Gymtimidation is a real thing. And I should know. Back at the beginning of January, I joined my local gym with the very strong intention of swapping my at-home cardio and bodyweight workouts for an 18-week strength and conditioning programme that required barbells, a weights bench and other lifting paraphernalia. Almost two months later, however, I still hadn’t set foot on the gym floor.
Ironically, given the fact that I’d also joined the gym to get out of the house more and increase my social interaction (I’m still WFH), it was precisely the idea of other people – and their thoughts about me being in the gym – that was holding me back from going in the first place.
Would they think I wasn’t fit enough, strong enough or slim enough to be there? Would they question my choice of activewear? Would they judge my acne if I went make-up-free? Would I have to ward off unwanted attention from the opposite sex when attempting to use the Smith machine?
Honestly, the anxieties I had about training at the gym became debilitating. And I had all of these overwhelming thoughts despite the fact that I’ve been writing about fitness for 15 years and am a qualified personal trainer – hardly a case beginner’s fear.
Still, I found comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Results from a recent study by Pure Gym found that 67% of women experience gymtimidation (AKA anxiety about going to and being in the gym). 55% admit to worrying that they’re ‘not fit enough’ to work out, while just under half feel insecure about their choice of clothing.
That said, it hasn’t been lost on me that an inspiring army of female fitness fanatics has been waging war against gymtimidation through the ‘shy girl workout’ movement on TikTok, passing on handy tips to help women ‘find a corner’ and feel comfortable in the gym.
While that might work for some, as someone whose entire job revolves around encouraging and inspiring other women to get moving, I didn’t want to hide in a corner. I wanted to feel good about working out – and have the confidence to impart my knowledge and experience to other women.
In short, I knew it was time to break free from my crisis of confidence.
So, when I heard about Commitment Therapy – a new class from London-based gym chain Gymbox that claims to harness the power of hypnotherapy to help people tackle their gym fears and encourage fitness flip-floppers to overcome motivational obstacles – I didn’t hesitate to book myself in for a session.
What happens during hypnosis?
I nervously arrive at Gymbox Victoria on a Wednesday evening to be ushered into a darkened, candle-lit room and take a seat on one of the 10 yoga mats arranged in a ‘circle of trust’.
Holistic hypnotherapist and life coach Hannah Apperley introduces herself and tells us a bit more about what is going to happen over the next hour. There will be no swinging watches, she tells us, or any of those other stereotypical misconceptions we might have.
Instead, she continues, we will be gently guided into the ‘theta brainwave state’, which is similar to when we are subconsciously dreaming. It’s in this state, she explains, that we can mute the critical, judgment-making part of our minds and tap into the subconscious, allowing us to rewrite the limited beliefs we’ve been conditioned into.
Next, we go around the circle to share our gym-blocking barriers. One woman is recovering from serious illness and feeling nervous about returning to exercise. A couple of people are sceptics who are there to try something new or simply relax away from the stresses of their week. And others confess they are guilty of always prioritising their work over workouts or starting the week with good intentions, only for their resolve to dissolve by Wednesday.
Sharing over, it’s time for the main attraction. Lying down with my head on a bolster, wrapped in a blanket, we begin with a kind of body scan meditation.
While I remain awake throughout the following period, that’s not to say I don’t go ‘under’. I envision standing on a beautiful beach, then slowly walking down a short flight of stairs. The next moment, I’m standing on a road wearing a rucksack full of heavy rocks and boulders that represent all of my worries and anxieties.
After a few moments, I take off the rucksack and start floating skywards – looking down towards my tiny bag. It’s at that moment I realise that I have a wide, easy smile on my face.
It feels like we’ve only been relaxing for five minutes, but apparently, it’s been 20. Slowly, we’re brought back into the room to share our feelings on what just happened. I feel relaxed and content but almost overwhelmingly clear-headed; for once, my brain feels totally still and thought-free, which is alarming. There’s none of the chronic background noise that usually pervades my consciousness.
I explain this thoughtless confusion to Apperley, and she suggests that it’s linked to me having dropped that bag of rocks during the meditation.
“You really felt it at that moment,” she explains, “and you’re confused because you now see the patterns, beliefs and behaviours you have been living by differently. Now, you’re in a place of choice, and you’re realising your old beliefs no longer resonate with you. And that’s exciting because you can decide where you want to go from here.’
Apperley recommends six sessions of Commitment Therapy for optimum results (be warned, there is a first come, first served waiting list), but for some (like me), one session can be powerful enough to get results.
Indeed, I left Gymbox, got on the train home, and headed straight to my local gym. Rather than feeling nervous, I felt excited, and once I’d warmed up, I felt like I’d come home.
Since then, I’ve been back to the gym two more times, and I feel excited for my strength training journey ahead. It would be easy to dismiss my previous fears as silly or unfounded, but I refuse to do that – they felt incredibly real and powerful at the time. And it’s worth saying that they might well re-emerge in the future. But hypnotherapy really has helped me to rethink my barriers and recognise that the only person who was really holding me back was me.