A room full of treadmills
Credit: Gina Lin via Unsplash

A freshers’ guide to overcoming gym anxiety

By Claire Thomson

The gym doesn’t have to be a scary place!

There is absolutely no hiding the fact that the gym can be one of the most intimidating places in the world, and is, sometimes, the last place you want to be. However, with a positive mindset, a little self-confidence, and some help from your friends, you will discover a place filled to the brim with motivation, and ultimately, reward.

This year, the University gym, located in the Stevenson Building on Oakfield Avenue, is offering a large variety of classes to suit different fitness goals and skill levels, from spin classes to yoga to HIIT (high intensity interval training). The majority of classes are instructor-led, so they are the perfect opportunity for budding gym-goers to get involved in a safe and friendly environment. Classes aside, there is also a cardio gym (Pulse), filled with machines – treadmills, stationary exercise bicycles, cross trainers – perfect for exercise novices. Below Pulse, there is a weights gym (Powerplay), which has a varied selection of free weights, weight machines, and lifting platforms. These are ideal for building muscle and strength, and even if you’ve never picked up a dumbbell in your life before, Powerplay is not somewhere to be afraid of – it’s honestly not as scary as it looks, I promise! With all these ravishing resources in mind, I’ve compiled some tips for eager student gym-goers.

Daunting though it may be to walk through the doors for the first time, the main thing to remember when taking those initial steps is that the feeling of anxiety is mutual. Gym anxiety is universally experienced by everyone, even the most accustomed gym-goers. It does not discriminate by size, gender, fitness levels, or strength. According to PureGym, 50% of non-gym members have admitted that the very idea of going to the gym is scary. The hardest part is walking through those doors, because the minute you step into that gym, you are in exactly the same boat as everyone else there. You all have the motivation to get fitter or stronger, personal goals you want to achieve, or a break from work that you want to take. Whatever your reasons for going to the gym, someone will share at least one with you. 

You are not alone. Yes, you may not know how to work the machines, the gym etiquette, or the layout of the building, but in almost every gym, there will always be a member of staff or even fellow gym-goer more than happy to help. Most gyms offer an induction for new members, where staff will guide you around the gym, explain how to work or demonstrate each machine, and answer any questions you may have. It’s not always easy reaching out for help, but in the long term it will help put your mind at ease. Additionally, all the machines should have instructions attached alongside diagrams. Alternatively, why not find a gym buddy? Not only may this help calm the gym nerves, but you can both help and motivate one another, and share your fitness journey together. 

Overnight transformations don’t exist: going to the gym is a process and achieving your fitness goals can take weeks, months or even years. You will get there eventually so take your time: start off slow, and stick with it! The journey should be an enjoyable one: you’re creating habits that will set you in good stead for the rest of your life. 

On a more serious note, it is very easy to become injured when just starting out at the gym. If this is your first time lifting weights, it cannot be emphasised enough how important it is to start off light, practise using the correct form, and only build up the weight when you are 100% ready. Form can be a difficult thing to master –  just because something feels good, doesn’t mean that it is working the intended muscles! I would recommend you watch videos on YouTube or online, and talk to a gym instructor or member of staff. Even simply exercising in front of a mirror can all help build correct form and reduce your chance of injury.

Finally: believe in yourself! We all have to start from somewhere, and even the tiniest bit of progress a day sets you in the right direction. You can do it!


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