How to Conquer Feeling “Unfit” or Out of Place at the Gym

by Julia Malacoff
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How to Conquer Feeling “Unfit” or Out of Place at the Gym

Exercising is a key component of any healthy lifestyle. But it’s easy to fall off the bandwagon and lose your fitness, only to have to start back at square one. Since the gym can be an intimidating place — even if you used to go all the time — going to the gym becomes a barrier to a healthy lifestyle.

According to trainers, feeling anxious about being unfit and having to go back to the gym is one of the most common reasons for not getting into exercise — or not getting back into exercise after time off. Luckily, since they see this phenomenon so often, trainers have some solutions for making the first few trips to the gym easier.


According to Kari Woodall, owner of BLAZE, feeling like you’re just not fit enough for the gym is nothing to stress about, and she’s seen many clients overcome this feeling and go on to great success. The initial hesitancy to get started happens for three main reasons that all stem from fear, she says.

  • Fear of failure. Working out is difficult. “It’s hard, and we fixate on the worst possible exercises and outcomes imaginable,” Woodall says. People often worry others will laugh at or judge them for not knowing how to use gym equipment, that they’ll be the least fit person in the gym, or in the case of a workout class, that they won’t be able to make it through the class. “I’ve even had clients think they’ll let me down by failing, and they’re worried they’ll waste my time,” she adds. (For the record, any good trainer will never feel like you’re wasting their time!)
  • Fear of getting started. “Creating a new routine is scary,” Woodall points out. “Humans like to stick with the same routines.” So usually, it feels safer to keep putting off improving your fitness. “The road to fitness can be daunting, especially if you are constantly starting and stopping,” she says. “If you’re always starting over, it’s hard physically and emotionally every single time because you aren’t sticking with it long enough to realize it is a lifestyle, not a one-time thing.”
  • Fear of not being as fit as you used to be. “No one wants to look at a photo from five years ago and think, ‘I’ll never look, feel or move like that again,’” Woodall says. “But we do it to ourselves constantly.” For people who used to be fit, their old level of fitness can feel practically unreachable when they first get back into it, and that can be discouraging.


“Something is always better than nothing, and there is something for everyone,” Woodall says. Here’s are the strategies pros use with their clients:



If needed, start with baby steps. “You can literally walk in the gym and walk right back out — and that might be your success for the day,” says Kimber Rozier, certified strength and conditioning specialist and coach at Results Performance Training. “Maybe the next day you walk on the treadmill for five minutes or stretch in the corner. Start small and build from there.”



You don’t have to go straight to the weight room if you’re not feeling confident. “Stick to a piece of cardio machinery that you’re familiar and comfortable with,” suggests Maggie Winzeler, certified strength and conditioning specialist, an exercise physiologist and advisor at Fitiverse. “Get into a routine, and then consider trying your favorite group exercise class format at the beginner level. Once you’re in a routine with both the cardio machine and the class, take it up a notch and get familiar with the free weights or resistance machines.”



“Do your research,” Rozier says. “There are gyms and classes specifically geared toward first-timers and people who have been away from the game for a while.” You can even email or call ahead of time to set up an appointment so you’re not walking in cold. If it’s in your budget, try hiring a trainer for a few sessions. They’ll be empathetic and will show you around the floor and give you workouts so you’ll have a game plan.



If you’re not feeling comfortable in your body, wear something that makes you feel comfortable, Winzeler recommends. “Even fitness professionals like myself go through seasons of not feeling their most fit. For example, right now I’m recovering from having my second child. I don’t feel as confident in the tight tank tops I was wearing before getting pregnant, so I choose my most loose-fitting tops and sometimes even wear my husband’s workout shirts. It helps me get out of my head and focus on the important job of taking care of my body through exercise.”



“Keep in mind that working out with a partner or friend has been proven to improve exercise adherence and might help you feel more comfortable in a new gym setting or class,” Winzeler says.



If you’re nervous about taking a particular class, get there a few minutes early and say hi to the teacher. “Let them know it’s your first time, first week back or that you’re just a little new to this,” Rozier says. “Every group exercise instructor I’ve ever met is incredibly eager to help. They can give you modifications for certain exercises ahead of time. Make sure to let them know you don’t want to be called out in front of class, but rather would appreciate a little nod of approval every once in a while when you’re getting it right. A smart, well-informed instructor will be subtle about corrections and make you feel as comfortable as possible.”

About the Author

Julia Malacoff

Julia (@jmalacoff) is a seasoned writer and editor who focuses on fitness, nutrition, and health. She’s also a certified personal trainer and Precision Nutrition Level 1 coach. Based in Amsterdam, she bikes every day and travels around the world in search of tough sweat sessions and the best vegetarian fare.


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