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Exercise, Mental Health, and the COVID-19 Pandemic – Our Advice

During the past year, physical activity has been a great way to keep active, head outside, and see one other person socially distanced. Lockdowns have also made trainers and clients incredibly resourceful and resilient, moving their business online to keep people training and hitting their fitness goals. (if you would like to know more about bringing a training business online, watch this space!)

However, a new study by researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton has suggested that rising levels of stress and anxiety has made it harder for people to engage in physical activities that could have helped them improve their mental health.

With gyms re-opening, outdoor classes becoming more regular, and indoor classes set to open up again next week, here are a few tips to help you or your clients get back to physical activity and keep your mental health boosted.

Advice for Fitness Enthusiasts


For anyone who has been experiencing anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, getting back into exercise can be both an exciting and daunting prospect.

It’s important to listen to your body and not put too much pressure on yourself to hit the ground running if you haven’t been able to train at the levels you have been used to.

Here are 6 tips to help you beat post-lockdown gym anxiety:

  1. Be kind to yourself – feeling mixed emotions about returning to the gym or regaining your fitness level is completely normal. We’re all in the same boat, so take your time and approach your training step by step.
  2. Focus on your progress and your goals – don’t worry about anyone else or what they may be thinking. The more you focus on yourself and challenge your negative thoughts and self-talk, the better you will feel!
  3. Bring a friend (keeping to socialisation guidelines) – there’s nothing like tackling “gym-timidation” while exercising like bringing a support network with you. Be that a friend, a partner, or anyone else from your bubble, having a support system can help keep us motivated and make it fun.
  4. Don’t skip the induction – it’s so worth someone showing you the ropes when joining a new gym or getting back to your old one after a break so you feel confident and able. This is also a great opportunity to get to know the people who work at the gym.
  5. Plan ahead – If you are anxious about the environment in terms of COVID safety, check and see what the gym’s policies and safety measures are. Focus on what you can control – bringing a hand sanitiser, planning your route through the gym to avoid others, and wearing a mask when you can.
  6. Mind over body – enjoy the aim and the process, validate your fears and talk about your concerns and “gym-timidation” with others. By talking it out, we can build each other up!

Advice for Fitness Professionals


If you are a fitness professional, you will already know how the pandemic has affected your business.

Whether you have brought your training online or are looking forward to welcoming groups of clients face-to-face, it is important to remember that some may be more anxious than others about returning to exercise or may have had their mental health affected by the pandemic.

The study done in Hamilton suggested that the main reasons clients were unable to maintain fitness levels and exercises during the pandemic were:

  • Insufficient social support
  • Lack of motivation
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of access to exercise equipment
  • Lack of places to exercises

Personal training should be holistic, training the whole person, including mental health. You will need to be able to operate as a link to the community to fill in this lack of social support. Equally, understanding positive and meaningful conversations will be an essential skill to help motivate and support clients struggling with their mental health.

To give you the confidence to discuss mental health and signpost to the right groups and helplines for your clients, we recommend undertaking our Understanding Mental Wellbeing CPD course.

Things Fitness Professional Can Do to Reduce Client Anxiety


While there is no easy way to alleviate a client’s anxiety, there are a few things you can do to give them the reassurance that you are providing a safe and supportive environment to help them hit their fitness and wellness goals.

For example:

  • Complete your ReActivate training – if you haven’t done so already, completing your ReActivate training is a great way to give peace of mind to you and your clients that you are fully educated in COVID safe procedures and practices.
  • Get outside – as long as you are insured to do so, the pandemic has taught us that fitness doesn’t need to be confined to the gym. has expressed that the theme for 2021 Mental Health Awareness Week is “nature” and how being outdoors and connecting with nature is a great way to improve your mental health. Taking training outside either 1-2-1 or in a class can really boost clients mental health and enjoyment with added variety in their training.
  • Get educated – as well as our Understanding Mental Health course, being able to understand behaviour change in clients and how to coach them effectively to regain motivation and resilience is key. Gaining additional CPD courses in Behaviour Change can help give you confidence when having these meaningful conversations.

To Conclude

We all know that exercise is a great way to boost physical and mental health. However, with increased lockdowns and restrictions to socialisation, it became harder to stick to fitness goals, having an adverse effect on mental health. Both fitness enthusiasts and professionals must understand that taking small steps and listening to your body, can help you get back to exercises safely and effectively, boosting mental health and reducing anxiety levels.