I overcame my gymtimidation and have been a regular gym-goer for 4 years –here’s how I did it

Research shows that 1 in 5 people are still intimidated to go to the gym

Woman weightlifting at the gym
(Image credit: Getty Images)

My first time in the gym sucked. I was barely there for 30 minutes, I used about three machines and called it a day. Then, just as I was leaving, standing amongst the sea of men by the dumbbell rack, I spotted a woman I used to go to school with. ‘Oh my god, she’s so brave!’ I thought. Later that evening I dropped her a message and asked if I could join her for a few sessions – she said yes.  

My next gym session was quite different; we did dumbbell exercises, she showed me how to set up the squat rack, and I even managed my first barbell squat. We didn’t do all our exercises together, but just knowing she was there, just in case I needed some help, was a massive comfort. A month later, I finally had the confidence to walk into the gym alone, and I’ve never looked back since. 

That was four years ago, but new research from Puregym shows that 'gymtimidation' - or gym anxiety – is still present and that one in five people still won’t go because they feel intimidated. And it’s not just women; 16% of men won’t go either.

I experienced this recently when my sister’s fiancé accompanied me to the gym. My sister said that he wanted to do some squats but was too embarrassed in case he did them wrong. That literally broke my heart. 

The gym is meant to be a safe space for personal growth, no matter your age, size, gender or experience, not scare us senseless. So, whether it's your first time, or you've just been out of action for a while and need a little boost, these are my top tips to help you beat gymtimidation...

1. Take a friend

Two girls working out

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My top piece of gym advice, because nothing ever feels as scary when we’re not doing it alone. But taking a friend won’t just help with your confidence, it will help keep you accountable too, as you’re less likely to let someone down if you arrange to go together. If you already have a friend who knows the gym pretty well, even better! Ask to tag along with them for a few sessions until you feel comfortable to walk through the doors alone. If you don’t have anyone to go with, book a personal training session. Even I still have the occasional one and always leave having learnt something new.

2. Attend a class

Ok, I’ll confess I never went to a ‘gym class’ as such, but I have attended other classes (like my pole fitness class). Classes not only allow you to meet new people, but you don’t even have to know what you’re doing because you’re just following the instructor. Again, if the thought of going to a class on your own fills you with dread, take a friend and have a laugh. It's a great way to get your body moving if the gym floor still feels a little too scary. 

3. Headphones and music

woman listening to music on exercise bike

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When you’re really feeling the nerves, putting in your best headphones, turning on a banging playlist and blocking out the world around you, can do wonders. For me, it would distract my mind from worrying about what people might be saying (which was nothing), the annoying noises they were making and to just focus on myself, because that's all anyone is really doing. Just make sure it’s music that lifts your mood, not sends it crashing down (no heartbreak playlists here). 

4. Get an induction

Someone once said to me that the root cause of anxiety is the unknown, and it’s true. Especially when you’re new to a gym and have no idea what the big pulley thing is in the corner. A decent gym will show its new members around and talk them through its equipment anyway. If you’re not offered one, ask for one. It’s something I regret not doing, because when you’re unsure how to use something properly, you’re more likely to avoid it and it could be a life-changing bit of kit. Plus, you’re less likely to injure yourself.

5. Go with a plan

Person writing workout plan

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Whether it’s one you find online, or one that’s been professionally made for you, having a plan will help you feel more prepared and reduce those nerves. It’s the same as going into an important work meeting having done no prep. But knowing what you’re doing before you even set foot in the gym can provide a massive confidence boost. Plus, it will also be far easier to keep track of your progress in the long run. 

Get Fit 2024

This feature is part of T3's Get Fit 2024 campaign. We’ll be bringing you a wealth of guides, features, deals and news to help you get healthy, fit and ready for anything the new year can throw at you. Whether you’re a newcomer to fitness or someone with a passion for it, we’ll bring you all the best workouts, diet advice and gear to set you on the right track.

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.