Gym Intimidation: How to Feel Comfortable at the Gym

From water aerobics to yoga, I’ve explored many of the exercise classes offered at my local gym. But taking the leap into an active life didn’t come without some major self-imposed gym intimidation. Putting on a swimsuit in public was scary. Twisting and bending on a yoga mat seemed awkward. I won’t even get started about how silly I felt trying to hoist tiny weights over and over again in a cardio-sculpt class.

And then there were the stereotypes. I wasn’t exactly buff, nor do I embody the cliche yoga-girl physique. My biggest fear was looking out of place. I worried about how my yoga pants fit or whether anyone noticed my belly in the swimming pool. I was self-conscious that I wasn’t doing enough because, thanks to health issues and post-surgery recovery, three-pound hand weights and extra padding in yoga class were my go-to accessories for years. But now I visit the gym five or six days a week, and I look forward to chatting with health-minded friends and seeing personal improvement in my flexibility and endurance.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

So, how did I gain confidence and squash my initial gym intimidation? I looked around and realized I didn’t stand out. I wasn’t the only one using small weights, other women in the pool carried extra pounds too, and everyone around me in yoga class looked equally awkward and unladylike attempting the poses. I wasn’t alone!

To move past my nervousness of sweating in public, I had to stop comparing myself to others. You have no idea what health background other gym goers have. A gal who has been attending yoga class for 10 years is obviously going to be more flexible and not break a sweat doing the splits, so why compare yourself to her? That guy lifting 150 lbs? He might be working with a personal trainer. All that matters is that you’re trying to improve yourself and your health; these other people don’t affect that outcome at all. Learn to embrace and nurture your own self-confidence, and focus on the progress you can make.

Create Your Comfort Zones

If you need to motivate yourself with daily affirmations, a self-reflection journal, or pep talks before walking in the door of the gym, do it! If you prefer to wear baggy T-shirts and sweatpants instead of tight athletic clothes, wear them. This is your health journey, so do whatever makes you comfortable. And if you find yourself feeling self-conscious at the gym, instead of focusing on the environment as a whole, try saying “hello” to the person next to you. You might just strike up a friendship, and you won’t be so worried about looking out of place.

Address the Bigger Issues

Having social anxiety about going to the gym can be more than feeling shy. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, if you’re feeling powerless, alone, and have an extreme fear of being judged or scrutinized by others, you could have social anxiety disorder. About 15 million American adults experience this condition and worry about humiliating themselves or being embarrassed. If you notice these feelings are becoming all-consuming or preventing you from your daily routine, reach out to your family doctor or psychologist for professional guidance.

The next time you hesitate to put on your running shorts or pack a gym bag, try to remember that everyone is at the gym for their own reasons. They really don’t care if you have the newest sneakers or look like a fitness model while climbing the stepmill because they’re at the gym for themselves. So don’t worry about them. Focus on you and your health, and you’ll out-muscle your feelings of gym intimidation in no time.