Feeling ‘gymtimidated’? Fitness expert reveals how conquer your workout nerves in the New Year

Stepping into the gym can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially when the festive season has passed and everyone is focused on when making a ‘New Me’ a reality. 

Healthy revelations about adopting new workouts or a healthy eating plan can come with huge pressure to get in the gym as soon as possible and make sweeping changes to our lifestyle.  

The term ‘gymtimidation’ used to be described as a term only referring to the use of new equipment or training styles, but now the phrase is most commonly associated with any feelings of intimidation when stepping into the gym.

Olivia Tyler, clinical fitness regional lead at Nuffield Health, told FEMAIL some of the more common scenarios where ‘gymtimidation’ can manifest, as well as ways of recognising, and how to overcome it. 

For many, the New Year is seen as a time for resolutions with a health focus. However, many of us suffer from 'gymtimidation' when stepping into exercise (stock image)

For many, the New Year is seen as a time for resolutions with a health focus. However, many of us suffer from ‘gymtimidation’ when stepping into exercise (stock image) 

Feeling intimidated by… the place itself

Whether it’s a gym, studio, class or centre, stepping foot into a new environment can be intimidating. 

Olivia explained that you have to remember that ‘these are the places where so many positive changes can happen.’

Feeling intimidated by… what other people think 

This is one of the more common intimidations and is also the one that can be so easily avoided.

Olivia said that all you need to remember is that everyone who goes to the gym will have their own goals. 

She said: ‘They might be the same as yours, but they could be at a different stage, following a different routine, have personal impacts or all of these, so do not compare or consider within your own routine.’

A fitness or wellbeing centre, for many, can be a place to escape to. It’s dedicated time for them to focus on themselves for both mind and body so other people won’t be thinking about you.

She explained: ‘I can’t stress this enough, but do not worry what other people think. 

‘If you feel that someone is staring or even goes as far as making comments, just think about the energy they are wasting focussing on someone else that could be put into themselves. You are doing this for you – no one else.’


Not just physical changes but building confidence, supporting positive mental health, establishing and strengthening relationships, and the feeling of community are all things that can be worked on.  

Olivia said: ‘These things may not happen overnight, but trust me when I say they will come.

‘If you’re feeling intimidated or nervous, it’s also worth going in with a plan or an idea of what you want to get out of your session. 

‘Having structure when you’re unsure can help you move from set to set without feeling like you have to work out what’s coming up.’

She advised asking if you are unsure of how to use the equipment as many fitness and wellbeing centres will have support on gym floors if you have any questions about routines or equipment.  

Feeling intimidated by… your own barriers

‘I’m not strong/fast/good enough’ is a thought that we have all experienced at one time or another, and this is a common feeling around health and exercise. 

But, as Olivia explained there are two ways to deal with this type of intimidation.

She said: ‘Firstly, it’s so important to set personal goals before embarking on a new fitness, health or gym regime. 

‘Make a long term goal, where do you want to see yourself in a year? Then break that down into month-by-month goals, and even further into week-by-week if you need to.’

According to the clinical fitness regional lead this method gives you manageable goals that you can tick off as you go. 

‘It also makes the entire process feel less daunting as you’re accountable for what you want to do next.’

Secondly, you need to remember to be kind to yourself. We all know that life isn’t always perfect, and barriers can get in the way, but this is not an opportunity to stop or give up. 

Olivia explained: ‘Setting bite-sized goals means that if one isn’t hit, you can revisit or go onto the next one without it impact your long-term plans. 

How to plan a mental fitness programme for the New Year 

Gosia Bowling, emotional wellbeing lead at Nuffield Health, has shared expertise on how to enter the New Year with a focus on holistic wellbeing – with advice and guidance for setting goals for both the mind and body. 

Healthy mental habits

  • Be kind to yourself: Self-kindness is important for our mental wellbeing. We spend more time with ourselves than anyone else and how we relate to ourselves has a huge impact on how we feel. Self-compassion plays a vital role in our mental well-being, can act as a powerful antidote to many mental health difficulties. Research shows that being encouraging and kind to yourself is more likely to help you achieve your life goals than being harsh and critical with yourself.
  • Think about your thinking: Our thinking in any situation can be helpful or unhelpful and this will have a big influence on how we feel. We often treat our thoughts as if they are facts, but just because you think something, doesn’t make it true. Just because something feels scary for example, it doesn’t always mean something bad will happen. When you notice a change in your mood, ask yourself, “What was I thinking about just before that?”. Was the thought helpful or unhelpful? Is there a different perspective I could take which is more helpful? Focus on your strengths and achievements rather than your flaws.
  • Stay connected: Relationships are so important for our mental health. Think about ways to make sure you keep in touch with friends and family, especially if you’re feeling low or unmotivated. You should especially reach out to those who make you feel positive and energised. Think about joining community groups around shared interests. This can make it easier to develop meaningful relationships where we feel a sense of belonging an acceptance. Network, share resources and look out for each other. Knowing you have each other’s backs can be a huge comfort.
  • Take time out for self-care: It can be easy to spend time looking out for and supporting others. But it’s also important that you take enough time out to support yourself. It doesn’t need to be for hours, finding moments throughout the day can also work. ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’. Self-care can help to enhance your energy levels, be restorative for your health, reduce stress and give you a greater capacity to withstand the pressures of life.
  • Recognise the link between mental and physical fitness: There is a strong interconnected link between mental and physical fitness. Getting the basics in place like keeping active, sleeping well and eating healthily can make a huge difference to your mental health. Being active can improve your physical wellbeing, but it can also help you maintain a healthy mind. People who exercise regularly have better mental health and emotional wellbeing, and lower rates of mental ill health. Exercise can help relieve feelings of stress by releasing anxiety-reducing chemicals and giving you a mood-lifting dopamine spike.

‘It’s much easier to be negative than it is to be positive, but recognise when you’re doing this and changing your thought process means you can focus on the good. 

‘For example, if you’re starting out and feel like the session didn’t go as planned, don’t see it as a ‘wasted effort’, praise yourself that you showed up and moved your body.’ 

Feeling intimidated by… the fear of the unknown

With so many different training styles, guides and formats being so readily available to those who are looking to mix up or try a new workout, there is absolutely no surprise that the amount on offer can become intimidating.

To not feel overwhelmed or intimidated, Olivia advised revisiting the reasons why you are looking for something new. 

‘As above, focus on the goals that you have set and now think about how you are going to get there,’ she explained. 

‘If you’re unsure of a new training format, do some of your own research or speak to a PT or trainer to get some additional information on whether it may be suitable for you or not. 

‘You can always try something out and, if it’s not for you, try something else.’

However, remember that while fitness can be tough at times, there’s a difference between it being tough and enjoying it, than it being tough and you hating it.

You’ll be much less motivated and will look for ways to stop. Finding something that works for you can be the deal breaker when it comes to sticking with it. 

Feeling confident in what you want to do, how you’re going to do it and ideally when you want to do it will always help to bring you back to the main priority.

Feeling intimidated by… trying something new

It’s not just what’s on offer either, this can also lead to feelings of inadequacy as you compare yourself to those who have been following a guide or style that you’re interested in trying for a significant amount of time – automatically making them appear as ‘better’ than you.

This ties into the idea of being kind to yourself, but you also need to remember the cliché line that everyone has to start somewhere – this has never been more true than in a health and fitness environment.

Olivia said: ‘If you go in expecting to be the fastest, lift the heaviest, jump the highest or just in general be the best, you are automatically putting pressure on yourself which is, quite frankly, often very unattainable. 

‘In these situations, you need to remember the bottom line; you showed up and you moved your body. 

‘Every time you do this, and if you do it consistently, you will progress to reach your goals.

‘Trying something new is always tough. If it’s a class or workout, you could always bring a friend to attend with to build your confidence, or feel free to message the trainer/PT or gym to share that you are new, as this can mean adjustments to exercises to cater for those who aren’t as advanced.’


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The biggest cause of ‘gym-phobia’ revealed: 51 per cent are scared to work out in public because of how they look in LYCRA 

Destined to remain fat? Overweight Brits avoid exercise because we are blighted by ‘Gymtimidation’, study reveals 


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