Picture this: you’ve spent all day psyching yourself up to head to the gym when you finally get there, see everyone else smashing out intense workouts and decide it’s all a bit much, before turning back to spend the night with Netflix. You’re not alone. New research by PureGym found that 67% of women have experienced this very kind of ‘gym-timidation’, with many of them turning to the latest TikTok trend: ‘shy girl workouts’.
The hashtag #ShyGirlWorkouts has had 142.5 million views to date, with the idea being to help any of you who might find the gym overwhelming. Do they work? Well, judging by the number of women who have shared videos so far, it looks that way, and we caught up with three women who believe so. Here’s what they have to say, including how to do your own shy girl workout, and tips to build your confidence.
What are shy girl workouts?
There are a few common denominators that feature within the existing shy girl workouts on TikTok.
They require zero or minor gym equipment
They can be done in one, small area of the gym
They include simple, easy to remember exercises
The idea is that you start with the basics, build confidence there, then gradually start to implement other pieces of equipment, or try exercising in different areas of the gym. Shy girl workouts can include workouts for every part of your body; have a gander on TikTok and you’ll see everything from shy girl chest workouts to shy girl back workouts.
What makes the gym intimidating?
As mentioned, you are absolutely not alone if you find the gym intimidating, but it can help to identify exactly what it is that intimidates you, for you to then work on them.
PureGym spoke to Dr. Margee Kerr, an expert in fear, who explains: ‘Going to the gym can be scary, because it is a social experience, meaning it carries all the potential gains that come with socialising, but also all the fears and anxieties too.
‘Working out in a public space can be just as scary as public speaking. In a gym we might feel like everyone’s eyes are on us, watching our every move, waiting for us to slip up. And as highlighted in a past survey by PureGym, nearly 2 in 5 reported fearing they would look stupid in front of others, the same number also reporting feeling nervous that others would judge their body shape.’
As uncomfortable as it may feel, chances are that most people in the gym are too busy focusing on their own workouts to be looking at anyone else, but we know that that’s not exactly useful, so Dr Kerr has some more actionable pieces of advice to help you feel better.
How to overcome gymtimidation
1. Remind yourself that you’re in control
‘Studies show a sense of agency, or control, makes scary events easier to tolerate and overcome. So, acknowledge and frequently remind yourself that you are the one choosing to take on this fear-inducing challenge. Your doctor, spouse, family member, or coach, didn’t choose this, you did, which means you get to own and celebrate your wins, big and small.’
2. Celebrate your accomplishments as often as possible
‘We tend to elevate and focus on the negative, so take time to write out all the steps you look forward to taking and celebrate each one, starting with congratulating yourself for choosing to take on a new challenge.’
3. Make a list of all the positive gains you’ll achieve by going to the gym, and have it somewhere easily accessible
‘Fear likes to push all your positive thoughts to the back of your mind and increase anxiety the closer you get to a scary situation. Having your list handy to review, like on your phone, before you go to the gym and even on your way to the gym when your anxieties are at their peak, will help give you the boost to push through.’
4. Acknowledge your fears
‘Take the time to think about what exactly makes you nervous about going to the gym. Is it not knowing how to use the equipment? Judgement from others? A fear that maybe you won’t be as strong as you want to be, or perhaps as strong as you used to be? After each fear you write down, ask yourself why it scares you, and if it is worth giving up all the gains you outlined in my third tip.’
5. 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 not to think of something, the more salience, or importance, we give it, and the more it commands our attention, making it difficult to pay attention to anything else.’
6. Accept that you can’t do everything
‘We have to accept what we are capable of right now, and for many that’s a hard truth to confront. It’s OK that you don’t know how to work every machine, you can learn. Remember, there’s a good chance everyone around you is scared of the same things. Accept where you are, let go of where you wish you were, and commit to focusing on the now.’
7. Educate yourself
‘Fear is all about the unknown, so you can do yourself a big favour and reduce a ton of anxiety by making an appointment with a staff member to learn about the gym before your first workout. Learn where the locker rooms, water fountains, and exits are located, and learn any important gym protocol like proper equipment use and class etiquette.’
8. Make a plan
‘Write down your plan for your first workout in explicit detail but keep it manageable. For example, it could be as simple as "Drive to gym, walk in the door, put personal items in a locker, take an introduction class, clean up in the locker, drive home."’
9. Adopt a curious mindset
‘Think of the gym as an adult playground, because it is! Approach new gym machines and routines as opportunities to learn, where mistakes are a normal part of trying something new. Give yourself permission to not know how to do something perfectly the first time you try it, or even the second or third time!’
3 women share their experiences with shy girl workouts
Megan Ryland, 26, Wandsworth
'I’ve been doing ‘shy girl workouts’ without even realising it since joining my local gym three months ago. I always go to the same spot in the corner, away from the ‘big weights’ area, and I always go at the same time, when it’s quietest. I find it so much more comfortable, and I really enjoy my workouts, but I would eventually like to be able to go to the gym at any time, without worrying that someone will have taken my spot.
'Will I get there? I’m definitely more confident now that I was three months ago, but I think for my first few tries in another area, at another time of day, I’d like to go with a friend.'
Louise Tapplin, 29, Brighton
'I’d never even attempted going to the gym on my own before discovering the idea of "shy girl workouts". I did my first one last month, and have been going once a week since then. I only use a single pair of dumbbells, and always go to the same mat at the end of the row.
'I’m in front of a mirror so I can see what other people are doing for inspiration, and I’ve actually picked up a few tips. For example, I’ve seen lots of people doing kettlebell exercises and I think I’d be confident enough to try using one in a few weeks or so.'
Sarah Bannerman, 28, London
'It was knowing that other women also feel intimidated by the gym that gave me the confidence to try a shy girl workout in the first place. I’d always felt like I was the only one who has no idea what they’re doing, so seeing millions of women doing their own shy girl workouts on TikTok made me feel better. I did the same workout for the first five or six sessions, but I’ve just started to introduce a few new exercises.'
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