The fear of working out (FOWO) is a real thing. For many, the mere idea of exercise causes the brain to create so much stress in the body it has you running away from the studio like a pack of expensive legging clad, sweat covered zombies are chasing you. While people here in Northern Virginia tend to be pretty active, I am often approached by women and men who want to make a change but just can’t take that first step. Their fears range from the fear of being judged and/or looking inept, to the fear of getting hurt and/or physical pain, or the biggest one, the fear of failure. If you share similar concerns and think you are alone, let me assure you that you are in good company. A study of 2,000 adults found that between 50%-30% of those reported fear and increased anxiety and/or stress when faced with the prospect of working out, particularly exercising around other people. Ironically, exercise is one of the most scientifically proven ways to reduce stress and anxiety available. So now that you know you are not alone, what can we do about overcoming this fear?

Take a breath and look critically at your fear: What is really keeping you out of the studio or gym? Is it one of the fears from above? Ok now, how do we overcome each of these particular fears?

Fear of looking inept: Seek the help of a trained professional that you trust. This might take some time and trial and error. When looking for a trainer you want to make sure they are both knowledgeable but also motivating in a way that resonates with you. I personally don’t love being yelled at so I am not going to seek out that type of trainer (but you best know you). What motivates you in other aspects of your life? What do you look for in a partner, colleague or friend? Look for those same qualities in a trainer because you are going to need a strong relationship and some trust to overcome your FOWO. Opting to workout one-on-one in a private setting is also a great option because you are able to concentrate on the work without any external distractions.

Fear of getting hurt: See above. Even the most seasoned, knowledgable and accomplished athletes get hurt inside and outside of the gym, studio, or court despite their best efforts. My absolutely favorite tennis player in the world and arguably the greatest of all time, Roger Federer (ADD LINK TO STORY), got hurt giving his kids a bath. Don’t let the fear of what COULD happen keep you from achieving! Seek the help of a trained professional and the two of you can develop a safe and effective way of reaching your goals and minimizing the chance of injury.    

Fear of being in pain: It is important to understand that exercise does not have to be painful. I do not prescribe to the mantra “no pain no gain;” however, when you are putting stress on the body (in a positive way) through exercise you may experience some discomfort. That burn in your abdominals or shake in the legs is a good thing. You are effecting change in your body (building strength, increasing endurance, etc.) and that is one (but not the only) goal of exercise. What I tell my clients is there is a difference between feeling pain (numbness, tingling, radiating) and feeling work. Once you understand how to distinguish between the two, that’s when the real magic happens.

Fear of being judged: an overwhelming number of people who avoid exercise fear being judged by their fellow studio or gym-goers as being not good enough, thin enough, fast enough, smart enough, etc. to be there. This is quite possibly the hardest fear to overcome. While it may be challenging it is certainly not impossible. Try out these suggestions:

  • Seek the advice of a trained professional who can help you build up your confidence and your strength in a safe and effective way.
  • Ask a trusted friend to join you at the gym or in the studio (safety in numbers).
  • Believe in yourself and Just do it! I know this is the hardest one but sometimes you just have to rip the Bandaid off, pull on your big girl/boy pants and do it. Remember you are your only competition, and every other person who you think is judging you, probably at one time in their life was right where you are now (even if they don’t want to admit it or remember). And if you have taken my other suggestions to heart you actually won’t even be alone.

Fear of Failure: The fear of failure is real in our personal, professional and, yes, fitness lives. Instead of letting it paralyze you and keep you from taking the first and hardest step, set yourself up for success so you give yourself the best chance of avoiding real or perceived failure.

My number one suggestion is to create stepping-stone goals: What are stepping stone goals? Take your big goal, let’s say running a 5K and break it down into manageable progressive goals. Do not expect to be able to run a full 5K the first time you lace up your running shoes. If you do that you are setting yourself up for failure and if we see failure it is easier to give up. Instead take a manageable goal, like running for 2-5 minutes without stopping, and start there first. Then, once that becomes easy and/or manageable, increase your goals progressively to running 10 minutes or even a full mile until you can slay that 5K. Manageable goals allow you to feel success, and success keeps you moving forward. As suggested above, if you choose to work with a trained professional who is worth their weight in Lululemon, this should happen organically.

If you are looking for a trained professional who will champion you and make your goals my goals, reach out and let’s get started on overcoming your FOWO today!