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Feeling Scared of the Gym? You’re Not Alone

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WHY ARE WE SCARED OF THE GYM, AND HOW DO WE OVERCOME GYM FEAR?

There’s no getting around the fact that for some of us the gym can feel like an intimidating place when you’re first starting out. Our latest research shows that 50% of non-gym members say they find the idea of going to the gym scary, with one in five saying they would find it very scary.  But don't worry, because we have found the best ways of overcoming this.

50% of non-gym goers find the idea of visiting the gym scary, PureGym Report

To learn more about the concept of ‘gym fear’ we asked people about other fears they have, to see how they compare.  So, how scary is the gym? Well some are so spooked by gym that one in four people said they would rather choose to have an injection with a needle, or be alone in a room with a spider than go to the gym!

25 of non-gym goers would rather be in a room with a spider, than go to the gym alone, PureGym reports

30% of millennials said they’d rather give up their phone for a day instead of going to the gym alone, and 25% of females said they’d rather go on a rollercoaster than head to the gym.

More than 1 in 4 would prefer to have an injection, than visit the gym, PureGym report

But the gym doesn’t need to be as anxiety inducing as spiders and needles and heights! We delved a little deeper to uncover exactly what thoughts people have about the gym which make it feel scary before a first visit:

Five things that scare us the most about the gym

  • Looking stupid in front of other people: Many of us (nearly 40%) are nervous about the gym because we’re afraid of showing people that we don’t know what we’re doing
  • Feeling self-conscious about your fitness: Nearly half of the females we spoke to (45%) said they would be nervous in the gym if the other gym-goers were fitter than they were (29% of men felt the same way)
  • Lifting weights: A third of us (32%) said the most intimidating area of the gym was the squat rack, followed by the pull-up/chin-up machine and then the bench press. 64% said they didn’t know how heavy the weights they use should be
  • The treadmill: A whopping 44% of the participants didn’t know how to turn on and set up a treadmill for a workout
  • Asking for help: Almost half (48%) said they’d be too embarrassed to ask another gym goer for help, and 44% said the same thing about asking a staff member for help
Most intimidating pieces of gym equipment

Putting gym fear to the test

We enlisted three non-gym-goers to confront their fears in the name of science, and visit a gym to do the three things that commonly scare being most about the gym: enter the free weight area, set up a treadmill and ask someone for help.

Female on treadmill in PureGym
PureGym female performing bicep curls
Male performing leg extension in PureGym

(Pictured) Robin, Roxy and Rebekah faced their fears in a gym anxiety experiment

The participants’ heart rates and temperature were monitored throughout the experience to see the actual physical stresses that occurred due to their gym fear. The data recorded revealed that there was a definite bodily reaction to the mental stress felt by the participants, but that some of the situations were less stressful than others:

  • Least stressful = visiting the free weights area: Although when asked people said the weights area was the most terrifying, the data showed that this task actually prompted the smallest increase in heart rate in all three case studies.
  • Pretty stressful = setting up a treadmill: Participants had a significant spike in heart rate and temperature when setting up a treadmill (not actually running on it, but just the process of setting it up). To help you combat this fear and prepare for this before you visit the gym, we’ve created an online guide which shows you how to set up our treadmills.
  • Most stressful = asking for help: Asking a member of staff or fellow gym-goer for assistance proved the scariest for our researchers, with a big surge in both temperature and heart rates.

Why does the gym make us so anxious?

Exercising provides many benefits, but other things that are good for us, like eating healthily or brushing our teeth, doesn’t seem to fill many of us with the same dread as working out does.

Dr. Margee Kerr teaches and researches everything ‘fear’ related at the University of Pittsburgh. She explains the reason why the gym is different to other healthy activity in our minds is because Going to the gym is a social experience, meaning it carries all the potential gains that come with socializing, but also all the fears and anxieties too.

In terms of understanding and overcoming your anxiety, it’s better to compare going to the gym with other social situations. Dr. Kerr says going to the gym can tap into the same insecurities as starting a new job, a new school or giving a presentation to peers. She says “We, as humans, are constantly comparing ourselves to our peers, analysing how we’re similar, better, or worse. We also compare ourselves to our own expectations of what we think we should be capable of, our internal representation of our ‘best’ self.

Where we might be able to hide some of our vulnerabilities in the workplace or school, our weaknesses feel on full display in the gym, inciting intense feelings of vulnerability, of self-doubt, of fear.”

Roxy, 37, shares what makes her the most nervous about visiting the gym: “The aspect of being on my own in a gym isn’t an issue for me, as my nerves come more from the busyness. This really brings my feelings of low self-esteem to the fore, especially in situations such as the changing rooms, where I would find myself comparing my body to the other women. Put simply, the busier the gym is, the more intimidated I am.”

Getting Over Your Gym Fear

Any of the above sound familiar? We’re here to help you!

To get rid of some of that ‘fear of the unknown’ we’ve created a video tour to help newbies acquaint themselves with what a PureGym looks like – watch the video gym tour here.

We’ve also created online guides you can read before coming in to help you know how to set up our treadmills and rowing machines.

Dr. Kerr suggests the following tips for recognising and over-coming your gym anxieties:

  1. Remind yourself that you are in control. Studies show a sense of control makes scary events easier to tolerate and overcome. So, acknowledge, and frequently remind yourself, that you are the one choosing to take on this fear for a purpose, whether it’s to improve your general fitness, to help you run a 5k, or get strong – whatever it may be, your doctor, spouse, family member, coach, etc. didn’t make you go to the gym, YOU did. Which means YOU get to own and celebrate your wins, big and small.
  2. Don’t ignore that you feel scared. Denying, or attempting to suppress your fears doesn’t work. In fact studies show it does the exact opposite. The more we try to NOT think of something the more salience, or importance we give it, and the more it commands our attention, making it difficult to pay attention to anything else.
  3. Educate yourself. Fear is all about the unknown, so you can do yourself a BIG favour and reduce a ton of anxiety by making an appointment with a staff member to learn about the gym before your first workout. Learn where the locker rooms, water fountains, and exits are located, and learn any important gym protocol like proper equipment use and class etiquette so you can get familiarise yourself in a new environment.

For more psychological explanation and six more tips on how to overcome it, see Dr. Margee’ Kerrs full piece here.

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