5 tips to overcome gym intimidation

Photo of the inside of the RSF
Ethan Lejano/File

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Going to the gym on a regular basis can be a great habit to improve your health and overall fitness, but oftentimes many of us are scared to begin working out around others because of insecurity and anxiety. When I first started going to the Recreational Sports Facility freshman year, I too felt intimidated by others lifting 50-pound dumbbells in each hand while I held my five pound dumbbells unsurely by my side. I was terrified of looking weak and having people judge me, laugh at me, or even worse, pity me. These are some of the tips that helped me overcome my gym intimidation and view the gym as a safe place rather than a source of fear.

Separate your feelings from reality

If you’re too afraid to exercise in front of others, it’s important to examine where that fear comes from. Picture this: You’re doing a few Bulgarian split squats, but decide to cut your workout short because you’re anxious that people are silently laughing and judging your form and appearance. You head home feeling defeated and unfulfilled. If this sounds like you, a helpful tip to get over this hurdle is to ask yourself: “Who told you that?” Typically, the answer is, “nobody.” It’s simply your own insecurity manifesting itself as feelings, telling you that others are judging you just as harshly as you judge yourself. This isn’t to say that our feelings aren’t valid, but it’s important to be able to recognize when you’re having irrational fears and to label them as such. Most of the time, people are too worried about themselves and their own workout to spend time critically analyzing your every move.

Find a gym partner

It’s no secret that doing new things with someone you trust and feel comfortable around is guaranteed to make the experience less scary. If you’re just beginning to embark on your gym journey, find a workout buddy to help keep you accountable and relieve your nerves. Find a supportive friend who’s also interested in building a regular exercise routine and ask them if they would be down to workout with you. Bonus points if they’re already a “gym rat” since having an experienced gym partner to help show you the ropes and the proper way to use the equipment can take a lot of the pressure off of your chest.

Go to the gym with a plan

Just like you don’t go into your finals without studying (or at least you shouldn’t), you shouldn’t go to the gym without a plan either. When faced with an intimidating situation, it’s always less scary to walk into it with clear intentions in mind. Luckily for you, the internet and social media have made it super easy to find step-by-step exercises and precurated workout routines for you to try out. You can start by designating certain days of the week toward targeting a specific muscle group — for example, legs, glutes and abs on Monday, shoulders, triceps and biceps on Wednesday, back and chest on Friday and cardio on Tuesdays and Thursdays! You can find great specific exercises that target these muscle groups on any fitness influencer’s YouTube channel, Instagram or TikTok page.

Invest in workout attire

If you struggle to feel confident at the gym, try investing in quality workout clothes that make you feel good when you put them on. Oftentimes, the clothes we wear can have a big impact on how we feel about ourselves. Putting on an outfit that you feel good in can uplift your spirits and lead to a more positive attitude, emboldening you to tackle the gym. Plus, getting to put on those cute workout clothes hanging in your closet can serve as an incentive to get you out the door and to the gym because you want a reason to wear them!

Stay consistent

Consistency is key to habit formation and seeing positive change occur in your life. Facing your fears regarding the gym by simply showing up and putting in a little time each day can help you address your anxiety. The term exposure therapy speaks to this concept: By repeatedly exposing yourself to your fear, you teach your brain that there is no true danger to be afraid of. Ultimately, your fears will diminish and working out in front of others will be just another part of your daily routine!

We at the Clog hope these tips help you tackle the gym and reach for your personal fitness goals. The hardest part of building a gym routine is simply starting, but with a little bit of time and effort, you’ll come to love the endorphin rush of getting your body moving.

Contact Madeleine Lorie at [email protected].