Bottom Line Up Front: gymxiety sucks, I've got helpful tips below, or you can hire me to walk you through being successful in a gym.
I've long struggled with anxiety. I first noticed it in high school and it sat manifesting and unaddressed for a long time. Now that I've talked about it, talked through how it works itself inside me, I notice when it is setting in and can either mitigate or prevent it from happening.
During my time crushing BRO LIFTS at Life Time Fitness in Franklin Tennessee, I've felt the creep of anxiety in myself and can sense it in those around me at the gym -- Gymxiety.
Gymxiety kinda reminds me of my experiences at middle school dances
Me at Middle School Dances:
I know I'm there for a purpose, a deep seeded, and perhaps even a biological purpose, but am nervous about how this whole thing is supposed to go down.
I want to talk to girls, but not sure how and am bashful.
I should probably dance, but am a little self-conscious of not doing it right.
I should try to stand around the cool dudes and maybe get accepted into their circle and improve my social standing and then maybe girls will want to talk to ME.
Do you feel that uncomfortable feeling creeping up in your stomach? Or is that just me? Just me? OK cool cool, yeah me neither.
And now Gymxiety dialogue at a globo gym
I know I'm supposed to go, its the healthy thing to do, we're made to move and we should use these muscles. But, uhhhh, I get to the gym... and then what?!
Holy crap, there's a lot of people here... the two machines I know how to use are occupied --(internal panic building)
OK maybe I'll use this other machine, but what if I'm not using it right? Everyone is definitely going to judge me. Can I ask for help or will that completely destroy my credibility? Yes, it will.
How much weight should I use? Probably "the more, the better," that way I look badass. That'll definitely let me be part of the "cool kid" club!
OK great, one set is done. Now I'm supposed to rest -- how the heck do I do that?! What do I do between sets?! Should I sit here so no one else takes it? Should I talk to someone? Everyone has earbuds in, they're in the zone and probably don't want to be interrupted. OK, I'll just flip through Instagram.
*5 minutes later*
Cool, second set done... alright this sucks, I'm just gunna go back to the treadmill. I need to "work on cardio to burn fat" anyway!
That internal dialogue, discomfort, and lack of knowledge is completely normal. Don't let it get you down! Here's some thoughts to help you work through your gymxiety.
First of all, DON'T WORRY ABOUT JUDGMENT
90% of people don't know what they're doing in the gym. They're winging it like you. If people are judging you, screw them cuz they were a beginner once. Even if they've been lifting for a while, they STILL do stuff wrong. Heck, so do I and I do this as a profession! There's a reason Planet Fitness has the tag line "Judgment Free Zone"
Next, Develop a Plan About "What should I do in the gym?" this will help solve the "Oh crap, what do I do?" feeling.
Here's how to plan your gym session:
Decide which muscle group or groups you want to hit
Write out a specific workout to hit those groups -- sets, reps, machines, dumbbells, weights, everything
Write out alternative ways to hit those groups (in case your first option is occupied)
Having an overarching goal with several plans of attack will keep you mission focused and less worried about what to do, who is watching, and how you look.
Have all options written out -- OK, I'm going to hit back with XYZ machines with this many sets and reps; if those machines are taken, I'm going to do XYZ on dumbbells with this many sets and reps. If all the back stuff is for sure taken up, then pivot to hit another body group with a couple plans for that body part.
Sound overwhelming already? It is, but that's OK. Hard things don't come easy.
Do you have absolutely no idea where to start with developing a plan? Then email me at email@example.com and we can talk through your gymxiety issues and I can help you develop a plan of attack to be successful at the gym.
Next, Some Tips for "Oh, Crap! THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE"
Gyms have peak times -- early morning (the before work crowd), mid-morning (the stay-at home parents or retirees), late afternoon and early evening (the after work crowd). Here are some strategies for a successful lift, regardless of time.
Ask to work in with someone on a machine -- this could have the added benefit of maybe making a gym friend/helper. Ask questions about what they're hitting or what they're feeling and kinda just let the convo flow "oh, you feel this lift there? I feel it here, definitely want to focus on that other body part."
Figure out how to get the same stimulus from a different lift -- want to do lat pull downs but they're all taken? Grab a band, throw it over a pull up bar and do band assisted pull ups or lat pull downs with a band.
Plant Your Flag -- Stalk your equipment and when it opens up, sit there, hit all your sets and different types of lifts until you are finished. You might frustrate some people for staying on one space, but they can ask to work in or you can direct them to this blog post and get them educated. An adjustable bench and dumbbells can crush lots of different body parts; same with a lat pull down machine.
Are there hidden machines?? -- Look diligently around the gym for less trafficked equipment and use those instead. At my Life Time Fitness, there are the MASSIVE lat pull down machines with several pullies. This is often very busy. There is a different area with tons of individual machines to focus on single muscle groups -- I'll go there and blow up my lats with the exact same exercises, I just don't have to jockey for position as much.
Off-Peak Times -- If these don't work, or you REALLY don't like being around a lot of people, try to find a time that works for your schedule that isn't peak time.
AVOID YOUR COMFORT ZONE -- If you know you're going to default to something (cardio, bench press, stretching, curls) because that's where you are comfortable, recognize it, but don't rest in that station. Hit your comfort zone every once in a while or only allow yourself to go there after your workout is over. Chubby, awkward Sam just stood in the dark corner of the Middle School dance because it was comfortable, don't be like chubby, awkward Sam.
Finally, the feeling of Isolation and Loneliness at the gym...
Being in the gym solo with a ton of people makes me feel EXTREMELY alone and awkward (like seriously, not joking). Here are some strategies I've felt to help avoid that feeling.
Go in with a time limit -- "OK, I'm going to the gym, I'm giving myself 25 minutes to just absolutely destroy my back with as much work and little rest as possible." This time crunch helps focus the mind and you won't be self conscious of being alone because you're there to get shit done.
Go in with a plan -- Having a plan gives you a purpose and you can focus on working the plan rather than working the room.
Make some gym friends -- ask to work in, ask for a spot, ask for help. Being self-deprecating really helps me, "Hey man, I am pretty sure this lift with break my sternum, can you help make sure that doesn't happen." Or, "Hey man, I know I'm lifting less than you, but can I work in on this lat pull down machine?" Then after your set, make a joke about how your grandma taught you to lift weights.
Don't wear head phones -- this makes it easier to connect with people. Plus, if you fart during a set, you will be able to judge whether others were able to hear (hopefully not over their earbuds!)
Make friends with the trainers -- yes they're there to sell personal training packages, but at least being able to say WHAT UP to them helps you feel like you know AT LEAST SOMEONE in the gym