Trends & Features

The Exercise Gap: Personal trainers share advice for women on overcoming gym anxiety

For women, this gets even worse, with 67% admitting to experiencing gymtimidation, compared to just 49% of men, and this is one of the key factors preventing women from working out where they want, when they want.
This International Women’s Day, PureGym are aiming to change this by finding out the main causes of gym anxiety and working with a group of personal trainers to help women combat these stresses by breaking down barriers for women within the fitness space.

The Top 5 Reasons People Feel Anxious in the Gym

1. Looking stupid in front of other people
Many of us (nearly 40%) are nervous about attending a gym, because we don’t want others to see when we don’t know what we’re doing.

Suzy Quinn, a personal trainer at PureGym Birmingham has worked with many gym beginners, and encourages those with anxiety to remember that it’s completely normal to feel anxious at first. She explains “Training with a friend or PT can make things much less intimidating and can be a good way to explore new areas of the gym or pieces of kit. Classes are also a good idea, especially if you’re worried due to lack of knowledge or experience around what to do, as you have an instructor to walk you through the workout and offer support.”

2. Feeling self-conscious about fitness levels
Nearly half of the females we spoke to (45%) said they would be nervous in the gym, if other gym-goers were fitter than they were (29% of men also felt the same way).

Zoe MacFayden, a personal trainer at PureGym Cambridge comments: “The first thing to remember is there is no such thing as a gym body! And you have just as much right to be in the gym as everyone else. When you’re feeling nervous, slow down, breathe, and remind yourself that your workout is just as important as everyone else’s.”

Laura Melia, personal trainer and Gym Manager at PureGym Denton suggests avoiding peak times, and remembering you don’t need the latest kit to turn up for your workout: “Finding an outfit you feel comfortable in goes a long way in helping you feel more confident! Don’t feel pressured into wearing something you think you should be wearing – as long as it’s functional and comfortable, wear it.

“Early mornings, lunch times, and after 8pm are quieter, so you can focus on your workout and feel less conscious of other people if you avoid peak times like straight after work.”

3. Lifting weights
A third of us (32%) stated that the most intimidating area of the gym is the squat rack, followed by the pull-up/chin-up machine, and then the bench press. 64% also said they didn’t know how heavy the weights they choose should be.

Zoe encourages gym members that are wary of using machines to find a quiet corner of the gym, come armed with a workout plan, or even work with a PT to get that initial boost of confidence. She says “Find a quieter area to start in – where feels safe for you? We don’t mind if you move the kit around as long as you take it back after, so grab some manageable weights and build up your confidence in a low traffic area.

“The gym feels more intimidating when you’re not sure what you’re doing, so have a plan of exercises you want to do so you can go in with purpose, rather than feel like you’re walking around aimlessly. And training with someone else if you can – there’s safety in numbers! It makes workouts more fun, and less intimidating. If you don’t have a friend or colleague who can come, you can try working with a PT.”

4. Using the treadmill
A whopping 44% of individuals have previously stated that they didn’t know how to turn on and set up a treadmill for a workout. With many people avoiding the gym for this, or similar, reasons, it can be a great idea to start by joining classes in the gym to build up your confidence before tackling machines on your own.

Laura agrees: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Make sure to join inductions and workshops run by gyms, or ask a PT to help with the basics and learn correct form. If you’re too nervous to ask for help straight away, try the classes – these are a safe space and have people of all ages and abilities. Instructors can give alternatives to exercises and help with form, which takes the guesswork away.”

5. Asking for help
Almost half of those surveyed (48%), said they’d be too embarrassed to ask another gym goer for help, and 44% said the same thing about asking a staff member.

Matty Ramsden, a personal trainer at PureGym Leeds, suggests the following mindset can help combat feeling this way: “Every single person in the gym is there for one reason, and that is to become better. Remember, if you’re feeling nervous and like you’re out of place, there will be others feeling exactly the same! Most people are open to being asked for advice or to spot a lift, and even making friends at the gym. But if you’re not ready to ask a member for help with what you’re doing, most gyms have PTs available who can advise, and they will be more than happy to help”

Training During Your Cycle

For women, menstrual health can also be a contributing barrier to exercise. With more than a third of women saying they have no understanding of their menstrual cycle or the impact it has on their ability to exercise, it’s no surprise that many women also feel anxious to go to the gym while on their period.

Sally Smith, a personal trainer at PureGym Telford, offers her advice for women wanting to train during the menstrual phase of their cycle: “The thought of exercising at the gym during your period can be daunting, but there is plenty you can do to make sure you feel your best, so that heading to the gym is a little less scary. If it’s the thought of potential leaks that is off putting, change your period protection just before working out, wear dark colours, and layer up with longer length tops or even shorts under leggings to give you that peace of mind.

“If it’s the idea of unexpected cramps you’re worried about, wear loose fitting gym clothes, and try taking some painkillers around 30 minutes before you train. Plan your workout before you go and include a plan B with gentle exercises you can do if you do experience cramps, such as stretching and low intensity cardio.”

Training in Older Age

Finally, age is a barrier for both men and women considering the gym, with many feeling they may be ‘too old’ to visit, and resign themselves to less active pursuits. However, according to 78-year-old Eddy Diget, the UK’s oldest personal trainer, the adage ‘you’re never too old’ rings very true at the gym: “If you want to keep fit later in life, my best advice is to just get out there and do it. Don’t listen to other people who say you’re too old – there’s no such thing, and there’s nothing you can’t do!

“Fitness gives you so much more diversity in your own life and gives you the ability to enjoy your age – instead of sitting in a chair watching your grandchildren, you can get out there and play with them.”
Najoua O’Dell, PureGym Regional Director and Senior Sponsor for PureGym’s Women’s Employee Network Group, said: “In line with the International Women’s Day theme, Embracing Equity, we want to show women that they’re not alone in dealing with these thoughts when it comes to exercise, and highlight that many of us share similar anxieties in the gym – so that newcomers and seasoned gym goers alike, feel less isolated.
“We want to bring our PureGym community to the forefront of this, using our platform and women’s shared experiences to help break down more barriers for women in the fitness space. So, this International Women’s Day we’re removing the filter and encouraging everyone to get real. Keep an eye on our social media throughout the day, to see all the amazing women out there who will be sharing their journeys openly, and offering advice to support others.”

To help encourage more people to try out the gym, PureGym is offering a free 3-day pass from 7th-12th March, so anyone can try out their local gym for the first time.

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