Do you find yourself getting anxious at the thought of exercising in a gym full of already fit people? The latest edition of Health and Fitness Journal, published by the American College of Sports Medicine, dwelves into the issue of men’s anxiety in a weightlifting environment. Our mindfulness coach Oscar provides insight on this common, yet rarely addressed issue
I was deeply intrigued by a recent article titled “Might Plight: The Social Anxiety Felt By Men in the Weightlifting Environment” in the March-April 2019 edition of the Health and Fitness Journal. The article offered insightful research confirming that men whose main aim is building muscle, what they refer to as “muscularity”, are the ones most affected by social anxiety.
The paradox here is the men who exhibit the most anxiety are likely the ones that will be seeing the least amount of results.
First, let’s define social anxiety. The article defines the term as being exhibited
when people are motivated to make an impression but doubt their capabilities of doing so. This explains why encounters involving ambiguity or novel tasks (e.g., doing a new exercise), as well as public exposure (e.g., in a gym/public, fitness setting), can often evoke anxiety.
Source: Cyr, Alex; Munroe-Chandler, Krista, Ph.D.; Gammage, Kimberley, Ph.D. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal: March/April 2019 – Volume 23 – Issue 2 – p 14–18
According to the article, men indicated the following experiences as ones that most elicit anxiety:
- If someone hovering over me wanting to use the equipment;
- If a spotter had to rush to assist me with the weight;
- If someone commented on my appearance;
- If my form was corrected by a trainer;
- In the presence of an attractive woman;
- If I was unable to push the weight.
Researchers’ Potential Solutions
As a mindfulness meditation teacher and recent health and fitness enthusiast, I have recently applied the insights and practices learned over several years of meditation practice to sustain weight loss and muscle gain. Nevertheless, I was left disappointed by the few suggestions researchers offered to overcome the social anxiety plight. Solutions from the authors include:
- Investing in an all-male gym
- Offering more space and equipment in the gym to limit clustering and equipment availability anxiety
- Opting for Group Training
- Getting Orientation from a friend
- Buddying up with a Trainer
A Mindfulness Meditation Teacher’s Perspective
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the researchers’ perspective. As professionals with little training in human development, mental health, etc., physical trainers can (not always) go straight to recommending solutions that are overly simplistic.
Below are some ideas that I’ve come up with for men that are motivated to get healthy, but may be overly focused:
1. Find your Why
As men, we are often repeating patterns – subconsciously – that we learned as children about what “men” should and should not do.
Ask yourself the question: why do I want to workout?
If the answer is superficial, such as to look good, keep that idea, and keep digging deeper. Deep down, there is often a desire to be happier, be healthier, have more energy, learn a new hobby, etc.
Once you pinpoint this, you’ll be able to make better decisions about what kind of routine you want to engage in.
Often times, especially for new folks or those experienced, group classes are the best.
2. Anxiety is normal.
If you are ready to workout, but the sensations of anxiety – such a racing heart or negative thinking – keep you from the gym, it’s important to understand that you aren’t your thoughts.
This is what I teach as part of mindfulness meditation practices with Monterey Bay Moves.
I understand this is easier said than done, but with practice, you can get to a place where you accept those thoughts that come from deep conditioning, but you don’t follow them as they are helpful in you achieving your goals.
Group Training as a Solution to Men’s Anxiety
Although Fitness Group trainings are often seen as more “feminine”, thanks to the notorious 80’s and 90’s aerobics classes, they actually are a great framework for men to feel competent. Here are a few reasons why:
- The group dynamic helps participants feel like they are less the center of attention.
- The trainer teaches form and technique, making it easier to get comfortable with lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises.
- Finally, getting group instructions and teaching points eliminates the feeling of shame associated with being “corrected”.
- The relationships you will build with your bootcamp buddies and coaches while working out in a nonjudgemental environment will in turn contribute to giving you a sense of belonging and competency in a short amount of time.
If you feel ready for the gym, that is always a good option too. However, I recommend finding a friend that can guide you or hiring a trainer that can partner with you to show you the different muscle groups you should be working out and can help acquaint you to the gym equipment.
Through Monterey Bay Moves’ Bootcamp, you will be able to implement the aforementioned strategies as we will be able to offer a group fitness dynamic and also mindfulness meditation tools.
10-Week Spring Bootcamp Registration
Registrations for the 10-week bootcamp semester have already started. Bootcamp sessions start on April 13 and end June 20. Our Bootcamp allows participants to attend 2 to 4 weekly small group workouts. Expect intensity with Bootcamp-style workouts, Core & Balance, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Pilates-style Training, Strength Conditioning and Cardio, of course!
Bootcamp registration includes:
- Access to 2,3 or 4 weekly workout sessions in Marina
- Never train alone or miss a workout with an intense and motivating Head Trainer
- Fitness and Fun in Marina with your local crew
- Nutritional Guidance and Mindful Eating Workshops
Monterey Bay Fit or Unlimited?
Not only will there be one new time slot for training, but there will be 2 different program options. This Spring, participants have the choice to attend 2 weekly workouts or have unlimited access to the 4 time slots offered.
The minimal recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week as recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine can be met with the Monterey Bay Unlimited option.
The Monterey Bay Fit option is perfect for adults who are already active and want to supplement their lifestyle with fun, intense and social bootcamps.