Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Fear of working out

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Fear of working out:
What is FOWO and how can it be overcome?

Overview[edit | edit source]

"Fear of working out" is a common issue for those who are beginning physical activity. Whether it's a simple run or the first time working out in a gym we can all relate to the anxious feeling that accompanies beginning these activities as they present many potential unknown variables that cannot be controlled. Understanding this feeling is important as life is becoming more sedentary, causing people to become less active which has begun to normalise unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyles. People are held back by subconscious fears that occur when thrust into situations such as working out as we place far too much value in how we are perceived by those around us and in situations like the gym we can be directly judged on our progress. A fear of working out can be overcome but it takes drive, commitment and perseverance to take the first step and begin working towards improving your health. Physical activity plays an important role in health as a whole, having a vital role in both mental and physical health. Utilising psychological theories and case studies.

Focus questions
  1. What is fear of working out?
  2. What causes fear of work out?
  3. What are the consequences of a fear of working out?
  4. How can fear of working out be overcome?

What causes a fear of working out?[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Ellipticals[explain?] at an empty gym

A fear of working out can, on the surface, be traced to situational anxiety that occurs when we start a new activity where other people will be able to judge our abilities. This phenomenon causes self doubt and creates an environment where a person is at odds with themselves about whether they should be working out or not. A gym confronts people with new situations and surroundings that are intimidating to newcomers while also requiring time to be invested to achieve results (Vaccaro et al., 2011). This creates high dropout rates and unused gym memberships as gyms require people to be consistently uncomfortable.

There are also biological reasons that cause people to be more anxious when it comes to undertaking physical activity. This is due to self-esteem, self-image, genetic dispositions and anxiety conditions that can cause people to elicit a fear response more often than others[factual?]. Feeling alone and out of place causes people to want to leave gyms and prevents the ability to create routine that is crucial to exercise longevity[factual?].

A fear of working out is caused by situations that make us feel uncomfortable as physical exercises are often a new stimulus that people's bodies and minds have yet to experience. This causes a reaction that gives the person a desire to leave or abandon their workout as they are within a space where they believe people are judging them for a lack of muscularity or for the exercises they do[factual?]. This reaction is why most newcomers fail to utilise their gym memberships as they feel as if they are being critiqued by those around them and that their progress has not met the societal standard[factual?]. For some people, just the sight of a gym such as Figure 1 creates a feeling of dread as the persona relates to an uncomfortable feeling or nauseating sensation that accompanies a bad memory[factual?].

Stimulus that leads to a fear response[edit | edit source]

A fear of working out is sparked by key stimulus that elicits a response from the brain that induces fear and anxiety based on two key situational variables that affect a person's self-confidence. These are the person's surroundings and the situation that they are in. When attending a gym, the culture can also create the fear response as gym stigma is prevalent enough to scare people away from fitness completely[factual?].

Surroundings[edit | edit source]

A person's surroundings relates to their overall happiness and this is no different when used in respect to what surrounds people when they are working out. This phenomenon is what drives people to choose specific environments to work out in. People's preferences vary as everyone is unique some people may prefer to exercise outdoors while others get their activity from the gym. However in more extreme cases people choose to workout from home as to be in full control of their surroundings. Some gyms are more intimidating than others, some exercises are considered more dangerous or less accessible and this leads to people choosing workout preferences based on what they can and can't control[factual?].

Beginning exercise will often confuse people as they are in a new location learning new movements that they have yet to develop properly into muscle memory. New surroundings mixed with new people will often take people outside their comfort zone as almost half of the populous[awkward expression?] that have a gym membership don't actively utilise it with only 73% of Australians going to the gym more then once a week (Ross, 2018). Within the gym there are more variables that can effect how interested a person is in working out, an overly populated gym can scare away newcomers as they fear being judged by what they can lift (Bolin, 2003). Surroundings have a dramatic effect on how people choose to work out as an intimidating gym will cause people to leave workouts early due to feeling distressed[factual?].

Situation[edit | edit source]

The situation within the gym also has a vast affect on what a persons motivation levels are. For example, a quiet gym is far more appealing for people new to working out thus why they will tend to workout at times where less people are there regardless of how inconvenient that time is[factual?]. Newcomers will avoid times where the gym is at its busiest as the time of day plays a huge part in how motivated someone is to go to the gym[factual?]. The type of exercises the person is doing can also affect[grammar?] their likely-hood of committing to exercising. If a person is doing a lifting day using a body part where they are weak and feel judged they will often speed up their workout or abandon it entirely due to feeling out of place (Pridgedon, 2011). Going alone when starting out on the journey of fitness has been shown to lead to far higher dropout rates as being in an uncomfortable situation alone leads people to higher levels of anxiety[factual?]. Situations affect a person's fear of working out as we act in different ways depending on variables that can vary from day to day (Jones, 2020).

Stigma[edit | edit source]

A gym's culture can have a tremendous effect on how comfortable a new attendee to the gym is. Newcomers to the gym tend to feel as if they don't belong. In one study, almost 70% of gym attendees felt judged over their body's progression or level of fitness at some point during their training (Jones, 2017). Around half of the group that felt judged admitted that it correlated[direction? strength?] to their happiness within the gym, thus affecting the probability of them working out at a gym again. This study showcases how preconceived notions of fitness and prior built-in social stigmas affect those that feel they have not achieved a social norm within their fitness journey and proves that those who are new to working out are less likely to continue working out due to perceived social judgements.

Gym stigma affects how new gym goers experience the gym and when a toxic gym culture becomes noticeable gym goers stop attending[factual?]. Weight stigma is also an important part of how gym ideals are fed to those who are currently engaging in fitness[factual?]. Experiences of having weight stigmatised at the gym are often linked to poor emotional and physical health (Schevey, 2017). Respondents within the Jones investigation stated that shame-free environments were an important consideration when selecting a gym.(Jones, 2017)


According to Jones what percentage of gym goers feel gym stigma about how they look?


Importance of physical activity[edit | edit source]

Physical activity has profound health benefits to core aspects of overall health[factual?]. Exercise has a great impact on mental health as it has been shown to help relieve stress and keeps people in healthy routines. Physical health is improved when exercise is undertaken as it improves joint health and can help body longevity[factual?].

Mental health[edit | edit source]

Exercise has been shown to be an amazing stress relieving activity. In a study undertaken to measure the relation between mental health and psychical[spelling?] activity the results indicated that exercise has some[how much?] benefit to mental health (Taylor, 1985). Mental health is effected[grammar?] by physical exercise as it allows for a release of built up energy and stress that accumulates throughout a day. Exercise also helps people push themselves as lifting heavier weights than you could before or running faster then last week creates progression which in turns makes a person feel better about themselves as they are working towards a goal (Martinsen, 1994). Research on exercise indicates that 20 to 40 minutes of aerobic activity results in improvements to mood while lowering anxiety with the changes lasting several hours (Raglin, 2012). Mental health can be improved quickly as multiple studies indicate that mental health can be improved by low to moderate intensity activity meaning beginners can also improve their mental health (Weyerer, 1994).

Physical health[edit | edit source]

Working out has always been accompanied with physical health as activity promotes fat burning and weight lifting promotes muscle growth however these are not the only perks that come with working on your physical health[factual?]. Exercise is good for joint health which becomes increasingly important as people begin to age and joints begin to lose strength and wear down (Penedo, 2005). Exercise helps with body longevity as it burns fat and keeps the body operating at a higher level as exercise helps the body prevent muscular skeletal diseases that occur when people begin to age (Vouri, 2013). Substantial evidence indicates that physical activity is positively associated with weight control and caloric intake meaning exercise helps keep people operating at healthy outputs (Blair, 1985). Exercise allows for the development of cardiovascular improvement which allows a healthier lifestyle.

Psychological theories[edit | edit source]

There are 3 key psychological theories that explain how fear of working out can be overcome.

Self efficacy theory[edit | edit source]

The theory was proposed by Albert Bandura and is used to explain observational learning and is vital to the self learning 8system. Self-efficacy theory refers to an individual's belief that they can execute necessary behaviours that will in turn produce performance results such as lifting heavier weights. This is seen within fitness when it was measured by a study by Marcus and Selby [year?] where efficacy was measured by the stages of exercise people were at[Rewrite to improve clarity][awkward expression?]. Scores on efficacy items significantly differentiated participants at most stages. Results indicated participants who had not yet begun to exercise, in contrast with those who exercised regularly, had little confidence in their ability to exercise (Marcus, 1991). Self-efficacy explains how exercise can build more momentum the more it is done when compared to those who do not undertake exercises and put up barriers making it harder for them to start.

Theory of planned behaviour[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. theory of planned behaviour

The theory of planned behaviour was proposed by Icek Ajzen (1985) and states that subject norms perceived behaviour and attitude form an individual's behavioural intentions and actions (Figure 3.). Planned behaviour is useful to exercise as it explains how belief and intention lead to action, which then transfers into 'how exercise is undertaken' as it begins the process 'with the intention to work out.' The theory of planned behaviour explains how intention can be measured,[grammar?] this is seen by a study done by Hagger[year] to measure the theory of planned behaviour in health behaviour. The study found there was significant effects of self‐determined motivation when intentions and behaviour were partially mediated by the proximal predictors from the theory of planned behaviour (Hagger, 2010)[explain?].

Transtheoretical model[edit | edit source]

The transtheoretical model is an integrative theory that critiques an individual's ability to assume new healthy behaviours. The theory provides strategies and processes of change that guide the individual[factual?]. This theory is utilised to explain how new people are able to advance in their fitness progression with it being measured from the start of a fitness journey to the end. The transtheoretical model utilises steps that explain the different stages of the transtheoretical model[circular][Rewrite to improve clarity]. There are six stages of change. They are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination (Marshall, 2001). The transtheoretical model is able to illustrate the basis of which workout routines are built on[for example?].

Overcoming a fear of working out[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Motivation[edit | edit source]

Motivation is crucial to overcoming a fear of working out. Going to the gym for the right reasons gives drive and enables you to push through the beginning insecurity that is faced when starting a new workout regime. When working out for the right reasons[what are these?] it allows you to build a foundation based on what you are trying to achieve out of fitness while also keeping you coming back to the gym on the days when you'd otherwise quit. Motivation helps you push through the early gym sessions before working out becomes a habit and necessity to your routine. Motivation is crucial to overcoming the stigma and intimidation that comes with entering an environment where hard work is required to produce the results that are desired.

Repetition[edit | edit source]

Repetition is vital to overcoming the fear of working out. Repetition involves not missing days when you are required [say what?] to work out and sticking to the prescribed workout ensuring you complete all reps[explain?] and complete every exercise creating discipline and confidence. Repetition allows the learning of movements and is how people are able to learn the necessary skills to progress in the gym. Repetition can remove the gym stigma and create an environment where gym attendees are comfortable with their surroundings as they have consistently attended the gym thus breaking any stigma around it. Missing days can easily derail this progress meaning it is vital to use repetition to overcome the fear of the gym.

Momentum[edit | edit source]

Momentum[what is momentum? explain] is how a gym routine is built. Momentum showcases how exercise turns into a habit as it requires consistency with how exercise is undertaken. Momentum encourages discipline and perseverance as eating healthier and working out become easier when driven by previous days and the time spent within the gym. Momentum keeps people locked into their work out regime as people are less likely to skip gym days if they have consistently been attending sessions. Momentum helps beginners overcome the fear of the gym as it turns the gym into a routine and removes the stigma that comes with attending one off sessions sporadically.[factual?]

Case study

A group of people who were new to the gym were studied to understand how exercise formation is processed into habits. The study was done across 12 weeks. It was discovered that 4 sessions across 6 weeks was sufficient to create an exercise habit. Participants said they enjoyed the gym more when trainers created fun sessions.[factual?]

This case study demonstrates how the fear of working out can be overcome using motivation in the form of fun sessions, repetition in the form of 4 days a week for 6 weeks and momentum in the form of the habit that has now been created

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

A fear of working out stems from the undertaking of a new activity outside a person's comfort zone where achieving results requires determination and perseverance. A fear of working out is caused by the anxiety of starting a new habit and can be overcome by repetition, motivation and momentum. A fear of working out is common for most people that start at the gym and is nothing to be afraid of as it is a natural response. Remember to focus on you and not what other people are doing. Remember that everyone starts at the same point and that no one is going to think less of you if you're not the biggest or fastest person[factual?].

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Ajzen, I. (1985). From Intentions to Actions: A Theory of Planned Behavior. Action Control, 11–39.

Bess H. Marcus, Vanessa C. Selby, Raymond S. Niaura & Joseph S. Rossi (1992) Self-Efficacy and the Stages of Exercise Behavior Change, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 63(1), 60-66, DOI: 10.1080/02701367.1992.10607557

Blair, S. (1985). Relationships between exercise or physical activity and other health behaviors. Public Health Rep, 100(2), 172-180. doi:

Bolin, A. (2003). Athletic intruders: Ethnographic research on women, culture, and exercise. Choice Reviews Online, 40(11), 40-6472-40-6472.

DellaVigna, S. (2006). Paying not to go to the gym. American Economic Review, 96(3), 1-23.

Hagger, M.S. and Chatzisarantis, N.L.D. (2009), Integrating the theory of planned behaviour and self‐determination theory in health behaviour: A meta‐analysis. British Journal of Health Psychology, 14, 275-302. doi:10.1348/135910708X373959

Jones, K. (2020). Gym stigma.

Kaushal, N., Rhodes, R.E. Exercise habit formation in new gym members: a longitudinal study. J Behav Med 38, 652–663 (2015).

Marshall, S.J., Biddle, S.J.H. The transtheoretical model of behavior change: a meta-analysis of applications to physical activity and exercise. ann. behav. med. 23, 229–246 (2001).

Martinsen, E. W., & Stephens, T. (1994). Exercise and mental health in clinical and free-living populations. In R. K. Dishman (Ed.), Advances in exercise adherence (p. 55–72). Human Kinetics Publishers.

Penedo, Frank Ja; Dahn, Jason Ra,b Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity, Current Opinion in Psychiatry: March 2005 - Volume 18 - Issue 2 - p 189-193

Pridgedon, L. (2012). Understanding exercise adherence and dropout: an interpretative phenomenological analysis of men and women’s accounts of gym attendance and non-attendance. Qualitative Research In Sport, Exercise And Health, 4(3).

Raglin, J.S. Exercise and Mental Health. Sports Med 9, 323–329 (1990).

Ross, D. (2020). This is deadset the easiest way to save more money. Retrieved 16 October 2020, from

Schvey, N., Sbrocco, T., Bakalar, J., Ress, R., Barmine, M., & Gorlick, J. et al. (2017). The experience of weight stigma among gym members with overweight and obesity. Stigma And Health, 2(4), 292-306.

Stults-Kolehmainen, M.A., Sinha, R. The Effects of Stress on Physical Activity and Exercise. Sports Med 44, 81–121 (2014).

Taylor, C. (1985). The relation of physical activity and exercise to mental health. Public Health Rep, 100(2), 195-202.

Vartanian, L. R., & Shaprow, J. G. (2008). Effects of weight stigma on exercise motivation and behavior: a preliminary investigation among college-aged females. Journal of health psychology, 13(1), 131- 138.

Vaccaro, C., Schrock, D., & McCabe, J. (2011). Managing emotional manhood. Social Psychology Quarterly, 74(4), 414-437.

Vuori, I MD (1995) Exercise and physical health: Musculoskeletal health and functional capabilities. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 66(4), 276-285, DOI: 10.1080/02701367.1995.10607912

Weyerer, S., Kupfer, B. Physical exercise and psychological health. Sports Medicine, 17, 108–116 (1994).

External links[edit | edit source]