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  • Writer's pictureScott Pettey

Breaking the Confidence Barrier

Confidence isn’t like an on/off switch, it’s something that you have to build over time. Lack of confidence typically stems from fear. Fear of injury, fear of expectations, and fear of the unknown are the typical concerns I hear pertaining to exercise. Let’s briefly address these common fears and afterwards discuss steps to build your confidence.

Fear of Injury

Unquestionably, the biggest concern I hear when I ask what has prevented you from exercising consistently is “I’m afraid of hurting myself.” This fear is completely understandable when you consider there is no shortage of internet “experts” ready and willing to destroy your confidence with the infamous ‘’, in an attempt to sell their quick fix with a ‘’. This creates harmful narratives where the perception is that your body is fragile and it’s dangerous to move your body in a certain way.

The reality is, physical activity, including resistance training with weights, is safe and health promoting. Resistance training has been shown through research to rank in line with other non-contact activities like tennis at about 2-5 injuries per 1000 participation hours. In addition, there is overwhelming amounts of research showing that regular participation in resistance training can significantly reduce your risk of acute and chronic overuse injuries. For this and various other reasons, resistance training is recommended by most major public health organizations including the CDC, World Health Organization, and US Department of Health and Human Services.

Fear of Expectations

Many people say they are uncomfortable going to the gym because they feel people are staring at them and passing judgement. A reasonable concern, but think to yourself - do you sit around the gym looking at other people thinking “look at this idiot on the treadmill, who runs like that?” Unlikely. It’s also unlikely that someone is thinking this way about you, but we build up this perception in our heads because we lack confidence in this unknown environment.

It’s important to set your mindset and define your purpose for exercising and going to the gym. Are you doing it for yourself because you care about your health and want to be the best version of yourself you can be? Or are you doing it to validate a stranger’s perception and expectations of you?

Equally as important is resisting the urge to compare yourself. There are tons of different variables that play into how fit someone is. All you can do is the best with where you’re at now. There’s no required level of fitness to be in a gym, exercise is for everyone. Don’t worry about where you are now, just get started.

Fear of the Unknown

At one point we’ve all been the newbie at the gym trying to exercise for the first time. This can feel incredibly daunting. You’re in a new environment around new people, there’s all this equipment you don’t know how to use, and everyone seems to be way more fit than you are.

The good news is this is totally normal! What other activities do you try for the first time and know exactly what you’re doing from the start? It’s ok to be a beginner and you should be excited by that because you likely have tons of progress to make in the beginning.

Steps to Build Confidence

  • Learn the Basics

Find a coach or a training partner with experience who can show you the basics like - where things are in the gym, how to use/setup equipment, gym etiquette, and basic weight lifting technique. You will feel safer, more confident, and far less out of place knowing there won’t be any surprises because you know the basics.

  • Start Conservatively

Most injuries occur not because a particular form of exercise is inherently injurious, but because people start with something that exceeds their current fitness level. It’s easy to add more later once you’re in a groove with exercise, having to pull back because you started with too much destroys your confidence and kills your momentum.

  • Have a Progressive Plan

The key to confidence is building momentum. Everyone loves progress and to feel like they aren’t just spinning their wheels. A progressive exercise plan provides you with structure and purpose for being in the gym. It gives you tangible results you can see each week whether it’s more sets, reps, weight on the bar, etc. You need to celebrate these small wins. Stack them up each week so at the end you can look back and see how far you’ve come. Progress is a powerful motivator.

  • Find a Support System

It’s important to feel accepted and welcome. Try finding a training partner, coach, group exercise class, or specific gym with like minded people that make you feel welcomed when you’re working out. If confidence is really a big barrier for you the best thing is to not feel like you’re doing it alone.

  • Consider a Coach

If you find yourself still struggling with confidence, consider getting a coach. A coach’s role is to teach you the basics, find an appropriate starting point, provide you with a progressive plan based on your goals, and be a support system to help you troubleshoot any difficulties you’re having. A coach should be there to encourage and empower you to work toward your goals and reap the many benefits of an active lifestyle.

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