The seemingly constant battle between a desire to work out and the anxiety felt in the gym can feel unsolvable. At Eppley Recreation Center, there are many people working out at any given time of day. This can be intimidating, especially since it may feel as though someone is being observed. Based on the crowds, people can often be found waiting for certain workout equipment, machines and spaces. It’s stressful to have to switch up a workout routine or learn how to use a different machine last minute. Considering all of these factors, the gym can be an anxiety inducing place for newcomers.
“I was super anxious about the fact that I would have to do [exercises] in front of people who knew what they were doing, or appeared to know what they were doing,”Natalie Wilkinson, the coordinator of personal training and fitness at RecWell, said.
Wilkinson isn’t alone. As freshman kinesiology major Ella Wilson said, certain parts of the gym hold a strong intimidation factor.
“I’ve experienced [gym anxiety] more in the weight room,” Wilson said. “I think it has gotten worse at the college campus gym.”
Everyone has a separate journey to achieve their goals, as well as different methods of dealing with gym anxiety. Here are some of the strategies that gym goers at the University of Maryland use to combat their anxieties.
Many gym goers find strength in numbers. Wilson found that working out with friends is helpful. Natalie Wathen, a freshman computer science major, agreed. “I find a gym partner usually,” Wathen said. “If you have a partner that is more experienced than you, then you can ask them for tips.”
Listening to music can also help gym users to stay focused and also ignore their environment that may trigger anxiety.
“There’s something about just putting on headphones that helped me to block out some of my surroundings,” Wilkinson said. “The act of just having headphones in keeps me zoned in, even if nothing’s playing.”
The gym is a process. To get comfortable with the gym environment, Wilkinson recommends that people ease themselves into gym habits.
“Maybe you tell yourself you only have to spend 10 minutes in the weightroom. Maybe after two or three weeks, you go for 20 minutes, just slowly increasing your time,” Wilkinson said. “No one’s going to be comfortable working out in front of others unless they do it.”
When it comes to exercises, starting off with routines or activities that are within one’s comfort zone is also a common recommendation. That looks different for everyone, as Wilson and Wathen demonstrate.
“I started off with dumbbells,” Wilson said. “Try all the machines and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it.”
Wathen took a different approach to exercise when she first started to frequent the gym.
“I started with the bench, which I know is not normal for a lot of people,” Wathen said. “But I really enjoy doing chest [exercises] so that was the one thing that got me to the gym.”
Above all, commitments to the gym and exercise can be tough, even without gym anxiety. Setting yourself up for success with a few or a combination of these strategies can make the intimidating figure of the gym seem just a little smaller. As Wilkinson describes, coming to the gym is a journey of progress.
“We all started from somewhere, right?” Wilkinson said. “You’re watching someone back squat 500 pounds. You have to realize, they didn’t come out of the womb back squatting 500 pounds – they had to get there.”
For many, it’s important to remember that the gym is a place where everyone goes to improve. Whether that improvement is to feel good, develop muscle or even take a break from studying, the gym is a safe space for all.
“You’re just as welcome as anybody else,” Wilson said. “The gym is for everybody.”