How to shake off self-consciousness when you exercise, from women who get it

Pulling on your trainers for the first time in a long time is intimidating, and if you’ve ever bailed on a run, turned around at the gym door, or cancelled a group class at the last minute, you are certainly not alone.

Self-consciousness surrounding exercising in public is common, and it actually gets worse this time of year. 

Almost half of women (45%) in the UK are worried about showing their body when getting active during the summer, according to new research by Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign.

Fitness levels and self-esteem issues also hold women back, with nearly half (48%) reporting they are ‘too unfit’ and two in five (40%) feeling ‘not good enough’ to exercise in front of others. 

We’re often our own worst enemies, but fitness ads featuring uber fit women with abs of steel don’t help. 

So, to break the cycle, asked you – regular readers – to share what you personally do to shake off self-consciousness when you get moving.

Chantal Swainston, 30 and based in South East London, says it’s about finding a time of day that works for you.

‘I love running, but definitely am part of the self-conscious club. It’s not always a popular option, but 6am starts when things are quiet are my favourite,’ she says. ‘I feel like I have the world to myself and don’t have to worry about lots of people around. Plus a great start to the day!’

Meanwhile Jasmine Brown, 30, also from London, says everyone needs ‘a cracking playlist’ (and Kylie’s Padam Padam is currently on repeat). 

‘The sound of my own panting literally makes me want to cringe, so I always make sure I have good music and noise-cancelling headphones,’ she says. ‘Yes, others can hear, but with headphones in, I’m in my own world.’

But if music isn’t hitting the spot, Claudia Wright, 31, from London, recommends a good audiobook: ‘I’m focused on the storyline instead of others!’

Linda Egwuekwe, 35 from West London, used to feel self-conscious about lifting weights, but says joining a female-only powerlifting group ‘changed [her] life’.

‘Remember what you are doing today, your future self will thank you for,’ she says.

‘Every time I turned up to a class, no matter whether I lifted more than the session before or not, I would remind myself that next month’s Linda will be so happy and proud that I came to this class today. Literally every little bit helps, so it’s not about me being perfect, it’s about me being consistent and remembering how amazing I will feel in a week, month/months because of the effort I am putting in today.’

Gemma Brown, 35 from Belfast, recommends remembering who you’re exercising for. Whether it’s for yourself or for family, it’s definitely not for the people who are (probably not even) watching you at the gym.

‘I do it for my kids,’ she says. ‘I want them to see me do it, as a woman who looks after her body and her mind – to encourage them to do the same, and to normalise women just ‘being’ (rather than performing) in public spaces.’

Others who got in touch recommended home workouts to get your confidence up, taking a friend to your first session, repeating the mantra ‘we’re all in the same boat,’ and trying as many different types of exercise as possible, until you find one that doesn’t feel like a chore. 

Keri Denney, 51, originally from California, didn’t find her stride until she moved to Kildare, Ireland, six years and spontaneously signed up to a Zumba class.

‘I didn’t know many people and I was feeling very isolated. I went to a class and had a blast, she says. ‘As I continued going week after week I loved finding myself and feeling good in my body.’

She’s since trained as a Zumba instructor and insists it’s a form of exercise that ‘anyone can do’. ‘You do not need previous experience or special skills. Just join the party!’

This Girl Can’s research uncovered that more than three in five women (61%) find exercise more enjoyable when they’re wearing their favourite activewear. And now, the campaign has launched its very own line in partnership with Tesco F&F to encourage women to get moving this summer. 

Still unsure? Remember, even those at the top of their game can feel self-conscious, proving it’s not always about how physically fit you are.

Ana Stefan, a yoga and Pilates teacher who, in her words ‘does not look like the typical ballerina /model teacher you see on Instagram’ used to worry about her body during class, despite teaching as a profession.

‘I used to walk into a class and see the surprise on people’s faces when I said I was the teacher,’ the 39-year-old from Dublin says. ‘I felt completely self-conscious of my body (my belly especially in Pilates) and felt like I had something to prove.’ 

But after students told her they found her ‘less intimidating’ and more ‘approachable’ than other instructors, she’s made it her mission to help all women appreciate their bodies. 

The key to this, she says, is practising gratitude. ‘I acknowledge what my body does for me everyday to keep me alive. I acknowledge my priviledge for being able to move, to exercise, to go for a run if I wanted to. It’s a privilege to be able to go to the gym or a yoga class and how I look in a pair of leggings should not be what I focus on. 

‘I remind myself that everyone out there is concerned with themselves and their own insecurities. Nobody cares about how I look when I exercise. 

‘And I get rid of comparison. You don’t know somebody’s journey, where they’ve been, what they’ve been through, we all look and move differently and that’s OK.’

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