Gym Intimidation: It's a Real Thing, and Here's How to Deal

Updated 07/01/17

Chelsea Miller is a model, fitness junkie, and outspoken advocate for changing the way we talk about health and curvy bodies. She writes about working out, health, her skincare obsessions, and more on her blog, Watch Her Glow, and we’re thrilled to have her as a contributor for THE/THIRTY. This month, she tells us useful tips on how to get over gym anxiety and intimidation.

My fitness journey stared as a low monthly fee in the form of a local gym. But I was highly intimidated by the gym atmosphere and my perception of the people who went there. I managed to get through the hardest part….walking through the door. But my fear kept me from my full potential. For the first six to eight months, I only used machines that I knew exactly how to use and cardio equipment. I felt like everyone was constantly watching me, judging how well I used machines, how fast I ran, and how long I stayed on the treadmill.

I was embarrassed, uncomfortable and lacking confidence.

Finally after getting used to the idea of being in the gym and finding ways to block out what I felt like were judgmental stares, I became comfortable with my routine: a little ab work and 40-60 minutes of cardio. It was at this point that I decided to use a personal trainer once a week for a month.

Having a trainer made it easy for me to feel confident because she corrected my form and told me exactly what to do. But also having someone there with me felt like a bit of a distraction. My focus was no longer on other people in the gym and if their focus was on me. Needless to say, when the thirty days was up, I felt the stares and judgement once again. The only difference was I now had new knowledge; I knew how to use a few new machines and could duplicate the workouts I did with the trainer.

Because I walked in with a plan, I had purpose and I felt more confidant walking into the weight room. This was a step in the right direction, but eventually I became bored with the same workouts and my body stopped responding to it. I became discouraged and decided to leave the traditional gym for a more boutique style gym with only classes.

My thinking was these are smaller groups of people and therefore more personable, more welcoming and easier to walk into. But unfortunately for me, it actually had an opposite effect and I felt ostracised. It seemed as if everyone in the classes knew each other, knew the routines and I felt out of place. But just like at the gym, I eventually became comfortable enough. Also just like the gym, my workouts were lacking in variety and both my body and I eventually got bored and lost interest. This brings me to today and my current form of getting my workout in.

About a year ago, I joined a cross fit gym. I know what you are thinking: I was intimidated by a regular gym so I decided to join a gym that is a thousand times more intense and has some of the fittest looking people you’ve ever seen? It really doesn’t make any sense, but hear me out! My sister-in-law joined the gym and convinced me to try it out. Having a friend there helped to distract me and once again, I didn’t feel like I was being watched because of it. This gym has classes, so I didn’t have to worry about feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing with the machines and the instructor explained each workout prior to the class starting.

It was the best of both worlds: I got to take instructed classes, but they also have cardio equipment and standard gym equipment. One thing I’ve learned from past experiences is that I need variety to keep my body guessing, so I often do yoga at home, I’ll throw in a hike when the weather is nice, I’ll take weight lifting classes, cross training classes and spin. In the end, it’s about finding what’s best for you and your body. And just because you don’t entirely know what you are doing or you don’t feel confident, doesn't mean you should let it keep you from doing something for yourself and your health.

Your health is more important than a temporary fear. 

Below, I've put together a list to share some of the things that helped me the most to get over my gym intimidation.

  1. Find a buddy. Everything is easier when you have a friend to do it with! You can help motivate each other and keep each other accountable to actually show up.
  2. Try different gyms and workouts before signing up for a long term agreement. You’ll get a good feel for the environment and if the people there are the type of people you want to be around everyday.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask gym staff for assistance. If you don’t know how to use a machine, you should not feel embarrassed to ask for a little guidance. It’s their job to help you and they should be happy to offer you assistance.
  4. Put together workouts before you go to the gym. Personally I’ve put together workouts between Pinterest and YouTube. They help explain the proper form and offer you something to follow. I’d write them down or save them in the notes in my phone.

Lastly, know that you are not alone. Gym anxiety is more common than you probably think. You will not be the best right away, but thats why you're there; to get better, to stay healthy and to keep your body moving.

Also remember that everyone is there for the exact same thing as you: to improve their lives and overall wellbeing. We just have different starting points. I am now confident walking into any gym, even on my own, but it took years of practice.  I realise now that I never look at other people; I am too focused on my own workout. So in retrospect, it’s likely that people weren’t watching me, as I thought before. Everyone is so focused on their own journey and their own workout, it’s too difficult to care how well others are doing.

Whether I finish my class first or last, I did the same workout that the fittest and youngest person there did, and that is amazing!

Don’t undermine what you are doing for yourself and for your body and know that it will eventually get easier.

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