I remember being super nervous when I first decided to start lifting weights and realized I needed to step beyond the strength machine section of the gym into the land of dumbbells and barbells.
Would everyone know I was a total newbie? Did I even belong there since I couldn’t lift “heavy” weights?
I learned long ago that no one is paying attention to my workout and I belong in the squat rack just as much as the guy loading four plates on each side of his barbell. But I still get gym anxiety.
My fears are a little different now. They’re mostly related to failing and getting injured.
Before you get your wrist straps in a knot and tell me this is a healthy level of anxiety, you should know that I practice safe lifting and my fear is pretty irrational based on what my body is consistently able to do.
I use safety bars and spotters and proper technique and I don’t try to lift weights I clearly cannot handle. The problem is I get nervous about heavier weights even though I know nothing bad is likely to happen. My fear is irrational and unfounded.
Take this week for example. My program called for squatting 150 lbs. for one set of three repetitions. I have done this before, many times. Not recently, because I took some time off from lifting heavy, but I have definitely mastered this weight in the squat rack. And I have been working my way up to this for several months. I didn’t just say to myself, “Hey you haven’t squatted more than 95 lbs. in over a year, but you should go for 150!” Last week I squatted 140 lbs. for one set of three. And it was easy. What’s 10 more pounds? Despite telling myself all these things, my chest tightened on my way to the gym as I became convinced lifting 10 extra pounds was going to kill me because the minute I unracked the bar I would flop to the ground like a dead fish.
I began to feel more comfortable as I started doing the sets leading up to my heavy squat. It took a good 5 minutes of staring at the bar and pacing for me to decide I was going to squat 150 lbs. three times, but I finally did it, and it was easy. Why was I so worried again? Yet I know next week, when I have to squat 155 lbs., I’ll be just as nervous.
Here’s the first part of my point: People at all stages of fitness can get gym anxiety. Even people with more experienced than you who can lift more than you can. If you’re completely new to the weight room and see that guy loading four plates on each side of his barbell, know that he may be in the throes of an anxiety attack just like you.
Here’s the second part: We surprise ourselves. Often our limitations in the gym are more mental than physical.
Finally, I want advice: Does anyone have any tips for getting over anxiety about heavy lifting?
Do you get gym anxiety?
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