Gymtimidation and how to fight it

by Ryan Wagner

A recent study has shown that ‘gymtimidation’ – the fear of going to the gym – is alive and thriving. According to the UK’s Daily Mail the survey performed by Cosmopolitan Body UK found that twice as many women as men feel embarrassed while exercising in the gym. The primary culprit is a feeling that others are noticing them (e.g. uncomfortable stares). On the other hand, men are a little more confident in they gym, but 20% still worry about not knowing what to do.

These are alarming findings. The gym, whether it’s a weight room or a gymnasium, is a place to better one’s self. It should be a comfortable place, but all too often the barbells and lifters using them create an image of machismo and a cult-like atmosphere.

This need not be the case. Your health and fitness goals are important and gymtimidation should not be a roadblock. You just need to understand and apply a few of the tricks discussed below. With any luck, you’ll soon realize that the gym can actually be a welcoming place, you just need to alter your perception.

Have a plan and stick to it

In the Daily Mail article, 44 percent of people cited anxiety around the free weights. They are uncertain of what exercise to perform and how much weight they can lift. But having a plan can help. On the simple end of the spectrum, you may tell yourself, I’m going to work legs today, and on the other extreme, I’m going to follow the prescribed sets/reps in my program for Monday.

There are lots of workout plans out there. Men’s Health and Women’s Health always seem to have excellent full body workouts for all levels of weight lifters. No matter your source, don’t be afraid to bring in your torn magazine clipping or lined notebook into the gym.

In my early lifting days I was embarrassed to carry around those glossy magazine clippings because I thought (wrongly) that it showed people that I didn’t know enough to form my own programs. The truth, as you may foresee, is the polar opposite. What you’ll begin to notice is that few people in the gym have a workout journal and therefore have to memorize (gasp!) all their intended exercises for the day and corresponding sets/reps. Trust me, this can get real complicated real quick.


Instead try this: Get hold of a full body workout plan, copy it over to a small lined notebook, and viola, you have a workout journal. Just like that you are one of the few prepared and ‘very serious people’ in the gym. Most importantly, you won’t have to worry about what exercise you should be doing because it’s right there in your hand.

Find a buddy

This trick isn’t new – find a workout buddy! Not only will you be more likely to hit the gym with a friend or spouse than without one, but you’ll be in the gym together and trying a new exercise won’t seem nearly as foreign to you when you have someone with which to share the experience.


Be flexible

All gyms are at their busiest after 5 pm on a Monday. When people leave work at the beginning of the work week odds are high that they will hit the gym on their way home. Therefore, most gyms will be busy at this time. Others will be really busy.

If you don’t like the crowd then try going during the relatively quiet times during mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Or, if you’re a night owl, try going late in the evening.

After hitting the gym at 10 am for a few weeks you’ll start to build your confidence and before long, getting your workout in after 6 pm on a Wednesday won’t be a big thing at all.

Go private

For some people, being trained one-on-one may be the best solution. However, you’re going to need a home gym or the weather better be nice for you to meet a trainer in a public park. Regardless, it will just be you and your trainer and you won’t have to worry about about anyone staring or the uncertainty of what exercise to do next.

The big one

Ready to hear the secret behind combating gymtimidation – the very best tool that you have available to squash gym anxiety and boost your confidence?

Here’s a hint: You are already using this tool if you are reading this blog.


Were you expecting something more complicated? More exotic? An e-book perhaps? Nope, it’s really that simple in my opinion. To boost your confidence in the gym you need to educate yourself on proper lifting techniques, on movements, on equipment, etc. And don’t stop. Just like everything else in life, learning doesn’t have an end date.


Let’s talk about an example. If you’ve been to the gym once or twice you may have seen someone on the squat rack. Odds are this was a big fellow with tree trunks for legs and an intense concentration. But in many gyms the squat rack is often underutilized purely because people are intimidated by it.

A lot of guys out there feel that anything less than a 45 lb plate on either end of the barbell is less than the requisite to call themselves a man. And as the Cosmopolitan Body UK study found, many women are concerned about how much weight they can lift.

But let’s take a closer look. The squat is one of the most technical lifts out there. The spine must be in a neutral position because any rounding of the back is going to put your spinal discs in a bad place and increase the risk for injury. And what sort of stance should you use? Is it one size fits all? Of course not. In fact, here is an excellent post recently arguing that hip anatomy dictates the stance of a squat. We are just scratching the surface of proper squat technique.

So let’s say you took the time to study the squat: To speak with trainers, to track down respectable blogs and books. In short, you become a squat scholar – eager for new information and new discussion. Maybe now you go back to the gym and see that same dude on the back squat and you’ll see things differently. Maybe this guy has great squat technique. Maybe you should ask him for advice or discuss hip anatomy! Or, perhaps his squat needs some work.

Regardless, by educating yourself you have removed the intimidation. The squat rack isn’t so scary after all, is it?

Apply this technique to any and all exercises, classes, machines, gadgets, widgets, whatever it is that intimidates you. A simple Internet search will yield a treasure trove of info. Talk to trainers too. Asking for 5 minutes of a trainer’s time to run you through the basics of a TRX suspension band is NOT too much to ask for. Or even ask someone in the gym that appears to be very experienced. And you may just make a new friend too :).

No point is more central this this: Knowledge is power.


Don’t let the gym intimidate you. By applying some of the tricks above, in time you may feel just as comfortable in the gym as you do at your favorite coffee shop. OK, maybe not that comfortable, but it’s a start ;).

Happy lifting everyone.

By Ryan Wagner




Gymtimidation and how to fight it by