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Gym anxiety? TikTok’s ‘shy girl workouts’ could be the answer

Published October 15, 2023 Updated October 14, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

HONG KONG — A workout trend that is going viral on TikTok has found an audience with millions of women gripped by “gymtimidation” – the fear of exercising in public gyms.Many women admit to feeling overwhelmed when walking into a gym that is dominated by men and filled with equipment they may not know how to use. As a result, they may feel anxious and self-conscious in public exercise spaces.|This is where TikTok’s “shy girl” workouts come in – they help those who prefer keeping a low profile in the gym, as well as those who would rather exercise in the comfort of their own homes.Fitness influencers such as Ms Brianna Joye Kohn regularly post #shygirlworkouts on TikTok, where she has 2.1 million followers, and Instagram, where she has 1.1 million followers.She was inspired after coming across women who balked at going to the gym; either because they lacked knowledge about how to do movements like lunges or squats, or they worried that others would be judging them.For Indian housewife Ms Akriti Bhatia in Delhi, India, “shy girl” workouts have been a game changer. The 35-year-old, who piled on 15kg last year after her first pregnancy, says she was pushed to get into shape after her blood pressure and levels of blood sugar and triglycerides (a type of fat) “went out of whack after childbirth”.“I was desperate to regain my health because of my young baby and family. However, going to the gym was not an option as I had body image issues and felt intimidated by fancy gym equipment,” she says.Ms Bhatia hired a personal trainer and started working out at home daily for 90 minutes with basic exercise equipment. She combined her fitness regime with mindful eating and lost 15.5kg.Experts say that “gymtimidation” is a real problem that poses a hurdle for people who are keen to exercise but are put off from going to unfamiliar fitness centres.Women face a double whammy, says fitness trainer Ms Abhijeet Sahoo, who coaches eight women in the privacy of their own homes in Noida, northern India.“Societal pressures force women to strive to attain the perfect figure [and] this pressure gets intensified in male-dominated exercise environments such as the gym, where the focus is on people’s physicality,” Sahoo says.“Women who suffer from body-image issues feel uncomfortable facing inequality in these formal exercise spaces.”“Shy girl” workouts are targeted at beginners or those with anxiety about going to the gym, Ms Sahoo says. The user-friendly workouts help women overcome their inhibitions while empowering them to feel more confident about exercising in the gym in future. The routines can be done using just one’s body weight, making them perfect to practise at home. All you need is a corner, a yoga mat and maybe a pair of dumbbells, he explains.A client of Sahoo’s who wanted to remain anonymous shares how she felt “awkward” working out in the gym with so many people around her.“I felt burdened by this nagging feeling that other people were judging me. Adding to my discomfiture was the sophisticated gym equipment that I had no clue how to use. The weights section was especially scary for me, bustling as it was with men with rippling muscles.”Gym unease can strike those suffering from body image issues. Finnish research published in 2019 in the journal Fat Studies found that overweight people experienced harassment and ridicule while exercising. Many women in this study also reported that they felt judged and even sexualised when they tried to use the weights area in their gym.Fitness coaches offer further practical tips for shy people. When starting out, avoid peak gym hours. This way, you will not have to wait to use the equipment, and there will be more time to learn how to use it properly.“Try to slot your gym session in periods when there’s less traffic on machines,” says Ms Sahoo. “You’ll move around the gym more easily and most machines will be open for you to train on and get the hang of. It’s also less stressful, which is good because your focus ought to be on wellness and not tackling nerves.”Many clients also find it more comfortable to work out in smaller training studios where customised and private sessions with a trainer are easily scheduled.Another tip to overcoming gym anxiety is to work out with a buddy. Ms Sahoo suggests finding a friend or relative with similar goals to join a gym with you.“Most importantly, remember that no matter how fit or strong or intimidating the people in the gym look, they also started somewhere – probably in a very similar place to where you are right now. So persevere and you’ll get there too, eventually.” SCMP

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