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How to get over your fear of exercising in public

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A few years ago, Sport England conducted some research which found the biggest barrier to women participating in sport and exercise is fear of being judged.

As women, we are so conscious of what other people think that we allow our perceptions of other people’s judgements to control and limit our behaviour.

The fear of exercising in public

We vow to join a gym once we’ve lost five kilos, wear those new tights for our run around the lake once we’re just a bit fitter, or withdraw all together because quite frankly it’s just too embarrassing and uncomfortable. We’re afraid we’re too uncoordinated. We’ll look silly. That other people might think we’re being self indulgent or selfish.

It has got to stop.

We can’t avoid exercise because we’re afraid of being judged – that’s not what it’s about. I could harp on about the benefits of exercise all day. The fact is, that being active helps you to be a happier, healthier, stronger human being. It’s not just good for you, it’s good for the people around you too.

With that in mind, here are my tips for overcoming your fear of exercising in public:

Start a routine at home

I get it – when you don’t even know where to start, it can be unnerving to have to learn in public. If you’re incredibly anxious about working out in front of other people, it can be a good idea to get started at home. That’s exactly what I did for months when I was feeling really anxious about my fitness, and it was really helpful. It got me familiar with basic exercises and increased my fitness levels, so eventually when I was confident enough to move things into the gym, I felt a little more comfortable. 

That being said, if gyms or exercising in any public environment really aren’t your thing – that’s ok! I know plenty of people who workout at home. 

Familiarise yourself with the environment

When I was feeling really anxious about the gym, I would just go every day and use the cardio equipment in an effort to just spend more time in the gym. Once I felt a bit more comfortable, I started doing different exercises and exploring different areas. Often, our fear of what the environment is like is far worse than what it actually is.

It’s the same principle anywhere else – if you feel really self conscious going for a run around the lake, why not start out with a walk? Getting out there and accustomed to the environment and people around you can help to put you at ease.

Make it a habit

In my opinion, habits are incredibly underrated assets in achieving goals. When it comes to exercising, habits are really useful. For example, one of the worst parts about exercising is the lead up. Think about waking up in the morning and having to choose between putting on your sneakers and heading to a workout, or sleeping in. It can be really challenging to resist the temptation to hit snooze one more time (or five more times, in my case). When it’s a habit, that process becomes so much easier. There is no decision: you get up and work out, like you do every morning. Simple. 

This can also help us manage our concerns about the perceptions or expectations of people close to us. It’s not a big deal to our partner that we’re heading to the gym in the afternoon, because that’s what happens every day!

Focus on you

I have two facts that will help you to tackle your fears. Firstly, nearly everyone is insecure about something they’re doing in the gym. Whether it’s starting a new program or a new exercise, or a particular muscle group that they perceive isn’t as strong. Even my boyfriend, who I would (affectionately) label a body building ‘gym bro’ experiences this feeling every now and then. In fact, he hates trying new things in front of people. Most of us do – and understanding this can help settle your nerves.

Secondly, it is very unlikely that anyone is watching and judging you. This is for a number of reasons. There are so many variations of different exercises that often it’s hard to tell exactly what someone is doing. Most importantly, 99 per cent of people in the gym are focussed on their own workout. If you think someone is staring or judging you, they’re more than likely taking rest in between sets and staring off into space, or -gasp- they might even be checking you out. There are the very rare instances where someone is judging you, but this is just as likely to happen in a shopping centre or on the street. There are jerks out there, it’s a fact of life. It’s a reflection of them and not you, so just bring your attention back to what you’re doing. 

Realise that everyone makes mistakes

One time, I was in the gym about to squat and I realised the barbell was set too high. Without removing the weight plate, I adjusted one side of the rack, so the plate slid off and landed with a loud bang on the floor. I picked up and put it back on, and then did exactly the same thing on the other side. I tried to laugh it off, but stopped short when I spotted the very unamused face on the girl next to me. I would love to say this was ages ago when I was a gym newbie, but it was last week. In a crowded gym. And while I’m being truthful… I did it twice in one week. What can I say? We all make mistakes – especially when we’re fatigued from an intense workout. 

If you make a mistake or do something silly, don’t sweat it. We’ve all been there – and I bet I could beat your story with something even more embarrassing. Life’s too short to take something like the gym too seriously. All you can is your best, and if you make a mistake, laugh and move on.  

Ask for help

It is perfectly ok to have no idea what you’re doing. That’s why there are qualified experts who spend time learning how to help you – because fitness isn’t just a matter of common sense, it can be tricky and it takes time to learn. 

There are so many great personal trainers or coaches out there who can help you. If you’re worried that they’re going to think you’re too weak or uncoordinated or beyond help or whatever, you’re absolutely wrong. It’s more than likely they’ve had hundreds of clients and I highly doubt you’re the ‘worst’ they’ve seen. Fitness professionals enjoy helping people get fit. That’s their job. 

Worst case scenario and you end up with a personal trainer who you don’t ‘click’ with, move onto someone else! Everyone has something different to offer and their own special approach, you’re bound to find someone who works well with you and your needs. 

Take a friend

It can be really intimidating to show up and try a new activity solo. Taking a friend with you lessens the pressure and means that you can have someone to laugh with when/if either of you makes a mistake.

Better yet, why not head along to ACTIVE Week starting on the 13th of November and try a new sport, class or activity for free? Best of all, we are all in it together, so you’ll know that you’re in the company of lots of women feeling exactly the same way you do.

Keep an eye out for more information coming your way soon!

Photo by Autumn Goodman on Unsplash

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