Illustration by Timothy Chiu

Gym Anxiety: It’s Valid And Here’s How To Navigate It

We are told that we need to exercise for our health, but the prospect of this may be daunting. How can we navigate gym anxiety? What are some ways we can get started in the gym?

Oct 2, 2022

When thinking about how to best take care of our health, working out is one of the first things that comes to mind. That being said, the idea of exercising can feel quite overwhelming if you do not know where to begin. The gym might seem like a scary place, but the key to overcoming gym anxiety is taking it slow and getting to know your body along the way.
The gym is for everyone, not just for athletes or fitness connoisseurs; it should feel like a safe space we all have the right to utilize. The best way to take that first step is to start off simple — such as by going to the gym and walking on the treadmill. Just walking on the treadmill for 20 minutes a few times a week will make it easier to get comfortable being in the gym. It is also a way to get started without worrying about knowing how to use the machines or having an elaborate workout routine. While on a treadmill, you can listen to music or a podcast, do your class readings, people-watch or just let your mind wander. When you begin to feel more comfortable in the gym, you can add other exercises to your routine.
Now that you are in the gym, it is time to start learning about your body’s abilities and your fitness goals, which is something that many new gym goers overlook. Remember that each person is different and we all have different bodies that we need to learn to cater to! Know your goals and why you want to be working out, because what works for others might not necessarily work for you. Taking health concerns into account is also very important because your health and safety should be your number one priority. If you have any health or mobility issues, remember to accommodate them through modified workouts and do not push yourself beyond your limits. Also, keeping your personal health goals in mind — such as muscle gain, weight loss or simply wanting to stay active — and your body's needs will help you feel more confident about what you should be doing.
“How can I get to know my body?" you might ask. This is primarily done through trial and error — be mindful of your body’s response while trying out new moves to figure out what works for you. Build your way up gradually — if you are interested in weightlifting, for example, start out with light weights and slow speeds to ensure you are doing the movements safely and with good form. By taking things slow, you can look out for cues from your body such as pain or discomfort that will tell you what movements do and do not work for you. As you gradually increase your resistance, you will notice which parts of your body are weaker or stronger and where you want to gear your focus. This way, you are listening to your body and taking things at your own pace, which will also help you feel more comfortable at the gym.
As you get to know your body and your goals, try experimenting with different types of exercise at the gym. In fact, many of the lifting machines are actually specifically designed to be used by beginners and people with injuries because the movement path is predetermined, so there's less to worry about in terms of knowing the correct form. Also, going to the gym does not always mean you have to be using the machines — a lot of people overlook floor exercises. By incorporating floor exercises into your routine, you will have a lot of safe exercise options to experiment with. Because these exercises only use body weight, you are able to explore your strength levels safely and work on many different parts of your body. Once you familiarize yourself with these different floor exercises, you can add weights or resistance bands for a more difficult workout, or even incorporate some machine or free-weight exercises. Finally, a great resource that I would recommend for first time gym goers would be to utilize the group fitness classes that are available to us on campus. This is a good option for people who are looking for more guidance in the beginning of their fitness journey and want to try out exercises they have never done before.
Always remember that everyone has to start somewhere and it is a process to get to where you want to be. Anxiety is a normal part of starting new things, but the more familiar you become with the gym, the more comfortable you will feel there. And if you still feel some reservations about taking the first step, find a friend to go to the gym with so it does not feel like something you are tackling on your own. Having a friend there will make you feel more comfortable as well as make the process more enjoyable. It can be something that you bond over and a journey that you can begin together. Feeling supported is one of the best remedies to anxiety whether that be in the gym or anywhere else.
Shamma Alzaabi is a Staff Writer. Email her at
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