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Do you have fitness fear?

January 8th 2019 / Ayesha Muttucumaru Google+ Ayesha Muttucumaru / 1 comment


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You're not alone. Here are 9 ways to help you overcome your workout worries

Are you suffering from a case of ‘gymtimidation’? You're not alone. A third of 18 to 35 year olds feel too self-conscious to join a gym, according to a new survey from not-for-profit health and wellbeing organisation, Nuffield Health, showing that fitness fear is more rife than a lot of us think.

So what's to blame? Social media is a major culprit, the findings revealed, with almost a third saying that they feel that it's harmful when encouraging people to get fit, and close to a third (30%) wishing people took more realistic/less staged pictures of themselves when they workout. What's more, over two thirds (69%) said they believed that more realistic images of celebrities or influencers in the gym on social media would encourage younger people looking to improve their health and fitness.

Fear of judgement is a common stumbling block to women getting active, Kate Dale, Strategic Lead at Sport England and This Girl Can campaigner says. “This fear might rear its head in many different ways but we’ve noticed three main areas of judgement which chime with women: appearance, priorities and ability. A lot of women might not like how they look when they get sweaty, feel self-conscious about jiggling or feel like they look too scrawny to be in a gym.”

The aspect of priorities struck a chord with us. “When it comes to priorities, women – more so than men – feel guilty about taking ‘me’ time to go to a fitness class, whether that’s because they’re worried that if they go to a lunchtime fitness class, their boss will think they aren’t working hard enough or they feel like they should be spending more time with their children. Whether it’s taking up a new sport or revisiting an old activity, a lot of women can worry about them not being good enough.”

Sound familiar? If so, rest assured that strength lies in the number of people who feel the same way. “We want women to know all these thoughts and worries are completely normal and that everyone has had them at one point or another,” says Kate. “What This Girl Can aims to do is help women manage this fear and give them the confidence not to care.”

Want to beat your fitness fears? Here’s how...

1. Do it your way

When it comes to a workout plan, a one-size-fits-all approach can go out the window. Doing it your way will ensure it feels more in line with your objectives, goals and lifestyle. “It’s not all about a fitness class or the gym. So many women in our campaign have become active through unorthodox pursuits because a gym or class isn’t for them. From roller derby, to women’s rugby, to cold water swimming - find what works for you.”

She adds, “Realise that almost all women worry. But that there is no need to conform - do what makes you feel comfortable. Stacey, one of the campaign girls, is unapologetic about doing her bootcamp classes wearing makeup. She does it her way, and that’s what brings her confidence.”

2. Don’t compare yourself to others

Whether it’s comparing yourself to those who can recall the sequences by heart or the lycra-clad brigade, stepping onto the gym floor can at times feel like you’re the new kid at school. Self-consciousness can serve as the most paralysing of fitness blocks, especially if work and life have made stamina levels tumble. The best advice? Be kinder to yourself - everyone’s been a beginner and will continue to be so in a number of different things. “More or less everyone, at some stage, is self-conscious or concerned about their looks and performance at the gym,” says psychologist and GTG Expert Elaine Slater. “Most of the time people are concentrating on their own workouts, that means far fewer gym goers are paying attention to you than you actually think. Many gym regulars are far too busy focusing on their own training, rather than wasting valuable energy judging others."

She adds, "Don’t care what other people think of you, everyone has been a beginner at some point. As you start to feel comfortable, gently step out of your comfort zone and try new things to boost confidence.”

Also remember that thoughts can often be out of step with reality. As Christina Howells, MSc, BSc, Personal Trainer and co-founder of and highlights, “When you compare yourself to others, you are comparing yourself to inaccurate information - you see what you choose to see but you don’t know that person’s reality.

“Instead of trying to be as good as or better than what you perceive others to be, focus your energy on being the very best version of yourself. New thoughts, new feelings, new actions.”

3. Smash stereotypes

The subject of wider-ranging representation is rife in both beauty and fitness. However, greater awareness and discussion of the issue is ensuring that steps are being taken so that fitness is no longer perceived as an exclusive club for the young - that being said though, there is still a way to go. “Ageism appears to exist against older women and exercise generally,” comments Kate Dale. “Older women simply are not visible enough when it comes to showcasing an activity.” To help encourage those who feel forgotten by the fitness world, This Girl Can looks to provide inspiring examples. “Our campaign has two incredible women – Catherine at 67 who took up bootcamp in her 60s after spending most of her life being inactive, and Sue, our incredible outdoor swimmer who has been active all her life, but has diversified to offset osteoporosis. They are incredible role models to women of all ages, and we hope will inspire anyone who feels they are ‘too old to be a beginner’ again.”

MORE GLOSS: Gender diversity - how beauty brands are helping to shatter stereotypes

4. Let an injury empower not break you

After a lengthy time-out following an injury, the journey back to full fitness can seem like a constant uphill battle. How can you keep motivation levels on an even keel? “My advice is to focus on the process of regaining your previous fitness level, instead of the outcome, train hard with focus and eat, sleep and recover well - especially around training and competition,” advises Matt Curley, Strength & Conditioning Coach at Pure Sports Medicine’s Kensington Clinic. “Be realistic with your timeframe and outcome goals. Don’t expect progress to be linear.”

The recovery process is a delicate time and to keep risk of re-injury to a minimum, look to an expert for a helping hand. “It’s important to seek medical help from a professional such as a sports doctor or physiotherapist,” advises Matt. “They will be able to give you a management plan, and help you return to training in the most appropriate way. Set short-term and long-term goals with them – for both rehab outcomes and benchmarks for performance depending upon what activity you want to return to.”

In terms of training, don’t view the area in isolation. “Make sure you have training balance: you need to address both the injured limb and the non-injured limb to prevent asymmetry in strength or flexibility,” explains Matt. “Start easy, progress gradually and methodically, plan your recovery and work hard at the things you can.”

5. Lose your ego

Are you your own worst enemy? Sometimes an energetic ego can be incredibly hard to shrug off - especially when you’ve previously been pretty fit. “When starting back, look at where you are now, rather than where you were before,” recommends Christina Howells. “You don’t need to leap back in where you stopped or keep up with everyone around you. Be humble and work at a level your body is capable of right now. It will be hard the first time back, but that is not a reason to tell yourself you can’t do it. Instead, look forward to making progress. I often tell my clients ‘Regress to progress’ - take a step back from where you left off and take time with each stage to reach your goals. Improvements come in small steps.”

Exercise isn’t just about the results but rather enjoying the process

6. Be prepared

“Preparing your workout plan can make you feel more confident,” recommends Christina. “You may choose to book a class best for the level you are at right now or use an online workout programme.

"It can also be very beneficial to work with a trainer to help you through your first few gym sessions. Rather than just rocking up, give yourself a plan; this will make you feel more confident.”

MORE GLOSS: How to become a morning (workout) person

7. Get fit with friends

“Find a friend to exercise with,” recommends Kate Dale. “A lot of women who are taking part in our campaign have found a real sense of belonging in their chosen activities – whether that’s rugby, roller derby or post-natal exercise classes.” Merging social life with gym life definitely provides an extra incentive in our experience and something we can definitely vouch for (laughing until your stomach hurts has got to be good for your core right?). If you’re looking to try a range of different classes, sign up for a workout package with ClassPass (who often offer great intro bundles) or if you’re a Fitness First member, make sure to check out its Fitness Fridays where you’re able to bring a friend to train with for free.

8. Love the process

“Exercising simply to get results may not always be your best strategy,” says Christina. “It is good to have goals and these help drive your behaviour, but it’s also really important not to be obsessed with them. Exercise isn’t just about the results but rather enjoying the process. If you learn to love the process and stop keeping score, you’ll exceed all of your expectations and gain more satisfaction than any amount of goal achieving.”

9. Find instructors that motivate rather than intimidate

In our experience, a good instructor can make all the difference in either boosting or obliterating confidence. If you find being shouted at works for you, hey, we’re not gonna judge, all power to you, but if you’ve signed up to a class with the expectation of motivation and found that the reality was a red mist of yelling, swearing and intimidation, don’t be afraid to make a complaint as soon as possible. After all, you haven't spent all that money to be humiliated and we’ve found companies only too happy to help remedy the situation when we’ve been left red-faced (not in a good way).

MORE GLOSS: 10 ways to have a better relationship with yourself

Fitness fears and the future…

A change in mindset takes time. “One thing we’ve found is that fear of judgement is not something that disappears forever or is ever ‘vanquished,' says Kate Dale. "Life changes – positive or negative – can all impact confidence and women who have been active all of their lives can find themselves losing their rhythm when it comes to exercise. We want women to know it’s ok to take a break and pick something back up – it’s a natural part of life.” We completely agree.

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Join the conversation

  • Elizabeth
  • February 22nd 2017

I've got a better idea.

Why go to a gym at all? Why not exercise at home, or at a friend's home, or within any other private/quiet space where you feel in your comfort zone?

I'll tell you what's "wrong" with this idea. Gym memberships and expensive exercise gear have become a lucrative industry, and we're being coerced into the myth that a calorie burned in a formal gym counts more than a calorie burned elsewhere.

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