Scared man

As published on the PureGym blog

New findings from PureGym, the U.K.’s leading gym operator, reveal that 50 per cent of non-gym goers in the U.K. admit to feeling scared of the gym, with some stating their gym phobia is worse than more commonly recognised fears such as heights, spiders or injections.

The study (full report here) compared gym anxiety to other common fears and helped to show that some people are so spooked by the gym that 1 in 4 would rather choose to have an injection, or be alone in a room with a spider than go to the gym.

Thirty per cent of millennials said they’d rather give up their phone for a day instead of going to the gym alone, and 25 per cent of women said they’d rather go on a rollercoaster than head to the gym. Almost 1 in 5 non-gym goers also said they currently would rather stand atop a skyscraper than visit the gym alone.

The top five sources of gym nerves:

  1. Looking stupid in front of other people
  2. Feeling self-conscious next to other people
  3. People judging my body shape
  4. Not knowing how to set up the machines/equipment
  5. Not being strong enough or fit enough to use the machines properly

How to overcome gym phobia

Dr. Margee Kerr teaches and researches everything ‘fear’ related at the University of Pittsburgh and has even consulted on deliberately fear-inducing theme park attractions.

“Going to the gym is a social experience, meaning it carries all the potential gains that come with socialising, but also all of the fears and anxieties too,” says Dr. Kerr. “We, as humans, are constantly comparing ourselves to our peers, analysing how we’re similar, better, or worse. We also compare ourselves to our own expectations of what we think we should be capable of, our internal representation of our ‘best’ self.”

“Where we might be able to hide some of our vulnerabilities in the workplace or school, our weaknesses feel on full display in the gym, inciting intense feelings of vulnerability, of self-doubt, of fear,” she explained.

Dr. Kerr suggests the following tips for recognising and overcoming your gym anxieties:

Remind yourself that you are in control

Studies show a sense of control makes scary social events easier to tolerate and overcome. So, acknowledge and frequently remind yourself, that you are the one choosing to take on this fear-inducing situation. Your doctor, spouse, family member, coach, etc. didn’t make you go to the gym, YOU did. Knowing it’s your choice will empower you to embrace the challenge ahead.

Don’t ignore that you feel scared

Denying or attempting to suppress your fears doesn’t work. In fact, studies show it does the exact opposite. The more we try to NOT think of something the more importance we give it in our minds! Give yourself permission to feel scared, acknowledge the fear when it creeps in, welcome it and know that it’s OK to feel this way. And applaud yourself for feeling the fear but doing it anyway!

Educate yourself

Fear is all about the unknown, so you can do yourself a BIG favour and reduce a ton of anxiety by learning more about the gym before your first workout. Either research online, or book an induction to learn where the locker rooms, water fountains, and exits are located, and learn any important gym protocol like proper equipment use and class etiquette. Thinking strategically will help you manage your fears, you have to know your territory before you make a move.

Read more of Dr. Kerr’s tips on coping with gym anxiety at