Gymtimidation Is Real. Here’s How to Deal With It

Kevin Gray
by Kevin Gray
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Gymtimidation Is Real. Here’s How to Deal With It

Everyone’s fitness journey starts somewhere, and for many, it’s inside a gym. You know, that large box full of complicated equipment and muscled up weightlifters. So that feeling of intimidation: It’s real, and it can keep people from ever setting foot inside the gym.

“As someone who used to be 100 pounds overweight, I totally understand being intimidated by the gym,” said Jimmy Hays Nelson, a fitness coach and speaker who’s turned his transformation into a business helping others. “I assumed that anytime someone was laughing or smirking, they were laughing at me because I didn’t know what I was doing.” It’s a common fear, but in reality, the vast majority of gym-goers are there for themselves — not to gawk at the new person.

Still, that anxiety can be paralyzing, but there are ways to push past it and take the first steps toward a healthier life. You’ll be glad you did it.

So below, 10 tips for overcoming gymtimidation:


Not all gyms are created equal. Certain gyms draw athletes, bodybuilders and other expert-level exercisers. Certain disciplines, like CrossFit, probably aren’t the best choice if you’ve never worked out before. But Planet Fitness, for example, caters to people of all fitness levels, and actively encourages a friendly, “judgment-free” atmosphere. So look around, and you can find the right gym for you.


You know those gym employees you see walking around: They do more than re-rack weights. If you’re unsure how to use a machine or if you want a spotter when lifting, ask for help. They’ll be happy to assist, and you’ll learn something new — which will be a confidence booster on your next trip.


Even better, enlist one of the gym’s trainers. Many gyms offer a free training session when you sign up. If they don’t, it can still be worth signing up for a few sessions. You’ll learn a variety of exercises geared to your individual fitness level — and you’ll have someone to show you how to use the equipment and explain gym etiquette. Best of all: They can help put you on a plan to reach your fitness goals.


A crowded gym can be daunting. So one easy fix is to go during off-peak hours. If your schedule can accommodate it, you’ll find more available equipment, more personal space and fewer voyeurs.



Everything’s easier with a friend. They can hold you accountable, keep you motivated and spot you on the bench press.


Group classes can be fun. They’re a great way to meet people — and their structured nature means you’ll always have marching orders. Start with something that interests you, whether it’s yoga, Pilates or spin. You might have trouble keeping up at first, but that’s OK, you will improve. Just go at your own pace. It’s not a competition.


“In-home workouts gave me the confidence to know what I was doing, so I could eventually go into the gym and try new things,” said Nelson. Practice makes perfect. If you’re concerned about feeling out of place inside the gym, try working out at home first with your favorite fitness app or streaming class. Once you do get into the gym, you’ll feel more self-assured and enjoy the experience more.


Between YouTube and sites like this one, there’s no shortage of available info at your disposal. So if you’re nervous about taking your first spin class, or you’d like to try the rowing machine, watch a few videos first. That way, you’ll know what to expect, which boosts confidence even before you walk through the door.


In a study exploring the effects of music on exercise intensity, Dr. Costas Karageorghis from London’s Brunel University School of Sport and Education wrote: “Music is like a legal drug for athletes. It can reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15%.” Music is a great tool for zoning out the distractions, honing in on what you want to accomplish and pushing yourself to new limits. So pop in some headphones and crank up your favorite workout playlist.


Everyone starts somewhere. Every single person in the gym or in that class has experienced a first time, too. So stick with it. Because while it’s not easy, it will get easier, and soon you’ll be a knowledgeable, experienced gym-going veteran.

About the Author

Kevin Gray
Kevin Gray

Kevin is a Dallas-based writer who spends the majority of his weekends on a bike. His less healthy pursuits can be found at Bevvy and Cocktail Enthusiast.

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20 responses to “Gymtimidation Is Real. Here’s How to Deal With It”

  1. Avatar Karen Green says:

    “Certain disciplines, like CrossFit, probably aren’t the best choice if you’ve never worked out before.” I think this represents a real misunderstanding of CrossFit. At age 58, I joined CrossFit SPOT in NYC, after a gap of 30+ years since I’d last been active. It has classes (your point #6), and amazing instructors who tailor exercises to members’ ability (your point #3). Members compete only against themselves, and the fitter cheer on those not as accomplished. I can’t even imagine going to a different gym.

  2. Avatar E Martens says:

    I could not disagree more with your comments about crossfit. Crossfit is infinitely scalable and reputable boxes provide several one on one or small group sessions with new athletes to teach them movements and make them feel at home Prior to participating in regular classes. Your comments represent a misunderstanding of CrossFit’s number one goal: to improve members’ wellness. Please do more research prior to making offhand comments about an entire category of gyms.

  3. Avatar Competitive rower says:

    The model in the photo doesn’t actually know how to row correctly. Not sure if that’s supposed to be ironic based on the subject of the article.

    • Avatar Olivia Bosies says:

      Agreed. I was going to say the model in the photo needs to take suggestion #2 and ask for help with erging technique! * cringe *

    • Avatar James Clark says:

      The blonde behind her is pulling with her back, also. Where is the hip hinge?

      • Avatar Dennis Habern says:

        The seated row is a back exercise, therefore, the biceps should not play a major role,

        rather, one should pull the bar, back with the back, and maintain this position for at least 2

        seconds, then ease forward, slowly, then draw the bar back quickly, with arms locked

        into your sides as much as possible, and parallel to the floor, breathing out as you pull.

  4. Avatar ammre ulrich says:

    I am also on the pro crossfit wagon. The on-ramp classes got me used to the format and movements. I probably wouldnt have stuck around at a generic gym or ever touched the free weights if it wasent for the coaches at my crossfit gym encouraging me. I was 320lbs and was only a month or so out of PT for a herniated disc. I am now on year 4 of doing it. I am proud of myself for actually sticking with something and it changed my life. Not only do i have no sciatica pain at all, but i am strong enough to work in a male dominated labor field. Its all about finding the right gym and coaches.
    Also, the reason i even clicked on this article… what the heck is that girl doing on the rower. There is no point where the arms should be bent while the knees are. You start in the catch position, the legs straighten, the hips hinge open a bit and then the arms. On the way back, the arms straighten first, the hips hinge closed and then the knees bend. Just like most lifts, that handlebar should have to pass around the knees. Srsly.

    • Avatar Dennis Habern says:

      The next time that you perform a seated row, after you draw the bar back to your lower ABS,

      hold that position for at least 2 seconds. Why you ask? Because holding this positions for 2

      seconds, permits the tension to remain on the middle and the two large back muscles. Keeping

      tension on all of your exercise, is the name of the game when working-out.

      • Avatar Ammre Ulrich says:

        Did you mean to reply to me? My stroke rate averages 26s/m i dont rush my pull, but i am definatelt not going to stop and let the flywheel slow down for 2 seconds each pull. My 2k is under 7:30 (aka not too shitty for a fat middle aged non professional rower). I dont have an issue maintaning tension.
        That girl in the photo though looks like gollum with that handlebar. My prescioussss. Let me hunch over and cling you to my chest.
        Knees and arms shouldnt be bent at the same time unless you are doing a legs only drill.

      • Avatar Ammre Ulrich says:

        Oh, hay i read your other comment… it seems you dont realize she is on a rowing machine, an erg. It is meant to simulate a skimmer, like crew. It is a cardio/endurance thing, not a bodybuilding machine. You are talking about a seated row like what one woukd do with cables to build the erectorm muscles and muscles around the scapula.

    • Avatar Stacy Tate says:

      Funny how you close your comment with judgement about the girl on the rower. Proving the people do judge you in a gym.

      • Avatar Ammre Ulrich says:

        Actually, at my gym I’d offer her technique help if it seemed welcome. I don’t judge people at my gym, but i do judge the images used to headline an article about working out.

  5. Avatar Terry Nichols says:

    Crossfit was actually one of the best things to ever happen to me BECAUSE OF 1, 2, 3, 6, 10 in this article. It’s all group workouts, there is always a coach, it’s the only sport I’ve ever participated in where it’s the LAST person to finish who is being cheered on. Never have to have a plan or motivation…..just show up and the warmup and workout are already programmed. The sense of community is incredible. Zero gymtimidation, in fact, just the opposite.

  6. Avatar kevmar2010 says:

    I go to PF because it is convenient but it is not my main gym. I use when I’m in the area and need a workout. But I agree. I feel like I get negative looks and always being judged because I don’t eat the snacks they provide and I like lifting heavy weights. Lol. No judgement zone, unless you lift, then we judge! Hah

  7. Avatar melaniasmith says:

    “Believe in yourself and you will be unstoppable”

  8. Avatar Dennis Habern says:

    Yeah, most men and women whom enter our gym in Germany, are utter novices, but they believe

    they by workingout in some fashion, it is enough to impress themselves and others. What they

    bring to the gym, is what they have viewed in magazines. What they fail to accomplish, is to read

    how to accomplish each exercise, and not just rely on one article, but to become an amateur body-

    builder, equipped to make one’s workouts, fun and injury free. Yes, the model in the picture is for

    certain, a novice. She is holding the bar, too high and her arms appear, not locked into her sides.

    Her arms should be parelled to the floor.

    When I perform my seated rows, I sit on a large dumbbell, as a means to perform this exercise at a

    different angle, then, I ensure that my arms are locked into my sides, and I use the old trick that

    Arnold used, bending forward slowly, and when I pull the bar back, I hold the bar in this position

    for at least 2 seconds, ensuring that both large back muscles come together, then I bend forward

    slowly, and then I pull the bar back fast, holding this position for 2 seconds, and then, lean forward

    slowly, and commence the entire process once more.

    • Avatar Ammre Ulrich says:

      Google “concept 2 rowing” and you’ll see she is doing something far different then what you are talking about.

  9. Avatar Gail Burke says:

    All of these comments are such excellent examples of gymtimidation.

  10. Avatar chemicalengineer53 says:

    Most regulars don’t give a damn what you’re doing at the gym. Sure, they might judge you internally at a half squat or some weird ab exercise you picked up from Men’s Health, but so what?
    Everywhere you go people are judging you; it’s part of life and if you can’t handle that, then you have bigger problems than “gymtimidation”

    Most of us will even happily take some time out of our routine to give you pointers if you just come up and ask.

    And really, recommending Planet Fatness is beyond irresponsible. Their business model is to keep their subscribers paying without actually achieving anything, preferably showing up to the gym as rarely as possible.
    Worse, if you do manage to get anywhere, they will actually judge you and drag you down. What’s more intimidating: an amused look; or a big bloody alarm going off and some jobsworth snarking you for putting too much effort in for their liking?

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