How To Get Over Gym Intimidation
Let’s talk about how to get over gym intimidation.
Whenever you’re starting at the gym, or even at a new gym or even a new area of the same gym, it is common to feel intimidated.
The gym can offer a ton of mental and physical health benefits, and is a key part of most fitness goals, especially if that involves a certain area of the body that you want to work on.
But it can feel like there is a huge barrier to stepping into the gym. We get nervous, self-conscious and scared of being judged.
It seems like it will be this big scary place where everyone is super fit and ripped and you can feel like you’ll be the least fit person there. Or the biggest. Or the scrawniest. Or you think you’ll make a fool of yourself.
So you end up not going or go and spend the whole time feeling constantly terrified.
Fear of the gym is very real but I’m here to tell you it doesn’t need to be. So let’s look at some steps for how to get over gym intimidation.
My Experience With Overcoming Gym Intimidation
I talk a lot about my weight loss. I mean it is a huge part of my life, so why not.
But gym intimidation did have an impact on my journey, on my progress and on the path my life has taken since I overcame it.
Early Sports Experiences
My early experiences with sport and fitness were awful. I hated PE at school. I was always the least fit person, the worst at everything, and coming last at everything.
Even though teachers were supportive and I never got massively bullied, coming last at everything and being the worst at something you’re forced to do on a weekly basis does start to take its toll.
It leaves a lasting negative impression that is hard to overcome.
Yet somehow, I still managed to find the courage to join a gym when I was 14. And honestly, my actual gym experience, on paper at least, should be seen as a positive one.
The front desk and floor staff were friendly. I had no issues with other members, and don’t think I was ever made to feel unwelcome or judged for my fitness or body shape.
I was still always self-conscious and felt like I wasn’t worthy of being there. But that was my own issue. No one there tried to make me feel like that.
I did that thing of going hardcore for 2-3 weeks and then burning out and giving up.
That, plus not knowing what I’m doing, plus my own above-mentioned issues, meant that I couldn’t last it out and despite the positive experience from other people, still didn’t feel any positive sentiment to exercise.
Weight Loss And Trying Again
A few years later I joined Slimming World and started losing weight.
I did get the idea of going to the gym again but wanted to lose weight before I went back.
Yes, I am 100% aware of the lack of logic in that, but that is how I felt based on my own experience. I didn’t want to embarrass myself and at my heaviest weight, I almost felt “unworthy” for lack of a better word, of going to the gym.
I lost around 35-40lb before I made it back into a gym, and that too needed some things to align.
The job I started offered a discounted gym membership, and the gym was right across the road – something like a 2 minute walk, door to door.
Plus someone who started their job on the same day as me and was sitting next to me also said they wanted to join the gym. So we joined together and went together to keep each other accountable.
From this point onwards, I never really looked back in terms of my love of fitness and exercise.
Falling In Love With Fitness
When I re-joined the gym, it did take a lot of work and digging deep to make it stick, and to not let my lack of confidence stop me.
I used to go in at the opening time – 6:00 AM on the dot and I was set up on my treadmill before many other people got there. So I could keep my head down, do my walk/jog/run, and then get ready for work as anonymously as possible and get out again.
As I got better at running, my confidence did start to grow. I was a bit cheeky and liked to look at the speeds and times of people around me, and knowing I was making progress and starting to do better than some people around me was a real confidence boost.
Yes I know that sounds narcissistic but my confidence needed that boost. I have moved on from that kind of attitude.
My confidence did crash again when I started trying to lift weights and entered the weights area for the first time. I tried to apply a similar approach. I stuck to a few basic weight machines that I was familiar with, and as I grew in confidence I was ready to start free weights.
And I had to apply the same approach once more.
Each and every time I started something new, I felt like I was back to being that same self-conscious, terrified 14-year-old who had no idea what he was doing. But I didn’t let that hold me back for long, and I kept working through it.
Again, and again, and again.
Adding Workout Variety
This went on for about a year and I got settled into a routine with running and some weights.
I started to want some variety so I joined a local fitness bootcamp. And the scared 14-year-old me popped up again because I was nervous.
For my first session I turned up 20 minutes early when no one else would be there because I didn’t want to turn up and have to introduce myself to a big group of people.
After I overcame that mental block in the first session, the rest felt much easier.
And from this point, my fitness progressed, and my confidence started to skyrocket. It was at this point I can say I really started to love fitness.
Enjoying Gym Confidence
Since that point, my life has changed hugely, and my love of fitness has stayed with me throughout.
I’ve gotten comfortable with the gym, with almost any kind of exercise or workout, and I don’t find the gym anywhere near as daunting or as intimidating as I once did.
I’m not good at every kind of exercise, but I feel comfortable trying most things.
I qualified as a personal trainer and fitness instructor and that doesn’t only allow me to help people with their health and fitness, but it allows me to help them get through the fear and intimidation that I also felt when I first set foot in a gym.
I do still however get intimidated sometimes.
I am a qualified trainer, and I know more about fitness and exercise than most gymgoers. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling intimidated sometimes. The two most common times are when I am in the weights area and it is really busy in my current gym, and pretty much every time I set foot in a new gym.
For some reason with every new gym, the scared 14-year-old me pops up again and assumes everyone will be fitter and in better shape than me in any new gym I go to. I don’t know why I can’t seem to get past that initial block.
I have stepped into a lot of gyms at various different stages of my fitness journey. And I have been lucky because no individuals – either members or staff – have ever made me feel uncomfortable or judged me. At least to my face.
In my experience, gyms have overall tended to be warm, friendly, close-knit places where you can feel welcome easily.
Not everyone is lucky to have that kind of experience like I have, and I know that. But I can’t speak to everyone else’s experience – just mine. And mine, despite my own hang-ups, has been hugely positive in terms of the other people I have encountered.
How To Handle Gym Intimidation
Next, let’s talk about how to handle and get over gym intimidation more generally.
I think the nerves and fear we feel are natural for any time we do something new that moves us outside our comfort zone.
And that is a good thing – it is a sign of growth and challenging ourselves.
Some Gender-Specific Issues
Before we dive deeper into gym intimidation, I want to touch on something about women in gyms. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say it seems like women are much more likely to be judged, harassed, or made to feel uncomfortable in a gym environment.
Some reports suggest that 3 in 5 women have experienced harassment of some sort, and 2 in 5 women avoid the gym due to harassment and intimidation.
That doesn’t mean men don’t experience it as well, but it is a much more widespread issue that women have to deal with.
If you are dealing with something like that, it’s not something that a few quick tips from a podcast or a blog post on gym intimidation are designed to help with.
It is a much more serious point and should be escalated appropriately – either to gym staff or management or if relevant, to the police.
You should never be made to feel like that in a gym or anywhere else.
I wish fear of that happening wouldn’t stop you, but I get why it would stop some people as well because no one wants to be made to feel like that. But you are looking to do something that is to improve your health, or your life, and someone else acting inappropriately is not your fault. And you shouldn’t allow them to have that control.
Now that we have covered that, let’s look at some other instances of gym intimidation and how to tackle them.
Perceived Gym Intimidation
Perceived gym intimidation is what held me back from going to the gym for a while.
It’s all in our heads – it’s a hypothetical idea that we think would happen. It’s not something that has actually happened and we might not even have any basis for thinking it actually will happen.
I didn’t go because I assumed everyone would be fitter and I would be judged and I let that intimidate me. So no actual intimidation had happened.
There are some coping strategies that can help ease you in:
- Go with someone else to start you off
- Book an induction or a tour
- Hire a personal trainer
- Start at off-peak/quiet times
That last one is what I did. I felt less uncomfortable when there were fewer people around. And built my confidence from there.
The way I started to look at it – and have started to apply it to other areas of my life – when I was holding myself back was long-winded and convoluted.
I was stopping myself from doing something that I knew would benefit me massively, because some people who I don’t know and have no bearing on my life, and may or may not even exist, might or might not do something to make me feel uncomfortable, even though they have absolutely no impact or bearing on me and the life I’m living.
When you frame it in that convoluted manner, it does kind of knock some sense into you.
I had to start applying that kind of questioning to stepping into the gym, starting weights, starting classes and trying yoga.
In my first yoga class, I ended up right at the front because everyone else turns up early. So I worked through it with the above and just turned up earlier next time so I could hide in a corner while I built my confidence.
Actual And Intentional Gym Intimidation
Let’s look at actual and intentional gym intimidation. So this is behaviour and things that actually happen, where someone is deliberately doing something to make you feel uncomfortable.
This will include harassment, insults, someone trying to put you off, or judging you.
It’s a serious issue and amounts to bullying or maybe even something criminal. It’s nothing on you – you didn’t do anything wrong to be made to feel like that.
This kind of thing, as with the gender points I mentioned above, should be acted on and escalated.
None of the self-motivation and self-talk to help you stop feeling intimidated by the gym really apply here. It is a much bigger and separate topic.
Actual And Unintentional Gym Intimidation
A good example of actual, unintentional gym intimidation is me stepping into the weights area for the first time and being the skinniest guy there and seeing everyone lifting much heavier weights than me.
No one is paying any attention to me, and everyone is minding their own business and focused on their own workouts but it makes you feel inferior still.
You have to work through it as best you can, rather than trying to avoid it or you’ll keep putting it off. Focus on yourself, and focus on doing the best you can.
You do you. And take baby steps if you need to.
Wrapping Up On How To Get Over Gym Intimidation
Once I got over my fear of the gym, the impact on my life, my health, and my fitness was dramatic.
Feeling scared or intimidated about stepping outside your comfort zone into something new and alien is a normal feeling. And a lot of the times it is a good sign that you are challenging yourself. And that challenge can lead to growth.
Genuine, intentional bullying, harassment, or making someone feel uncomfortable is not something you should have to ever deal with. And it should be escalated if you encounter it. That might be speaking to a member of staff, management, or in some cases it will be the police. The exact escalation path will depend on the specifics of what happened to you.
But feeling intimidate because you’re stepping out of your comfort zone, and you’re surrounding yourself with people who might be fitter or more experienced than you is something you need to get ready to work through rather than avoid.
That fear and intimidation might never go away 100% – it hasn’t for me – but it will get better with practice and experience. And in the right group, you might discover things about yourself you didn’t even know!