I have been to roughly a bajillion workout classes and can confidently say that I’m adept at doing everything that’s required of me: squats, sprints, and even burpees. Still, I’m surprised every time that I get pre-workout anxiety. Before I go into a class—particularly a more intense one—I feel butterflies in my stomach as if I’m a middle schooler gathering up the courage to speak to my crush. My heart rate shoots up, I start pre-sweating, and a wave of nervousness washes over me. What the heck gives?
“Pre-workout anxiety and jitters are very common, even for people who work out on a regular basis,” says Janine Delaney, PhD, psychologist and fitness expert. “Sometimes the thought of knowing you have to work out on certain days can cause stress and anxiety that feels counterintuitive.” Ain’t that the truth.
Essentially, your emotions are signaling a “threat”—in the form of a spin class or hot yoga sesh—which makes you question your confidence and ability to tackle the task at hand.
Whether it’s a class you’ve been to before or not, it all comes down to how your body’s processing what’s about to happen. “When you look at the nervousness and anxiety symptoms, it’s a fight or flight response in the body, which is a chemical reaction,” explains Hillary Cauthen, PsyD, CMPC, a certified mental health performance consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Essentially, your emotions are signaling a “threat”—in the form of a spin class or hot yoga sesh—which makes you question your confidence and ability to tackle the task at hand.
The thing is, you’re deliberately putting yourself through the butt-kicking workout du jour. “You’re choosing the ‘painful’ situation—it hurts, it makes you tired,” Dr. Cauthen explains. (Yep, it sure does.) “So a natural response is to resist that until you can work through your coping skills and find excitement and the love you have for what you’re choosing to do.” Working out is great—and so to ensure you remember that, here are pro tips for fighting that anxiety.
How to handle pre-workout jitters like a pro
1. Change your perspective: Sometimes people can be too hard on themselves when it comes to exercise (guilty). “The first step is to look at how you’re defining and thinking about your workout,” says Dr. Cauthen. “If you make it a black and white, must-do, all of those expectations can increase your pre-anxiety jitters because you fear failure or the pain of the experience.” So, she notes that it’s super helpful to reset your mind to have less pressure on your fitness game. “Create relaxation for yourself and try to calm yourself down,” she says. “If you’re a long-term exerciser or if you’re competitive, training can become an obsession and you can be overly consumed on getting the workout in. If your whole day is planned around the workout, it can cause increased fears.” So you can be your own hype man, but don’t overdo it.
2. Take a second to yourself: Everyone knows that you feel like a million bucks after any and every workout that you do. But you can lose sight of that endorphin rush by being too stressed before the workout even starts. “Sometimes getting started is the hardest part,’ says Delaney. “Waking up early before work to get to the gym or pushing yourself to go after work can often cause endless bouts of stress, and if you skip the workout, you’ll then feel even worse.” Her tip? When those feelings come up, take a moment to yourself to figure out what your body really, truly needs. “Whether it’s meditation, sitting in the sunlight, or going for a walk, taking even five minutes to pause can help you remember your reason for working out and give you the strength to push through the initial anxiety and get to the gym,” she says.
3. Have a routine: One way to cope with the workout jitters is by coming up with a set routine. “Whether you’re working out at the same time of day, or going to the same exercise class, that sameness gives yourself adequate time to mentally prepare for that workout,” says Dr. Cauthen. With that sweat sesh worked into your day, you’ll be able to fully prepare for it both physically and mentally. Dr. Cauthen recommends making sure to drink enough water and to eat right. “You’ll be ready to go and not rushing or panicking, and you’re prepared for what you’re going to do,” she says.
4. Use a mantra: Something that’s often used in yoga can apply when it comes to dealing with your pre-workout butterflies: Use a mantra. “Right before initiating that workout, use a mantra—something emotional, words or cues that will fire you up and build our confidence so that you can go in and have the best workout that you can have,” recommends Dr. Cauthen. As for me: I’m going to kick ass.
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