Being afraid of the unknown can keep us from joining a gym and working out, even though we know we need to exercise more. It’s normal to feel intimidated by a new environment, especially one full of strangers, but there are ways to overcome this fear.

A survey of 1,000 Americans reveals that many people are afraid of going to the gym because they think they will be judged by others. This is especially true for those who don’t feel attractive or experienced. Additionally, many people admit to judging others while at the gym.

In addition to feeling self-conscious about how you look or your fitness level, uncomfortable physical sensations, and fear of injury can all make it hard to motivate to get to the gym.

The main reason people don’t exercise is because they are afraid. They are afraid of the physical exertion, and they are also afraid of moving their bodies to the point of increased heart rate.

Are you afraid of exercising? There are many potential reasons why. Here are some of the possibilities, along with a few tips to help ease any exercise-related fears or concerns you may have.

How to Overcome Common Workout Fears

A little extra motivation goes a long way when you’re trying to make a permanent lifestyle change. If you’re trying to make fitness a priority, we’re here to help you with some motivation to ease any fears that may be holding you back. Making a permanent lifestyle change can be difficult, but a little extra motivation can go a long way.

Feeling Self-Conscious About How You Look

Fitrated surveyed people and found that over half of them admitted they don’t look fit enough to be at the gym. 44% said they feel judged for their clothing choice.

Samantha Brown, a professional stylist, recommends looking for garments made of thick, stretchy fabric or compression fabric to help slim the body. “Quality matters here, as higher-end athletic lines are designed with more attention to hiding loose skin, cellulite, and unflattering silhouettes,” she says. When it comes to downplaying certain areas of your body, she recommends “look for matte fabrics (avoid shine and glossy materials). While the pattern will draw the eye, a darker print can also help to minimize the appearance of cellulite or loose skin tone as it provides a distraction.” She also says, “to help downplay a loose tummy, opt for a high-waisted legging or athletic pant with a wide band. Anything low cut exaggerates this area.”

Getting Out of Breath

You may become out of breath and panicky after a few minutes on a cardio machine. I had a client who explained this fear to me multiple times — saying that she knew it was inevitable to get out of breath, but she couldn’t push past it. She felt silly, but she’d simply get off the machine when the breathing got difficult because she was so scared of not being able to breathe altogether.

Dr. Jamie Wells, who is the director of Medicine for the American Council on Science and Health, has said that it is normal to become out of breath from exercise, especially if you are not used to being active. She has encouraged people to have a conversation with their doctor, so that they can be properly evaluated, because going from being sedentary to working out intensely can cause problems. It is better to ease into a workout routine so that it becomes more sustainable.

Start by gradually increasing the intensity of your workout instead of going all out from the start. Pay attention to your breathing and make sure you’re breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you start to feel dizzy or like you can’t breathe, tell yourself it’s okay and that you can take a break if you need to. Start by trying to work out for one minute without stopping to take a break. If you can’t do it on your own, hire a personal trainer for one session.

It is wise to be aware of signs that may be cause for concern. These include, but are not limited to, heaviness or pressure in the chest accompanied by a rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, lightheadedness or feeling faint, chest pain, confusion, feeling as though your heart is racing, as well as dizziness and poor coloration.

Breaking a Machine

I’ve had some clients ask me if they can break a machine while working out. They’re usually afraid of breaking an elliptical or spin bike. While it’s possible to break a machine if it’s used incorrectly with a lot of force, it’s highly unlikely. If you’re unsure, ask an instructor or a personal trainer to help you adjust the machine before using it.

Not Accomplishing Your Goals

Do you have a fear that this time recommitting to the gym won’t work just like all the other times? If you’re worried about disappointing yourself again, try breaking your goal down into smaller steps. For example, focus on just one workout at a time. Notice your successes in that single session: did you push yourself harder in cardio, or do more reps with your arm exercises? Track these accomplishments, be proud of yourself, and move on to the next day. With time, you’ll start pushing harder through each exercise session, which will lead to major results eventually.

Fear of Looking Foolish

It’s possible to have an accident or feel foolish when exercising, especially when there are a lot of sweaty people around and the machines have moving parts.

If you screw up while working out, the only thing you can do is laugh, unless you’re really hurt, in which case you should shout for help.

You can get help and tips from a gym employee or personal trainer, or from another person who is exercising. Most people are happy to give you some help.

If you’re struggling to use the machines, ask for help from somebody. It’s okay to not know how to use them, as none of us are born knowing how to. We all have to learn at some point.

Fear of Pain

Some people avoid exercise because they think it will be nothing but painful. However, this does not necessarily have to be the case.

If you’re in pain during your workout, it’s time to take a break or slow down. If you can’t breathe during your cardio workout, you’re working too hard, unless you’re doing interval training on purpose.

Now, when we say “hurt,” we’re talking about pain, not about the changes your body goes through when it starts to move faster than usual, such as increased breathing, sweating, and heart rate.

As you get used to exercise, you will start to feel minor changes in your body. For example, when lifting weights you may feel a burning sensation in your muscles. As you get stronger, your body will become more accustomed to this response and you will be able to lift heavier weights.

You should start slowly when you first begin an exercise program. Trainers recommend that you do slightly less than you think you can do for the first couple of weeks. This helps you to build a habit without the risk of burnout.

If you have shin splints, side stitches, or other common side effects of beginning an exercise program, you may need to stop, take care of the problem, and start again tomorrow. However, if you feel any sharp pains in the joints, tearing in the muscles or ligaments, or anything else that doesn’t feel normal, stop what you’re doing and seek medical attention.

Fear of Injury

If you are new to working out, you may not be able to distinguish the normal discomfort that comes with exercising for the first time (like burning muscles or heavy breathing) from pain caused by an injury.

If you’re a beginner and you’re afraid of injuring yourself, then you’re probably feeling a lot of tweaks and twangs. It may feel like everything is pulling, tearing, or falling apart, but if you’re careful, you’ll be fine.

By being aware of how you feel during your workout, you can help to prevent injuries.

To get the most out of running, you need to have the right shoes. Wearing shoes that are too old can lead to all kinds of problems. Invest in a quality pair of shoes to give your body the support it needs.

One way to injure yourself when lifting weights is to use improper form or posture. If you are unsure how to do the exercises, hire a personal trainer or ask a gym employee to demonstrate the machines and provide some basic instruction.

It’s important to warm up before working out in order to avoid injuries and pain. For walking workouts, start with a moderate walk. For running workouts, start with a brisk walk. For weightlifting workouts, do a little cardio first or try a warm-up set of each exercise with light weight.

Start your program at a light intensity and gradually increase the intensity and frequency of your workouts to avoid injury. For example, if you can only walk for 10 minutes, start there and increase your time each week.

Fear of Sweating

Some people avoid exercise because they are nervous about how much they sweat. However, there is no such thing as “normal” when it comes to sweating. Sweating is simply your body’s way of cooling you off and some people sweat more than others.

There are some basic steps you can take to stop excessive sweating or body odor. Wear sweat-wicking clothes and avoid foods that may cause stronger odors.

Fear of Failure

Many of us are afraid of failing when it comes to exercise. We can fail to lose weight, fail to make it through a workout, fail to stick to an exercise program, or fail to do the right thing.

The best way to deal with this fear is to set a goal you know you can reach. Having long-term goals to work toward is great, but do what you can handle for now. If you set the bar too high, it may give you an excuse to quit entirely.

Anytime you do something that is new to you or different from your normal routine, you are taking a risk. just the act of taking that risk can be all the success you need to keep you going.


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About Rhoda ...

Rhoda is an award-winning dietitian, mature age model, and CEO of Sayvana Women.  

She is the creator of the Elegant Eating Solution, an affordable program that helps women avoid weight regain and feel great about themselves, without restrictive eating.

Elegant Eating is based on the science of protein leverage and follows the unique R.E.M.A.P approach to successful aging.

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