The Ultimate Guide to Overcoming Gymtimidation

by Ryan Wagner

This week’s post is a little different.

I have invited my good friend, Shawn McKibben, to guest post this week. Shawn runs one of the leading personal development websites – Simple Fellow. He’s not a trainer, fitness coach, or in the fitness industry at all, for that matter. But he has lost an incredible 50+ lbs over the past 7 months. He’s tried yoga, started a sustainable swimming routine, and most importantly, he has overcome his fear of gymtimidation – exactly the reason I asked him to post.

Why? Because so many people are afraid of starting an exercise routine. There’s just so much uncertainty swirling around your basic gym that most people won’t even go near it. Gymtimidation may be a sillly word, and you can call it whatever you want, but the truth is that there are many, many people who could use a confidence boost to get their rear ends in the gym/yoga studio/spin class/etc.

But what about us in the movement and calisthenics world? Are we immune? Absolutely not. In fact, I’d argue that many of the “standard” feats of strength (think: Elbow lever, L-sits) are intimidating to even the strongest guys and gals in the weight room.

In short, I think we can all use a healthy dose of inspiration to overcoming gymtimidation. And Shawn has done what he does best – he has offered up a practical plan to building your confidence as it pertains to the health and fitness world. And remember, he’s been there himself. But now, when he goes to a weight room, he can pick up a 45-lb plate, and with a grin, say that it’s almost as much weight as he lost!

Now, you may not be intimidated at all by the gym. After all, my audience here at Motus is largely of the “fitness geek” type, but I bet you know someone who isn’t as confident as you are with their fitness.

Share this article with them.

Take it away, Shawn!


Have you ever walked into a gym full of people and everyone seems to know exactly what they’re doing? It’s as if you are the only one who has some self doubt about your workout plan.

Any time you’re in a new environment or trying something new, this feeling of intimidation can set in. In the fitness world, this relatively new term “gymtimidation,” rolls off the tongue nice, but it’s not a new phenomenon. Anyone can be scared of unfamiliar territory.

I’ve felt this way many times that I have walked into a gym. Sometimes the fear set in so bad that I’d either walk out right away or go straight for the elliptical because it was the safe choice. Last year, I experienced this with swimtimidation (also rolls off the tongue nicely) and more recently, with yogatimidation (not so nice off the tongue). Interestingly, these environments are vastly different. A nice relaxing pool is different than a weight filled gym and different than a thriving yoga studio.

The environments all share a somewhat similar purpose. However, there is one common theme among all of them, ME – my similar reaction to all of them.

In the past, I would blame the environment and project my own insecurities onto the place I was going to. I would tell myself things like, “There’s a bunch of meatheads there. It’s too busy there. They don’t have everything I need in a gym.” While some of these concerns may be valid, I would often use them as an excuse.

As a guy who’s never walked into a yoga studio before, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve done some YouTube yoga videos and have a general sense of what yoga is. Every time I do yoga, I’m reminded of how difficult yoga can be. The self-limiting beliefs usually start to enter the mind. As the time comes closer to the actual event, the internal chatter becomes louder and louder. “Am I wearing the right clothes? What if they make me do those crazy inverted poses? Will I be the only guy there? Am I going to fit in?”

That back and forth dialogue goes on between the one voice inside of you wanting you to fail and the one wanting you to succeed. But, willpower can only take you so far. Sometimes we just give up because it’s exhausting to try and convince yourself to do something.

But, there are ways to plan for success.

Because when you do want to go workout or try something new, fear should be the last thing holding you back. So, I want to show you how you can overcome that fear and conquer gymtimidation, in whatever that setting may be.

Make the Initial Decision to Go, No Matter What

Willpower has its limits. It takes a lot of energy to make decisions to do anything that isn’t truly comfortable. It’s difficult to get out of your comfort zone. To limit this internal dialogue, make the decision to go no matter what. Put it on your calendar and tell yourself that no matter what, I’m going to go to the gym. Make the time to drive there. Pack your bag and put it by the front door or in your car ahead of time.

No matter what you tell yourself, you are going.

Do more things that will help you make the decision before you have to convince yourself to go or not go. The decision has already been made.

Fear Is Useful

It’s important to acknowledge that it is natural to be nervous or fearful when trying something new or in a new uncomfortable environment like a gym.

The reason why each person experiences this fear may be different but in general, we either fear how others will view us or we fear our own ability to thrive in that environment. Or, a combination of both. In other words, a fear of failure.

Researchers at the University of Rochester examined how closely the fear of failure and shame coincide together. How you view yourself and how you believe others will view you are strongly correlated. Of course, these levels may vary among individuals but the key takeaway is to acknowledge both exist in all of us, on some level. Despite this, we often believe that we are so unique that we don’t have fear or that certain things don’t bother us. There goes that ego talking again.

There are a lot of misconceptions about fear, namely that you actually overcome fear entirely. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sure, certain tasks become less fear driven, but it doesn’t mean that you no longer have fear. Often, we simply haven’t tested ourselves in an uncomfortable way or may unconsciously mask that fear in a different way.

Courage and fear go together like peanut butter and jelly (or a protein shake).

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than the fear. ~Ambrose Redmoon

Courage wouldn’t exist without fear. And fear is the driving force of courage. It’s what you do with that fear that matters.

Here’s what you can do with some of that fear to get the courage to try something new. We’ll use the gym as an example, but this can apply to anything new you want to try.

Do the work ahead of time

Get to know the gym you want to go to. Ask for a free tour. Hire a coach or trainer to help you. Come up with a specific plan of action to get you where you want to be. Know exactly what you are going to do once you are in that environment. Bring a notebook or a checklist. It may help distract you and remind you why you are there.

This one step alone has helped me to manage my expectations before I even stepped into the new environment. When you know exactly what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, and why you’re doing it, you can focus on the work, rather than analyze the what-if’s.

Doing your homework ahead of time will help you judge whether or not the work is more important than the fear.

It can be a helpful reminder to refocus your attention on why you are there instead of why you shouldn’t be there.

Accept reality

Once you’ve mustered the courage to go to the gym, there is one universal truth that applies no matter what gym you are in and that is this: nobody cares about you. In reality, you also don’t care about anyone else but you.

Let me tell you what I mean. Even when you are worried about what others think about you, it is still about you. You are worried about you.

In other words, are you worried about the fact that they are having thoughts about you and how terrible it is for them that they could have those negative thoughts?

Nope. You care about how they perceive you.

Same goes for everyone else. Everyone else is only concerned about themselves.

Everyone starts somewhere

Yes, even that guy or gal who appears to know everything (nobody knows everything). They started somewhere. So can you.

People appear to know more than they do. Remember, people only care about themselves – a gym is often that perfect place for that ego to be inflated!

In that yoga studio, everyone else seemed to know more than I did. It could have been my perception but also could have been reality. (The instructor would frequently look at me whenever she’d suggest using yoga blocks to make the stretches easier. Coincidence? I think not.)

It takes time to feel comfortable in your new environment

Small steps today will lead to bigger results down the road. When you know why you are doing what you’re doing, you are less likely to worry about what others think about you.

You know exactly what you’re doing and why you are there. In other words, you aren’t there to impress anyone, inflate (or deflate) your ego, make friends, show off the latest trend in fitness apparel, or to socialize. While some of these things may happen, the bigger picture of getting fit and staying healthy will always be your driving force.


In case you’re wondering, I survived my yoga class. Although I definitely felt like a fish out of water (I was the only guy in the class!), the instructor and other students welcomed me into the class. I felt at ease. Well, at least on the inside – some of those poses weren’t so easy!

Looking back on my many moments of gymtimidation, they were never as bad as I initially believed them to be. All of your worst fears typically don’t come true. Even if some of them do, it makes for a great story. Or something unexpected happens and it makes for a great story (I had my wife cracking up at how loud these yoga women exhale!)

Next time you want to try something new, remember you don’t have to latch on to some new fancy terminology or beat yourself up about how you shouldn’t experience fear.

You can embrace the fear and act accordingly. Your perception of reality is exactly what it is – your perception of reality.

Gymtimidation can ultimately become your motivation.

By Shawn McKibben

About Shawn:

Shawn McKibben is the founder of Simple Fellow, a website teaching fellow introverts how to be less socially awkward, speak with confidence, and develop their own unique charisma. He’s lived in 4 major US cities teaching, networking, making friends and ultimately falling in love. You can download his free eBook, An Introvert’s Guide to Engaging Conversation, from his website.


What did you think of Shawn’s guest post? Are these actionable techniques to help you overcome your gymtimidation? Is there something that you think is missing from the guide? Let us know in the comments below! And don’t forget to sign up for the weekly Motus newsletter.

The Ultimate Guide to Overcoming Gymtimidation by