How to build confidence in the gym

Black and red dumbells in a gym setting

If you’ve ever experienced ‘gymtimidation’ – letting fear of being judged by others or ‘doing it wrong’ stop you from doing a workout – then trust me, you’re not alone. 

Although my professional life now revolves around it, it took me years to gain confidence in the gym. Over time, I’ve learned to challenge those negative thoughts with a single question: am I going to the gym for myself or others? 

When you start asking yourself this, you’ll realise – you probably already know the answer. So, my main advice is to try your best not to let your fears prevent you from acting on your good intentions to move your body.

Easier said than done, right? I’ve got you – take a look at the confidence-boosting tips I’ve picked up on my fitness journey; they might just inspire you to overcome your fears.


Tips for overcoming gym anxiety

Black and red dumbells in a gym setting

When I turned 16, I had my first experience in the gym when my sister took me to our local YMCA gym. She taught me everything she knew – it was exactly like having a personal trainer – and I knew right away that I wanted to pursue a career in fitness. I was still doing a combination of cardio and strength training at the time. Lifting weights felt like a taboo: something you’d see men but not women do, and pushing myself into this ‘male-only’ space challenged me for the better.

I was amazed by how much my body was capable of, and I wanted others to feel the same way; knowing what you’re capable of is incredibly empowering and confidence-boosting. And this, along with some other tips I’m sharing here, helped me overcome gym anxiety.

Also read: Goodbye diet culture: how to change your fitness perspective 


Remember who you are going for 

Are you concerned that everyone will judge and stare at you while you hit the treadmill or attempt a bench press? I can assure you, you’re not the first to feel this way – it’s the most common reason people avoid going to the gym. Accepting that you are going for yourself and not for others is the best way to overcome this; you belong there just as much as anyone else.

When you stop worrying about what others think, you will be able to focus on what you are doing and achieve the best results.

Also read: How to begin cycling for fitness 


Set realistic goals 

 a woman holding a dumbell

Gym confidence is something you have to build slowly and one of the ways you can achieve this is by setting yourself realistic goals. For example, if you’ve never lifted weights and want to start, don’t fast-track and grab the heaviest one – apart from anything, you’ll risk an injury – instead, start slow and progress from there. Your goal could also be to perfect your form, for example, rather than accelerate your kettlebell kgs. 

When you first start going, it’s easy to think you can and will be able to do everything within strict time frames. The truth is, like anything in life, it takes practice and patience. If you want to enjoy it long-term and keep your relationship with the gym healthy, you need to accept it is a life-long journey rather than a destination.

Also read: The fitness expert’s guide to running for beginners 


Create a plan and stick to it! 

Have you made it past the gym’s door? Congratulations, but if you don’t have a plan in place, your anxiety may overwhelm you and make you feel under-confident. A large part of my job is educating my clients, particularly women, on the various movements they can do in a gym setting that will not cause this feeling. So, here’s the secret…

Start with a basic plan that requires the least amount of fuss in the gym, whether with the help of a PT or your own routine. Warm up with some cardio on your favourite machine, then select one heavy dumbbell and two small ones to switch between using throughout your workout – never underestimate the power of dumbbells! Once you’ve decided on your weights, choose up to four moves that target your entire body and focus on them every time you go to the gym. Think burpees, lunges, squats and pushups. Bring weights into these moves by holding the heavier weight at your chest as you lunge, or pressing the smaller dumbbells overhead as you squat. 

Sticking to a basic plan like this will boost your confidence and encourage you to try tailoring your routine even more, but the key is consistency. If you still struggle, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the gym attendants or even look for a PT who can ensure your form in correct.

Also read: Supplements to take alongside your fitness routine


Avoid peak hours 

 woman holding a dumbell

A packed gym can be seriously intimidating and frustrating because you might find your favourite equipment is already taken (we’ve all been there). Also, you’re surrounded by more people and it can be hard to get stuck in if there is no space to do your own thing. 

If this is an issue for you, consider going to the gym outside of peak hours, whether that’s super-early or late, so you can have a fulfilling workout. But if this doesn’t work, have some backup workout options in place.

Working out during off-peak hours means you’re more likely to be able to grab five minutes of the gym attendant’s time, or feel braver to try a machine for the first time. 

Also read: Which TikTok fitness trends are worth trying? A PT’s guide 

Your playlist matters 

I can’t get through a workout without good music. So, my advice is to make an empowering playlist with feel-good and confidence-boosting songs. You can get right into the zone with the right soundtrack, and I’ve found that good-quality headphones make it easier to block out the noise of others. If you can afford to, invest in a pair with noise-cancelling capabilities.

Do you prefer podcasts while you workout? Try to choose ones that are inspirational and motivating. Whatever your chosen form of media, just make sure it helps bring on the good vibes you need to get through your session.

Also read: How to bring essential oils into your yoga practice 


Go with a friend 

woman holding a dumbell

As mentioned, my gym experience began with my sister bringing me along to her workout, which enabled me to feel more confident, and held me accountable to work hard. Things might have turned out differently if I hadn’t had this – so I always recommend buddying up for the gym.

Even if you only team up initially, going with someone you trust can make your time in the gym less intimidating and more enjoyable. You’ll also be less hesitant to experiment with new machines or routines. Who knows, you might just start a gym group of your own.


Consider a PT

So there you have it – my tips for overcoming gym anxiety. However, if you’re still struggling and need an extra confidence boost, I would advise you to consider working with a personal trainer.

A lot of people’s apprehension about going to the gym stems from not knowing what to use and how to use it, so education is the best way to overcome this. Plus, they will be there to hold you accountable while supporting your goals.

Whichever tip gets you motivated, remember – enjoy it! You’re doing this for you.

Keep up with the latest fitness advice from Nature’s Truth here.


Nesrine Dally

Nesrine Dally

Personal Trainer

Nesrine Dally is a renowned fitness trainer with 15 years' experience training first-timers in the gym all the way to professional athletes. In 2018 she became Britain’s first hijabi Muay Thai boxer to compete in Thailand. She is dedicated to making the fitness industry more inclusive and breaking down gendered and cultural stereotypes, and she uses her platform to empower all women to pursue any sport they desire. Here, she’ll be weighing in on fitness trends and topics we all have wanted to ask a personal trainer.