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How to deal with gymtimidation?

exercise gym anxiety
Reading time: 5 minutes, 7 seconds

Anxious woman in gym clothing

Have you ever walked into the gym and as soon as you started your workout, a discouraging, nagging, self-conscious feeling set in? Your confidence crashed. A bit like stage-fright before an important show. You felt watched and judged for your appearance and your every move. Your mind threw questions at you: “What do they think of me?”, “Do they judge me for being new? Or overweight? Or not lifting as much as them?”, “Am I doing this right?”, “Am I violating some unwritten rule?”, “Do I look okay?”, “Do I have sweat spots?”, “Is there something in my face/hair?”

It’s uncomfortable. It makes you anxious. You might find it difficult to concentrate on your workout. It might even get so intense that you want to hide and consider stopping to go to the gym altogether.

If you’ve ever felt this way, you are definitely no exception. Being intimidated at the gym is extremely common. There are several causes for this phenomenon.

New environment

First, it might occur simply because you’re new. Trying out something new causes you to leave your familiar environment and routines – in other words, your comfort zone. This is not limited to the gym. Being new somewhere is always a bit scary at first. Keep in mind that being new is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone was the new person at some point.

This kind of intimidation usually disappears after a short while, once you’ve gotten used to the new setting. But what if the feeling persists for a longer time?

Thought patterns

Let’s have a closer look at the way it manifests. When do you feel intimidated the most? Is it when you notice other people looking at you? Are you afraid of being judged? (Scenario 1)

Or is it more of a general feeling of “not fitting in” or “falling short” that sets in as soon as you see other gym-goers? Do you subconsciously compare yourself to others? (Scenario 2)

In both scenarios, the underlying reasons for your intimidation are linked to your thoughts. Your mind is giving you a hard time! While in the first scenario, the feeling seems to be triggered by others, in the second scenario it’s clear that you think and worry about your own appearance and/or performance. But when you’re afraid of being judged, what you really do is think that others might judge you. Therefore, Scenario 1 is only an extension of Scenario 2.

Most of the time, you’ll never know if people are actually judging you – unless they comment on you. Many people are afraid of this, but it rarely ever happens. If it does, it usually tells more about the commenter than about you.

There are many reasons why people might look

Most people at the gym are busy with their own workouts and don’t pay attention to you at all. If you, however, catch somebody looking at you, it can help to remind yourself that there can be many reasons for that:

  • Some people get curious when they see a new person.
  • Maybe you look familiar to them and remind them of someone they know and they try to figure
  • out whether you are that person
  • Maybe they like the clothes you wear
  • Maybe they find you attractive
  • Maybe they wonder what exercise you are doing
  • Maybe they would like to use your equipment and are checking when it becomes available
  • Maybe they secretly give kudos to you

In the end, it doesn’t matter what people think or if they think about you at all.

You are your only competitor

Woman training in front of a mirror

If seeing people who are in better shape than you makes you uncomfortable and you feel like you don’t fit in or can’t keep up, remind yourself that your only competitor is the person looking back at you from the mirror. People at the gym have different goals and different backgrounds. They might have been working out for years, while you just start out. That’s why it makes little sense to compare yourself to random strangers and try to measure up.

At the same time, “different goals and different backgrounds” also means that you don’t need to worry about fitting in – your reason to be at the gym is just as valid as everybody else’s. Anyone who wants to train is welcome at the gym.

What to do if gymtimidation persists?

If you still have a hard time concentrating on your workouts, because your thoughts get in the way, here are some things you can do to alleviate your anxiety and get into a more confident state of mind quickly:

  • Work out outside of rush hour, when the gym is less crowded. Less crowds = less anxiety.
  • If you have a gym at your workplace or in your apartment building, use it. You’ll likely already know the people who work out there, so you’re less likely to get anxious. And sometimes, you’ll likely even have the whole gym to yourself.
  • Ask a friend to come along. That way you automatically have someone “on your side” who supports you and cheers you on.
  • Hire a trainer. There are many benefits to working out with a trainer. Less anxiety at the gym is one of them.
  • Wear comfortable clothing. The clothing we wear has a direct impact on how we feel. Choose an outfit you like, that fits well and you feel confident in.
  • Create your own little bubble. You can create some distance to the world around you for example by wearing earplugs or headphones – these send the message “don’t talk to me” to your surroundings. Or you could wear a hoodie with the hood up. This can give you the illusion of being in your own space and shutting the rest of the world out.
  • Listen to music that makes you feel good and gets you excited to move.

Remember: The gym is there for everyone who wants to use it. Whether you’re fit or not yet. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned gym rat. You have every right to be there. There’s no shame in being a beginner. And your only competition is yourself.


Eager to transform your life and turn into the most confident, healthy, best version of yourself? Book your appointment with Walnut Coaching.

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