Overcoming “Gymtimidation“: How to Feel Confident and Comfortable in a Gym Setting

One of the most common barriers to entry into physical activity is a general fear of training in a gym setting or working out in front of others. “Gymtimidation” as it’s come to be known thanks to Planet Fitness’ slew of advertising campaigns featuring the term.

My first answer to this dilemma would be…train from home. You don’t like working out in front of others? No problem. That’s still not an excuse not to train, and you can certainly do it in the privacy of your own house. That being said, this also isn’t a “real” answer to overcoming gymtimidation. It’s just avoiding the problem altogether. 

I’ve spent the majority of my life in every kind of gym environment imaginable…I understand the anxiety that can come with it. However, I also understand how big of an impact training can have on someone’s life once you can get them past that initial fear. With that in mind I’d like to provide some advice on tackling the issue of overcoming that initial overwhelming feeling that comes with the first time you step foot in a gym.

1. You’re Going to Be Uncomfortable (…and why that’s okay)

Just to set the bar early. You’re going to be uncomfortable when you first start up at any gym. That’s guaranteed and it’s okay!

This is the same feeling you’ll experience starting up at a new job, heading to off to a new school, or even moving to a new area. You’re going to have that initial “learning the ropes” period, and there’s nothing I can teach you to avoid that feeling.

Take this uncomfortable feeling as a good thing. Being comfortable is being stagnant. This general gym anxiety that you are feeling is a sign that you are taking action, trying something new, and stepping outside of your comfort zone which are all great things!

I promise the feeling is not there to stay with you forever. The more you continue to come back and train, the more you get the hang of things, the more “at home” you’ll feel, and the more effort you can put into training hard and simply enjoying being at the gym.

2. Pick The Right Environment

With that out of the way it’s good to start off by saying…not all gyms are created equal.

The type of gym you choose to train at will impact what kind of experience you are going to have. It will also determine your options in terms of what equipment will be available to you, what types of classes you’ll be able to take, and the overall “culture” of the gym itself.

It’s okay to “shop around” for a gym before you settle on the right pick for you. Most places will offer a free day pass or even a whole free week trial which should give you plenty of time to get a feel for things. Make sure to talk to the owner when possible, and don’t be afraid to chat up a few members of the gym to get an idea of if this is a place you’ll feel comfortable training at/fits your needs.

A lot of people will try one gym…won’t like it… and then determine that “gyms aren’t for them“. No. That specific gym wasn’t for you.  

Picking the right gym is such an underrated piece of the “gymtimidation” puzzle, and I think a lot of people would be surprised by the sheer number of options available to them out there. Do your research, try things out, and pick the best possible fit for you.

3. Bring a Friend

Don’t want to be stuck in a room with a bunch of strangers by yourself? I get it.

Bring a friend with you. Not only is this a great trick for helping calm gym anxiety, having a training partner can also help guarantee you show up to more training sessions, and enjoy your time in the gym overall.

Bonus points if the friend you find already knows their way around a gym. This is how I’ve seen a lot of people get comfortable enough to actually train on their own. They weren’t quite comfortable with learning from a trainer, but having a friend show them around the gym was fine!

4. Take a Class

Have absolutely no idea what you are doing? Take a class! This will help ease your “gymtimidation” in multiple ways.

For starters, you’re not going to have to think about anything. Your trainer is going to pick all the movements, teach you how to do them, give you the sets and reps, and even help you figure out appropriate weight selection. This takes a lot of the initial overwhelming feelings of the gym out of the way and you can just focus on training.

Overtime you’ll eventually pick up on how a trainer sets up their class, you’ll know how to use some equipment, and maybe you even wrote down a routine or two. This is all information for you to use if you ever want to go off and train on your own.

Additionally, a class setting is a great way to meet other gym members. You’re all going to be bonding over the fact that you are all suffering through the same workout, so you’ll undoubtedly pick up a few gym friends along the way.

5. Book a Training Session

A lot of gyms offer trial training sessions in addition to their general gym trials. Take advantage of these whenever possible. 

You’ll usually be able to snag a handful of training sessions at an extremely discounted price or even for free and you can use these sessions to get all of your questions answered before you’re sent out on your own.

Have your trainer show you how to use the every piece of equipment you are interested in. Have them show you where all pieces of equipment you’re going to want to use are and how everything is stored. Additionally, you’re trainer can help you get a general feel for the “culture” of the gym that you’re at. Every gym is different and you can easily pick up on any rules regarding what the gym does and doesn’t allow and see if it fits what you want.

You might also get lucky and end up getting a trainer that you really like to continue with 1 on 1 training sessions if that’s something you’re interested in.

6. Don’t Judge a Book By It’s Cover

Some of the kindest human’s I know are nearing 300lbs of solid muscle, covered in tattoo’s, and grunt and slam heavy weights around while listening to heavy metal.

From the outside looking in I get what it looks like…”greatjust another group of meathead bullies“.

However, have you taken the time to consider that…while you may be feeling intimidated…you are the one being judgmental in this situation? I’ve seen so many instances of big muscular guy’s being dubbed the “mean guy” of the gym on the sole basis that they are jacked and keep to themselves. Other’s are simply afraid to approach lifters because they quote “look scary“. You ever actually try and talk to them though? How much do you actually know about them before you came to the conclusion that they were mean?

While the meathead stereotype individual definitely exists, I think a lot of people would be surprised to find out how many big “scary looking” lifters are a bunch of big softies at heart. Lifting weights doesn’t automatically imply a mean personality, it doesn’t imply any specific personality type actually. Try and get to know some of those big fellas in the gym before you walk right back out the door because a gym “looked scary“.

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.