Strategies for overcoming fear at the gym

Politico-phobia is the fear or abnormal dislike of politicians (though I'd think abnormal would be liking a politician). Hellenologophobia is the fear of Greek terms, and galeophobia is the fear of sharks. I experienced this when I was five and thought Jaws was going to come out of the faucet in the bathtub.

It was a big faucet ok?

I couldn't find a term for the phobia of the gym, which is astounding when you consider there is even a name for the fear of opinions.

Allodoxaphobia, which might be directly related to the fear of politicians.

There might not be a formal word for the fear of the gym, but the feeling is so prevalent that an entire gym franchise was born out of the need to address it. The mission of Planet Fitness is to keep the lugs out so that people can avoid "gymtimidation." Seeking out this type of gym is certainly one way to help you overcome your fear. 

But what if you don't have access to that type of gym, or if your work pays for you to belong to the local YMCA? Or what if Planet Fitness doesn't have the equipment you're looking for, such as kettlebells, trap bars, and barbells? How do you find a way to feel comfortable?

It's a pleasant coincidence that while I was working on this post, my friend Dr. Lisa Lewis was interviewed by Nia Shanks for a podcast discussing the role a strong mindset plays when it comes to strength training for women. Lisa talks about motivation, changing habits, increasing your self-esteem, and perhaps best of all, most women's need to "stop shoulding all over yourself."  

A Strong Mind is a Strong Body (Podcast link)

Lisa is a licensed psychologist who earned her doctorate in counseling psychology with a specialization in sports psychology from Boston University. She has also recently teamed with Boston based trainer Artemis Scantalides for a speaking series "I Am Not Afraid to Lift," which will be traveling to the Baltimore area for the month of April. So for those of you in that area, details on the event, which will be held at the Dauntless Fitness and Health studio, can be found HERE


Anywho, here are some thoughts about strategies you can employ if you find yourself feeling a little intimidated by going to the gym. 

1. Start

As simple as it sounds, just go to the gym. Show up. Cross the thresh hold. Walk through the door. Commit to 30 minutes and just walk around. Get familiar with the layout. Ask a gym employee for a tour. Familiarity breeds comfort. Get yourself familiar. 

2. Find the least busy times

I went to my gym last night at 5:30 p.m. while the crossfit class was still happening. I can promise you that if I was new to that space, I would have turned around and left. The gym itself isn't that big so class times can feel crowded and equipment is hard to come by. 

3. Make a plan  

Get a program - I can’t emphasize this one enough. Having a plan for your workout, and knowing how many reps and sets and what you’re goal is makes all of the difference in the world. As one client mentioned to me, having what she referred to as a “legitimate” program made her feel like she belonged at the gym. That she had a right to share that space with other “real” lifters. 

You have a right to be there. Having a program helps with that.

4. Be aware of your perception of spectator behavior (dance like no one's watching)

That's a wordy way of saying, courtesy of Dr. Stuart McGill, to dance like no one's watching, if the fear of being watched is what's most bothersome to you. Most people at the gym are in their own little headphone world of Nine Inch Nails and Nickelback. People will notice you, but they're not watching you. They're watching themselves and lost in their own little world. Be aware of your perception versus the reality. 

5. Find a buddy

Shenanigans, St. Patty's Day, shenanigans; these things are more fun with friends. Did I mention shenanigans? And so is working out. Finding a workout buddy can help with motivation and follow through. Buddies also serve as someone to ask really important questions, like whether or not it's ok to wear two different shades of blue at the same time. 

6. Get a coach

Hire a coach or a personal trainer for a consultation. I did an entire post on this awhile back. (Click here to read). Many gyms will give you a walk-through of the equipment and services offered at the gym, but that just tells you where everything is. Find a quality coach and pay for the consultation. A good coach can give you an assessment (like the Functional Movement Screen) and steer you in the right direction. 

Read my post here on getting a coach. 

7. Take a class

Classes can be a great way to get comfortable in the gym. They offer the opportunity to be social, learn something new, and often are set up for new, intermediate, and advanced levels so you can find the class that sets the right pace for you. 

Read my post here on getting a coach

8. Own it

Comfort in the gym comes from familiarity. Show up at your gym at least three times a week and own it. Own it like my dog owns all seven of his beds.