How to conquer gym anxiety

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story originally said there are 10 tips in the article, not nine, while there are nine tips. The Talisman regrets the error.

Ah, Preston Center, in all its glory, standing tall with those reflective windows and white concrete columns. Walking in, the smell of sweat and rubber assaults your senses. The sound of squeaky tennis shoes deafens your eardrums. The sight of defined muscles and an array of expensive fitness gear overwhelms your eyes. 

For some, walking into Preston is like going home after a long, hard day to fresh baked cookies in the oven. For others, walking into the gym is comparable to walking into Dante’s ninth circle of hell. 

If you consider yourself to be someone who dreads going to the gym, you may be dealing with some gym anxiety. 

It’s not always easy to establish a workout routine. You may have always wanted to go to the gym but never had access. Because Preston is free for full-time students at WKU, if you want to use it, you shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable doing so. 

Here are nine tips to help you overcome gym anxiety so you can find confidence in yourself and your fitness routine.  

Start small

Starting small is a good rule of thumb with most things in life, but it can be especially helpful in terms of fitness. Try to start on your fitness journey by investing in a yoga mat and exercising and stretching at home or in your dorm room so you can get used to certain movements. 

When I finally felt comfortable going to the gym, I found it useful to start by taking in my surroundings. Don’t let hunks of metal stare you down. Don’t dart straight for the few things you are comfortable with. Look around you. Notice the people, the noises, the scents and let them be all of those things. Just people. Just noises. Just scents. That is, afterall, all that they are.

Plan ahead

It’s possible your gym anxiety stems from feeling like you must set aside a huge chunk of time to go to the gym. Instead of looking at going to the gym as a chore, view it as a part of your routine. Whether you decide to go two days out of the week to start or jump in by going daily, putting time in your schedule to go to the gym will ease your mind when you’re feeling intimidated. 

Preston offers GroupX classes every day of the week throughout the day that can help you get in a workout without having to add the stress of setting aside time to workout and put together a routine. Find one that seems fun that fits in some free time of your day and try it out. You may even learn exercises in the class that will guide you through workouts you do on your own time. 

Change your mindset

Working out at the gym shouldn’t be something you stress about. You shouldn’t feel guilty for not going or feel like you can’t go because you don’t look a certain way. The gym is a great place to relieve stress and frustration. You can listen to music while you work out, block out the world and fuel your body and mind. 

My best workouts at the gym have come when I am going with the intention of blowing off steam and fueling my body. When I am overwhelmed from classes and can’t think straight, sometimes going to the gym is the perfect thing to help me realign my priorities and be able to get what needs to be done, done. 

 Don’t go alone

This may seem obvious, but if you can, find someone to go to the gym with you. I started going to the gym with someone who knew a lot more than me about fitness and it helped ease my worries that I would be doing something wrong by having support through a tough workout. 

Having a gym buddy give you someone to hold accountable and vice versa, and it can make the gym fun and exciting. Even just going to a GroupX Zumba or yoga class with a friend or group of friends can make the gym feel less like work and more like a fun bonding experience. 


Utilize fitness apps

Not knowing what you’re doing at the gym can cause gym anxiety. Fitness apps that take you through a workout are great ways to focus on a routine and find out what you like to do in the process. It can also help you feel like you aren’t alone when you have someone on the app helping you through a workout. 

The Nike Training Club app is one that I use when I can’t necessarily get in the gym for a workout. It lets you filter workouts that fit your specific needs in terms of availability of equipment and difficulty level of the workout itself. The Nike Run app leads you through guided runs of varying lengths and difficulties, so you can have a personal coach in your ear motivating you and remind you of your goals. 

Create a playlist that appeals to you 

Music is a great way to get in the headspace of crushing a workout. Creating a playlist tailored to you and your taste in music is important because it can empower you in whatever way you need. Some people like to listen to heavy metal and “pump up” songs at the gym. Others may turn to things that comfort them. Whether you run that mile listening to Pink Floyd or Bon Iver, what’s important is that you are listening to something to make you feel good and in your zone, whatever that may entail. Here’s some of the songs I personally enjoy listening to while working out.

Make positive goals for yourself

Writing down fitness goals can be helpful and motivational, but it’s important to be careful in how you frame your goals. Instead of telling yourself that you want to lose a certain amount of weight in a certain amount of time, try focusing on how you feel during and after your workouts. Becoming goal-oriented in improving your mile time or the amount of weight you lift will give you a healthier mindset in achieving your goals. 

I used to obsess over hitting a certain number on the scale. Now, I make my goals about gaining strength and improving the way I feel during workouts. I hardly ever even step on a scale anymore because a number isn’t my personal worth. My health and how I feel is far more vital to my happiness than a couple of numbers. 

Find the dead times 

If possible, try to schedule your workouts in the less busy hours of the day. Preston is busier in the afternoons and evenings. It can be hard, but an early morning workout may be the perfect thing for you to get used to the gym. Plus, some people find that working out in the morning is what they need to feel good about their day. 

GroupX classes are offered as early as 6:15 a.m. Monday through Wednesdays. Forcing yourself to get to the gym that early will be hard, but the ease of having a pre planned workout should make things a little easier. 

Be kind to yourself on your journey

Focus on the result you have in mind. I definitely have things about my body that I still don’t like, but that list grows shorter as I grow to love other parts of myself more. I never thought I would enjoy going to the gym. I certainly never thought I would learn so much about myself by going to the gym. But I did. I have shifted from caring deeply about the way my body looks to becoming more neutral to the physical aspect of it and more in tune with the mental side of my journey than I ever thought possible.

Be honest with yourself. It is important to hold yourself accountable if you want to see progress. But above all else, remember to always be kind to yourself.