Are these workout fears holding you back? Here’s how to overcome them

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By Stephanie Mansour

Are workout fears keeping you from the gym? Getting back into an exercise routine is daunting enough, let alone joining a new facility that you are unfamiliar with, surrounded by people you don’t know.

A nationwide survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by Fitrated found that 65 percent of women and 36 percent of men avoid the gym out of fear of being judged. This apprehension was more common among those who rated themselves less attractive, less in shape or less experienced at the gym than others. And the fears may not be completely unfounded: one in three respondents admitted to judging others while at the gym.

In addition to feeling self conscious about how you look or your fitness level, uncomfortable physical sensations and fear of injury can all add additional layers of anxiety that can make it hard to motivate ourselves to get to the gym.

But if you’re making fitness a priority in the new year, we’re here to help you bust through some common fears that may be holding you back — and ease that mental burden a bit.

Fear: Feeling Self-Conscious About How You Look

Over half of people surveyed by Fitrated admitted to not looking fit enough to be at the gym, and nearly 44 percent said they felt judged for their clothing choice. But you don’t need to go out and drop a chunk of change on a new workout wardrobe to feel better. If you’re wearing an oversized t-shirt, you can tuck it in in the front or roll up the sleeves to give it some shape. If you’re not happy with what your body looks like right now, you can also use a few tricks to hide trouble spots you might be uncomfortable with. If you’re embarrassed by flabby arms, wear a long-sleeve dry-fit workout shirt over a sports bra (instead of a short-sleeve shirt with a jacket over it, which is too likely many layers for an indoor workout).

Professional stylist Samantha Brown recommends looking for garments with a thick, stretch fabric or even compression fabrics to help slim the body. “Quality matters here, as higher end athletic lines are designed with more attention to hiding loose skin, cellulite and silhouettes that flatter,” she says. When it comes to downplaying certain areas of your body, she recommends to “look for matte fabrics (avoid shine and glossy materials). While pattern will draw the eye, a darker print can also help to minimize the appearance of cellulite or loose skin tone as it provides distraction.” She also says, “to help downplay a loose tummy, opt for a high-waisted legging or athletic pant with a wide band. Anything low cut exaggerates this problem area.”

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Fear: Getting Out of Breath

After a few minutes on a cardio machine, you may feel out of breath, and maybe you panic. I had a client who explained this fear to me multiple times — saying that she knew it was inevitable to get out of breath, but she couldn’t push past it. She felt silly, but she’d simply get off the machine when the breathing got difficult because she was so scared of not being able to breathe altogether.

Dr. Jamie Wells, director of Medicine for the American Council on Science and Health, explains that it’s not uncommon to get out of breath with exercise, especially if you’re out of shape. She encourages people to have “a fully informed conversation with and possible evaluation by your doctor, because going instantly from extremes of a more sedentary lifestyle to a heavy duty workout tends to cause the most problems. Easing into it is likely more enduring and will be a more ideal bet.”

So remember not to go from zero to 100 right out of the gate. As you’re working out, check in with your breathing. Breathe in through your nose, and blow out through your mouth. Do some self-talk and tell yourself that you will be okay if breathing starts to become more challenging (and that you can always get off the machine). Start by giving yourself a 1-minute time period to be out of breath. If it’s too difficult to bust through this fear on your own, hire a personal trainer for one session with the goal of getting out of breath while supervised.

And it is smart to be aware of signs that may be worrisome. “Those concerning signs include, but are not limited to, chest heaviness or pressure especially with a rapid heart rate, inability to catch your breath, lightheadedness or feeling faint, chest pain, confusion, feeling like your heart is racing as well as dizziness along with poor color,” says Dr. Wells.

Fear: Breaking a Sweat

I once had a client who was so scared of breaking a sweat that we had to put a wet washcloth on her neck during her workouts. She felt comfortable sweating if it was hot outside, but not comfortable making herself sweat at the gym. With the washcloth, I was able to help her focus her attention on being cool on a sensitive spot on her body (her neck) while the rest of her body was sweating. Sweating is one of your body’s ways of detoxing, so we also continued to focus on the positive effects of sweating (instead of the discomfort).

Wells explains, “We sweat as a normal way to self-regulate our body temperature and dissipate heat should we be taxed by physical exertion or hot weather, for example. An otherwise healthy person under typical conditions should be able to cool down readily and compensate.” She adds that it may help to realize that while sweat is a loss to your body, it is one that you can easily replace through hydration to achieve that balance. By understanding what’s going on in our bodies, and that’s it’s normal to sweat during a workout, will help reduce fears.

Fear: Hurting Your Back

Getting injured is a legitimate concern — and that’s where proper form comes in. When doing lower body exercises, like squats and lunges, it’s important to engage the lower abs to support your back. Pull your naval in towards your spine, and never do exercises that feel like they’re pulling on your back. Work out slowly and consciously so that you can notice even the slightest feeling of discomfort in your low back. At the end of your workout, stretch by lying down on your back, and then hugging your knees into your chest for 20 seconds.


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