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Fear of exercise: why it happens and how to overcome it.

Over the years I've gotten a few emails that sound very similar to this:

"I am really struggling to even start the exercise program at the moment on any day. We were able to do it once, but I have completely shut down. When I try to do it, I feel this sort of terror/dismay come on. What should I do?"

If this is familiar to you, what you're experiencing is quite a normal reaction to starting something new. Especially if you are the kind of person who doesn't like the sensation of something feeling hard/like a struggle.

Of course we all know that doing regular physical activity can promote the release of endorphins, which can help to alleviate stress and promote feelings of happiness and well-being. BUT when we are already feeling low, or physically sore, it's hard to take the first step.

"Can you have a fear of exercise?"

It is possible for some people to have a physical block or fear of exercise, especially if they have experienced trauma, injury, or other health conditions that make movement challenging or painful. It may also be related to psychological factors such as anxiety, PTSD, or body image issues.

"How does PTSD affect my ability to exercise?"

PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder can affect someone's ability to exercise in many ways. People with PTSD often experience symptoms such as hypervigilance, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, which can make it difficult to engage in physical activity. They may also have flashbacks or nightmares that make it hard to focus on exercise, or even prevent them from feeling safe in a gym or outdoor setting.

If you think your exercise block is due to mental health conditions, then you should talk to your therapist about working with your personal trainer, or helping you create a plan to slowly begin an exercise routine.

In general when someone has a block, whether it's been going on for yours or a few weeks, there are a few tricks that usually seem to work.

My advice on how to start an exercise routine is:

  • tell yourself that you'll do it for at least 5 minutes. Set a timer and when that five minutes is up, you can continue with the program, or stop and do something else.

  • Set achievable fitness goals: say you'll do 5 push ups, then 6, then 7, etc

  • Know that you don't have to do everything in your program. Break it down into smaller chunks that seem less daunting.

  • Find your favourite exercise and just do that for 2 or 3 sets.

  • Find an accountability buddy. Someone who has a task that they need support with. It could be anything (doesn't also have to be exercise). So you can do your fitness program and they can do dishes, make a tough call, or write a paper at the same time.

  • Remember how good/strong/capable/positive you felt when you completed the exercises the first time? And get excited to feel that again.

  • Prime yourself: Go for a walk, bike ride, or do some basic stretching exercises at home instead. When you return, maybe you'll be in the headspace for resistance training.

  • Get support: If you're struggling to get started on your own, consider working with a personal trainer or joining a fitness class.

I have a Pay-What-You-Can Zoom class on Monday nights at 6:30pm EST. You can find the details on my website HERE.

Don't forget to always be hydrated when you are exercising, take as many breaks as you need, and set yourself up for success by making sure you have adequate sleep, and nutrition.

Remember, if you start with 5 minutes per session, you can add another 5 minutes every week, to build yourself up to 20-30 minutes in a month or two.

Feel free to share this post with someone who needs it. If you liked this post, consider subscribing to my newsletter, or joining my Patreon community.

Happy training,

Coach, Dibs


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