02 January 2024

How to cope with gym anxiety if you haven’t been in a while

02 January 2024

If you’ve decided to kick-start the New Year by hitting the gym and starting afresh – chances are you’re feeling a little bit nervous about how to navigate the machinery… not to mention the lay of the land.

“The gym can be a wonderful place to take care of your body, meet new people and build your confidence,” says Peter Cobby, fitness coach for London’s fashion industry and founder of Project LALA.

“But it can also be a scary place, seeing all those sweat-stained and Lycra-laden fitness junkies jumping around might be more than you can handle,” highlights Cobby.

However, being anxious about going to the gym is something we all experience, says Cobby. “It’s how we cope with that anxiety that will determine if we’ll get closer to our goals, or not.”

What is gym anxiety?

“Maybe it’s your first time going to a gym, or maybe it’s been a long time since you’ve gone.” He continues. “The thought of going in and starting from scratch, not really knowing what to do and feeling generally lost is not as uncommon as you might think.

Gym anxiety can sneak up on you, at any stage,” explains Cobby. “It usually comes with a lack of know-how and is hard to shake off.”


As Cobby points out, going to the gym for the first time can be a daunting experience, and usually is. “Everyone there seems to know exactly what they are doing, and all the instructors are a little too high on energy.”

But there are a few things to consider before you step foot in the door…

You’re not the first

“They all started from somewhere,” says Cobby. “Even the people who look the fittest. They all had a ‘first day’.”

Challenge or change negative thoughts

“It’s normal to feel a little uncomfortable in a new place, but, if you’re telling yourself you feel unfit and out of shape and everyone is staring at you, this isn’t helpful or realistic,” says personal trainer Elyn Marwick, and advisor to muscle and joint care experts Deep Heat, Deep Freeze and Deep Relief.

“Remind yourself ‘actually everyone is focused on themselves and their own workout’,” suggests Marwick. “Or for ‘I can’t do this, I don’t want to come here’ – instead say ‘It’s a New Year. I’ve made a goal to improve my health, get fitter and in better shape. I’m working towards this goal and I can do it’.”

Build your confidence by setting realistic targets

Marwick says it’s important to set realistic targets – and to try to keep to them. She says if you start avoiding going to the gym, this will reduce your confidence.

“Try going at quieter times if you can – and get some gym clothes that you both feel good in and will make exercise feel easier,” suggests Marwick.

“Wear headphones to listen to music, a podcast or an audio book to help manage anxiety – and remove the fear of feeling that others are staring at you.”

Cobby says: “The best trick is to start small. Choose one objective for the day and take your time.”

If you’re not sure – ask

The more experienced people tend to want to share their knowledge, and typically are more willing to help, says Cobby.

“They’ve been in your shoes. They know what it’s like to be the new kid on the block.” He continues. “So, ask if you’re not sure, the only way to improve is by asking those more experienced than you.”

Work in

If the machine you want to use is busy, ask the person if you can ‘work in’ with them, suggests Cobby. “This means you’ll be doing a set while they are resting – and a great way to spark up a conversation or learn some new tips.

“This is where ‘bro-science’ (friendly tips) takes place, and makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable.”

Be proud of your progress

“Gym anxiety doesn’t need to be deep,” notes Cobby. “Going armed with a few simple cues can get you to the starting line. It’s how you want the gym to be that will make all the difference.

“Be courteous and remember to share the space,” he encourages. “The gym is there for everyone and using what’s on offer can be extremely rewarding. If someone wants to work in with you (and you’re able to), let them.

“Maybe they are just as anxious as you were, and a friendly smile is what’s going to help them (and you!) to keep coming back.”

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