Real talk: I didn’t learn to ride a bike until the age of 26 and didn’t run a full mile until a year after that. I was a member of the fancy gym on my university campus but went there only twice in four years. I avoided exercise simply because I wasn’t “good” at it, and just thinking about it made me feel self-conscious and anxious. I was afraid I was going to do it wrong and hurt myself; I was afraid to look like an idiot in front of my friends; I was afraid of failing, so I avoided failure by not trying in the first place.
Once I discovered yoga, an exercise I actually enjoyed, I realized how much better I felt having a regular exercise routine. Being a mind-body exercise, yoga helped reduce my anxiety, and not only did I overcome my fears around exercise, I became a yoga teacher and health coach. If I can do it, so can you!
Still don’t have your running shoes on? Here are more tips to help you feel more relaxed about working out:
1. Problem: Fear of injury
Solution: Start with less intense classes
The level of difficulty of some gym classes can feel too intense when you’re new. If you go too hard in an attempt to keep up with the class, you might hurt yourself. When scanning the group exercise schedule, look for “level 1″ or “beginner” classes, and save any class labeled “extreme,” “high-intensity,” or “boot camp” for later in your fitness journey. Also, at the start of class, let the instructor know you’re new so they can offer support.
Also, make sure you have the appropriate shoes for whatever workout you’re doing. This will provide the correct support for your joints and reduce the chances of injury. It’s also important to make sure your muscles are warmed up, so don’t forget to warm up with a light jog or a few minutes of jumping jacks before you go full throttle.
Good form is another component to avoiding injury. Many gyms offer introductory classes or beginner workshops for everything from Spinning to cardio kickboxing.
If it’s been quite a while since you’ve broken a sweat, take to heart the old adage of learning to walk before you run. Walking is a way to “embed the unfamiliar within the familiar,” says Janelle Railey, a mind-body psychotherapist based in Asheville, N.C., who suggests beginners start with a walking routine rather than take fitness classes. “While walking, you’re in control,” says Railey. “You can tune into your body and walk faster or slower accordingly.”
2. Problem: Fear of looking bad in public
Solution: Work out at home
If only we all had the coordination of Justin Timberlake, but alas, most of us exude awkwardness when it comes to nailing workout moves. Luckily, when working out at home, only your cat will witness when you kick left instead of right. Another common stressor related to looking bad is showing up late to fitness classes since many people rush to the gym after work.
You can remove these obstacles entirely by opting for a streaming service. Not only can you access workouts for all levels, you can also do them anytime and anywhere. You choose the trainer you like, which intensity you’re up for and for how long.
3. Problem: Overwhelmed by the stimuli at the gym
Solution: Tune it out
Gyms, especially at peak workout times, can be a multi-sensory experience — exciting to some and overstimulating to others. The bright lights, loud music, and competitive spirit are intended to get you pumped up, but that doesn’t work for everyone. If the only thing spinning while you’re on an indoor bike is your head, find your focus with a good pair of noise-canceling headphones and listen to music that has a steady beat that is in-sync with your workout. Other tips to help you focus and reduce anxiety are to watch TV while on the treadmill or elliptical, or listen to an audiobook to shift your attention from your chaotic surroundings.
4. Problem: Working out is not fun, in fact, it’s miserable
Solution: Find something you enjoy doing
One of the best parts about adulting is doing what you want (within reason). That applies to exercise, too, says Marit Weikel, licensed professional counselor and owner of Weikel Health & Wellness. Choosing an exercise that is fun for you will shift the focus from seeing your workout just as a way to burn calories, to seeing it as an enjoyable way to spend your time. “Finding something you enjoy doing just for the benefit of moving your body can be a whole new way of thinking,” says Weikel.
Another way to enjoy your workout more is to take it outside, enjoy the sunshine and the cool breeze. Pause to listen to the birds, pet the neighbor’s dog, or smell a garden of roses. Anything to bring happiness into your workout helps!
5. Problem: Fear of failure
Solution: Create a support group
This one’s a biggie. People may be afraid of failure and not even realize it. If you’re not on top of it, this underlying fear can lead to procrastination or not even trying at all.
The best way to overcome this fear is to face it head on. Write out your fitness goals, have a plan, and tell people about your plan so that they can support you and hold you accountable. I like to have a workout buddy so that we keep each other on track.
6. Problem: Extreme anxiety about exercise, in general
Solution: Take mind-body classes
If your anxiety runs high, consider starting a mind-body exercise routine, such as yoga, tai chi, or Pilates. Not only do these forms of exercise help us relax and get more comfortable in the body, they can help us “understand ourselves from the inside out,” says Railey, who is also an Ashtanga yoga teacher. “These exercises allow you to make choices about what feels good for you and your body at any given time,” she says. “That aspect of yoga is really important and really empowering for people who are afraid of exercise.”