your hesitations and enjoy your experience - whatever reason the gym makes you nervous.

Panic attack about going to gymImage source: Giphy


You’re not alone! Gym intimidation is completely normal

One of the biggest reasons people feel intimidated by the gym is that they don’t feel like they look right. Meaning that they don’t look like they exercise regularly. While these feelings are valid, it’s important to remember that we all had to start somewhere. Everyone there most probably felt like you do at some point or another.

This is easier said than done. But, try not to judge the way you’re feeling by the way other people look. Don’t let the gym environment scare you away. It’s not scary. The gym has the potential to become your “home away from home.” It can be a place where you can leave all your worries at the door while you train and not only build yourself up physically but mentally and emotionally as well.

Beginners at gyms are normally greeted with open arms. While everyone has their individual goals, there is also a sense of a “hive-mind” where everyone acknowledges that we’re all here for essentially the same reason. Other gym-goers respect that you are one of the few who have actually dragged themselves to the gym at 5 am instead of snuggling under the duvet for an extra hour or two.

How to overcome gym intimidation

Here are some simple ways to overcome the initial gym intimidation. Once you get into your groove we promise that this fear will dissipate.

1. Don’t judge your journey by someone else’s destination

Every master was once a beginner. Everyone from the guy lifting twice your bodyweight to the woman in the corner on the treadmill all took that initial step to start somewhere. Getting ripped with huge muscles or having that toned physique doesn’t happen overnight. Reaching your fitness goals will take time - but before you know it, you’ll be confidently striding into the gym too.

Every one of those people that you see in the gym who looks like they were born to do this started where you are today. They were also challenged at some point in their lives to get fitter and learn how to use weights and machines in different ways to reach their goals. And guess what, they’re still learning. They’re always learning, trying new things and getting to know their bodies better as their goals change over time.

You too will reach your goals. Don’t compare yourself to anyone. Simply move steadily along at your own pace, and your effort and dedication will pay off.

2. Avoid peak hours

Peak hour at the gym is the time when the most people are there (usually just before or after work). It can be a bit disorientating when you’re first starting out with hundreds of people bustling around. Not only do you have to wait to use the equipment, but you also might not feel comfortable taking the time that you need to get into the swing of things.

If your schedule allows, try to slot your gym session in between peak times when there's less traffic. You’ll easily move around the gym and most machines will be open for you to train on and learn the ropes. It’s also less stressful, which is good because anxiety doesn’t blend well with focused exercise.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

If you’re unsure about how a machine works, or how you can optimise your session on the treadmill all you have to do is ask. Believe us when we say that the staff at the gym are there to help you.

Our wellness team has also put together a list of exercises that will help you feel more at ease. We know that the more often you go to the gym, the more comfortable with the equipment you’ll feel. Soon you’ll build the confidence you need to start enjoying your workouts.

Here are six exercises that beginners can do with confidence:

  1. The Press Machine and Pectoral Fly Machine are great isolation machines that will focus your workout on your chest and pectoral muscles. You won’t need too much guidance and you’ll be able to set your own pace - especially with how much weight you will be lifting.

  2. The Leg Press Machine and Standing Calf Raise Machine will give your calf muscles the ultimate workout. This is a simple machine to master.

  3. A  Shoulder Press Machine or Adjustable Preacher Bench is a great machine that will work both your shoulders and upper arms.

  4. The Lat Pull-Down Machine and Low Row Machine are the machines you want to make friends with if you are wanting to work your back muscles.

  5. Bicep Curls and Tricep Pushdown are great if you are wanting to focus on eccentric loading in your biceps and triceps.

  6. The Back Extension Machine and Abdominal Crunches will give your torso a definite going over.

4. Small changes can make a huge difference to your workout

Sometimes a simple change can give you the confidence boost you need. Here are a few easy things you can do to lessen your anxiety at the gym:

  • Listen to music while you work out and block out the sounds around you. Listening to music will help you get outside of your head, and will encourage you to get into a rhythm with your reps, steps or spins on the bike. It will also prevent you from focusing too heavily on what others are doing around you.

  • Train with a gym buddy, there’s safety in numbers. Try and find someone in your social circle who is in a similar position as you or a close friend whom you feel comfortable with. This will go a long way to ease your feelings of anxiety, and it’s a great way of staying motivated!

  • Try taking a class instead. If you’re feeling desperately unsure about where to begin, stay away from the complicated gym equipment and take a class. Most leisure centres and gyms will hold all manner of classes, from yoga to Zumba and boxercise classes. These are a great way to not only use up some of that anxious energy but to meet new people and make new friends.

  • You can always book time with a personal trainer who will help you find a workout that suits you. Your personal trainer will also take you through each of the machines and how to use them properly to avoid injury.

  • Don’t feel like you can only train in the gym. If you would feel better doing some pre-gym fitness preparation before moving on to exercising in public, there are loads of great apps (like Fiit or DNAfit’s Elevate platform) to help you. Join a gym when you feel a tad more confident.

  • Wear clothes that you feel comfortable in. It doesn’t matter if they have a large picture of Garfield calling for coffee across the front. You don’t need the latest and greatest gym apparel to work out. You aren’t in a fashion show. You’re taking your health in your hands and that’s what’s important. Do whatever it takes to reach your goal and rock that Garfield tee with pride!


When trying something new you’re bound to face some nerves - whether it's your health and wellness journey, taking up a pottery class or learning to drive. Take comfort in the fact that each time you go to the gym it will become less and less intimidating. And, whatever you do, don’t let your fear get the better of you.

Always keep in mind that training to get fitter is a personal journey and that every one of us, had to start somewhere. The gym may be an intimidating place at first, but once you get to grips with what you want to achieve (setting one big goal and a few smaller goals that act as milestones), you’ll be training with confidence in no time.

All we have left to say is, don’t forget your towel and remember to stay hydrated!

Download our guide to Optimising Your Gym Workoutfor expert tips to help you get the most out of your training.

Download Guide


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