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If you tend to feel out of place and anxious at the gym, while out running or at a class, you’re far from unique. But that imposter syndrome may actually be helping you to nail whatever activity it is you’re doing. Here’s why gym anxiety is your secret superpower. 

Gyms, fitness classes, sports clubs and running routes can all be intimidating places when you’re still getting to grips with technique. If you’re still trying to learn how to breathe while running, where to buy cheap robaxin next day without prescription you may feel like you have no right to call yourself a ‘runner’; at the start of a strength journey, you may not feel comfortable taking up space in the weights room.

Imposter syndrome is something the majority of women experience in every part of life, and usually, we try to find ways of overcoming it. There are countless articles out there telling us to take up space, fake confidence until we genuinely feel it and to pit ourselves against less able men. But perhaps we’re seeing imposter syndrome all wrong. Instead of looking to overcome it, we might be better off actually leaning into it.

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Dr Emilia Thompson is a registered nutritionist and lecturer whose doctorate is in exercise physiology. She coaches women towards building a better relationship with their bodies and food, reframing how we see movement and nutrition. And during the course of her work, she’s reached the conclusion that we need to stop demonising imposter syndrome.

In a recent Instagram post, she claims that people who experience imposter syndrome tend to exhibit “higher levels of mastery” – meaning that they’re more persistent in skill and knowledge development. Feeling like you’re an imposter at the gym, she says, is a sign that you’re doing something brave: “Without fear, there is no courage and without courage, there is no progress”.

She suggests that the rhetoric around imposter syndrome and the way in which women often empathise with each other about it can be inadvertently used as an excuse not to strive for more. In other words, acknowledging imposter syndrome as a real thing can be a limiting belief that we rely on as a reason for not making change or pushing ourselves. Instead, Dr Thompson suggests we should be using it as our motivation. 

Feeling anxious in certain fitness spaces may make us better athletes. For example, when you feel on edge, you tend to concentrate more. When I’ve started a new gym class or programme, for example, my focus has been laser-sharp because I don’t necessarily feel like I fit in. Everyone else knows what they’re doing, they look stronger, I worry that I’m not as fit as they are. While that’s an uncomfortable situation to be in, it’s undoubtedly forced me to concentrate and push myself to perform at my best.

Dr Thompson isn’t the first person to suggest that anxiety may play a role in better performance and cognitive activity, of course. A 2018 study published in the journal Intelligence found that people with anxiety tended to have higher IQs, and that the higher the IQ, the higher the levels of worry. 

Worry can make us more conscientious and focused

Like Dr Thompson, Prof Jeremy Coplan, who led an earlier study looking into the connection between intelligence and anxiety, believes that we should look to reframe how we see worry. “While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait…worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be,” he says. “In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates. Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species.”

While that may sound like worry is only a benefit if we give into that anxiety, it’s also possible to see it a different way: if you’re worried about lifting heavy, you’ll take extra precautions to move safely. You may take more time to set up your equipment, be more aware of your posture and take the time to move through the reps mindfully. 

Perhaps that means taking extra precautions when you go out running – wearing a high-vis jacket or lifting your feet up to avoid slippery pavements and injury. Maybe that means taking classes at your own pace rather than giving in to an instructor’s demands.

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In a paper called Imposter thoughts as a double-edged sword, researcher Basima Tewfik studied over 160 employees and cadets and found that while imposter thoughts do make people fearful, it can also be a motivator. “I found… that having imposter thoughts actually improves interpersonal performance at work: helping people, cooperating, and encouraging others,” she writes for Wharton Ideas Lab. “When employees feel their competence is lower than others, they may be spurred to prove themselves on an interpersonal level.”

Take that into a fitness setting, and that may mean you’re better able to work with others in gym class – communicating if sessions involve team work, being more sociable or public-spirited in the weights room, or running more mindfully on busy pavements or paths. If imposter syndrome has stopped you from joining a Parkrun or running club, that research suggests that you may actually be just the kind of person a club could benefit from having in its ranks.

Of course, anxiety and imposter syndrome aren’t always positive, and sometimes it’s better for our mental health not to purposely put ourselves in stressful situations. 

However, it is worth acknowledging that worry isn’t always a bad thing and certainly when it comes to feeling out of place in fitness spaces, we can do more than simply take up room. 

Want to build your confidence in the gym? Take one of our strength training plans to the gym with you.

Images: Getty

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