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Gymtimidated? Don’t Let it Weigh You Down

Gymtimidation. It may sound like a funny portmanteau, but for many gym-goers, it is cause for concern. It’s more than a clever marketing ploy because if you ask any gym goer, there is a pretty good chance that they have felt it at one stage or another of their exercising lives.

As user-friendly as machines are, as inviting as fitness equipment designers try to make their goods, your average gym goer is not always comfortable. In fact, some might skip a piece of fitness equipment all together to avoid potential embarrassment—or injury. And some might completely avoid a fitness facility altogether.

Which Exercisers are At Risk

Senior citizens

The fitness scene has taken some fairly large strides forwards over the last few decades. For those that might not have seen the inside of a gym for some time, it can be a little harrowing to step into this setting. Active seniors looking to harness the health benefits of exercise can be put off by the machines, the weights and the whole vibe of a fitness facility.

First timers

Any new situation or setting can be intimidating. There is a multitude of factors that are at the root of first timers. Perhaps none more so that of the exercise floor. From not knowing the culture to standing out from the herd, not having the right attire –  there are many hurdles for new gym goers to navigate.


In terms of being embarrassed in a fitness facility, women outnumber men by a margin of 2 to 1. It is a combination of being viewed and then judged by fellow exercisers as to how unhealthy they seem. There is also the fear of being naked in the changing room.

Plus Sizes

Anyone that has weight issues is probably most at risk. Body shape and overall health have long been a source of derision and scorn. Body shaming is an unfortunate part of popular culture and a factor that the self-conscious would rather not have in a public setting—something that a gym setting makes even more pointed.

The Uninitiated

This is a little different than first timers, in that these are exercisers who might be familiar with working out, but not with what they are working out on. Unfamiliarity with exercise equipment, or more specifically how they are perceived for not using it correctly, can be a serious deterrent for gym goers. And much like asking for directions, men seem less apt to do it according to a study done in England.

Major Causes

Stormtroopers using fitness equipment

Hardcore Stormies hit the Gym by W_Minshull cc by 2.0

The Culture

Most facilities have a vibe, a way of doing things. Sometimes it develops organically, sometimes it is by design. But it can oftentimes feel very exclusionary to newcomers to a fitness facility. It can be as simple as the lobby or entrance to the facility. If it screams “for experienced exercisers only” it will turn people away.

Workout Apparel

There’s a lot of pressure around looking the part. Walking into a facility wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants  when everyone is donning the latest workout threads puts you on an island. A desert island. Couple that with the body-conforming nature of most of the modern workout apparel and it only serves to accentuate the reason that many people join gyms in the first place.

Body Comparison/Personal Insecurity Complex

Perhaps one of the most prevalent (and especially amongst women according to a Cosmopolitan Body study). The insecurities regarding body shape that many exercisers suffer are a major contributor to why people feel anxious or uncomfortable and will avoid going to a gym. It serves as a painful reminder of what they aren’t.

Fear of Judgment

Nobody likes to be scrutinized and even more so when you are already lacking in confidence about your own abilities or appearance. This judgment can pertain to not knowing how to use equipment, overloading/underloading weight, how you look, how others see you when you walk into a gym and something as simple as your choice of footwear.

Workout Plateaus

When gains start to wane, so does the desire to hit the gym. And for those that were insecure in the first place, this is a convenient reason to skip a workout. Without seeking help or altering a regimen (which can involve using new and unfamiliar machines, and the perceived scrutiny that will bring) the results that an exerciser was hoping to see will start to diminish.

Fitness equipment in a gym

Gym by San Francisco Foghorn cc by 2.0

The Equipment Selection

If it is all free weights, benches and squat racks by the front door, there will be more than one fly-by from new or prospective gym members. If there isn’t a selection that people feel they can use off the bat then the anxiety around judgment starts to ratchet up.


This is part of the judgment vicious cycle. Exercisers will skip out early or altogether if they feel that their inexperience using fitness equipment will be put on display. And by not getting the full benefit of the variety of equipment on offer, eventually they will hit a plateau, which will then have an exerciser question why they continue to put themselves through the potential for judgment for no gain.

Too Many Exercisers

Many people mean many eyes. It also means more competition for equipment. Which forces exercisers to look to other equipment for them to use—some of which they might never have used before. It also lends itself to more comparison to those that probably use the gym quite a lot.

Music Choice

Believe it or not, what comes over the speakers can be a deterrent to some gym goers.

Getting Stuck

The rent is too damn high. A lot of exercisers, gung ho to get the type of body that statues emulate, rush to a fitness facility and sign up. Once that urge subsides, they are stuck with monthly payments to a place that they are more likely to drive past than stop and go inside.


Those were the hurdles. Here are the sidesteps.

Skip the Showers

If how you think you are going to be perceived in the buff is an obstacle, then give the changing room a skip altogether. Many gym goers show up in your gear and shower when you get home. Simple.

Sigh outside of a hotel fitness facilityOff Hours

You don’t like the crowd, wait til they’re not there. Pick a time when you know the place will be less trafficked by those that make you little uncomfortable.

Imagine Everyone in Their Underwear

Take a page out of the public speaking playbook. Because no matter how fit, strong or in shape the person next to you seems, they were where you were once. Everybody starts somewhere. They put in the hard yards to get themselves to that level. In some regard, it puts you on equal footing with them.

Remember the Ends

No matter what you think others may think, ultimately you go to the gym for you. You are going to the gym as a commitment to yourself, your health and your fitness. And exercise is the means. If you focus on the goals that you want to attain, through weight training, through cardio, through spin and barre classes, then those external factors won’t seem as difficult to overcome.

They Aren’t Judging You

Ain’t nobody got time for that! As much as you might believe that the in shape crowd go to gyms and stand around in the studio or by the free weights to mock you, they have better things to do. Between focusing on their own sets, cardio workout, treadmill inclination and speed, TV screens, Fitbit’s, cool downs and warm ups, there really isn’t much time to worry about how your workout is going. And conversely, you should fill your visit with enough calorie-busting, heart-strengthening, muscle-blasting activity of your own.

But don’t show up smelling bad. It is routinely quoted as one of the most off-putting aspects of working out by gym goers.

Get a Trainer

We stress this enough to think that we might be on the Personal Trainer Union’s payroll. But it has two direct benefits:

  • You are learning how to use the exercise equipment correctly from a professional who is knowledgeable about how to use it so you won’t look or feel foolish.
  • It is obvious to all that you investing in your health and time at the gym seriously enough to want to learn correct forms.

Oh yes, you will probably see better results, too.

Just Do It

With all due respect to Nike, sometimes it’s about the art of the start. Getting in is half the battle. Once you start it gets easier and easier, and especially when you start to see the difference it makes in your health, appearance and overall attitude.

Seek Professional Help

No, not from Freud, from the helpful staff. If they don’t know how to work the exercise equipment, they can direct you to someone who does. And no, you won’t seem silly. Just ask quietly and follow instructions. And if no instruction is forthcoming, find a new gym where it is.

A small fitness facility

Gym by eGuide Travel cc by 2.0

Choose Your Spot Wisely

Big box gyms aren’t the only game in town anymore. Smaller, boutique-type fitness facilities and studios dedicated to smaller groups with similar goals are as much a part of the exercise landscape as the larger gyms too. You can ease into exercising lief by researching some of these smaller, more intimate spots now and give them a try.

Tailor Your Workout

As part of getting out into the exercising world, don’t feel obligated to show up and grab a couple of dumbbells or hop onto and elliptical. You might find that you can find a more targeted approach to getting the type of results you want. There are many, many different paths to the same destination—some of which you might find to be more to your liking and comfort level.

Rise of the Machines

The choice of equipment can have a big impact on how you interface with your facility. Using a weight machine versus free weights is a lot less intimidating and easier for those getting the hang of using weights.

The same goes for using the treadmill instead of the AMT machine. Learn to walk before you run. It can help to ease you into an already uncomfortable environment.

Buddy Up

You don’t need to go alone. Go with a mate, a pal, a co-worker. It can be helpful if it is someone that has seen the inside of a gym before, has stacked plates on a barbell or who has taken a couple of classes. They can put you at ease and show you the ropes.

Gymtimidation is a real thing. And not something to be scoffed at. But it is also possible to overcome. A bit of research, a bit of courage and a lot of sweat and you can look back on why you were afraid of the gym and laugh. Just not at the new kids.

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