What Is Gymtimidation?—& How To Feel More Confident Working Out

“Gymtimidation” is real, but that shouldn’t stop you from working out. “Shy girl workouts” is another TikTok trend, but this one has women sharing tips for taking up the least amount of room at the gym—it has racked up over 500 million views.

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In case your algorithm hasn’t put any of these videos in your feed, “shy girl workout” posts shows how to organize exercises so you only stay in one part of the gym or studio. That could mean only using the treadmill, the dumbbell area or even a single-weight machine. Most of these TikToks are for gym newbies with beginner workouts, to help them deal with the vast offerings of their local Planet Fitness or GoodLife.

We all know that exercise is crucial for our physical and mental well-being. Gyms, with their state-of-the-art equipment and dedicated trainers, try to provide a supportive environment for achieving fitness goals. However, a significant number of individuals are held back from joining a gym due to what TikTok users are stating as “gymtimidation.”

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What is Gymtimidation? Why do we have gym anxiety?

If you find yourself feeling uneasy, embarrassed or intimidated at the gym or even at the thought of working out, that may be anxiety you’re feeling.

Here are the common symptoms of anxiety, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

  • irrational and excessive fear
  • apprehensive and tense feelings
  • difficulty managing daily tasks and/or distress related to these tasks.

What does that have to do with exercise? According to an Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of GoodLife Fitness and ParticipACTION, 40% of Canadians are Intimidated by working out at a gym. And 19% of those people find the gym environment to be very intimidating. How intimidating? The data revealed that Canadians find the gym more intimidating than the first day of school or work (17%) or meeting their in-laws (12%).

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Understanding how you feel about working out 

I spoke with Nikki Nesbitt, personal trainer at GoodLife Fitness in Liberty Village, Toronto, to find out about the challenges gym newbies face and how to overcome that stage.

“When you’re new to fitness, or not comfortable at the gym, it can be overwhelming,” says Nesbitt, who also tells me that she lost 60 pounds when she first started working out and is the reason she became a trainer. “The reality is most people are supportive of others investing in health and fitness. And most people are so focused on their own workout and are not at the gym to judge others. We want to dispel the myth that the gym is an intimidating place. It’s actually the opposite. It’s encouraging, positive and supportive.”

Here are her tips on feeling more comfortable and getting into beast mode fast:

The fear of judgment: One of the primary reasons for having gymtimidation is the fear of being judged by others. People often worry about they will compare, including their appearance, fitness level or knowledge of using the equipment. “There’s a really positive sense of community in fitness,” says Nesbitt. “We’re all there together doing something healthy for ourselves. It’s very motivating to be around people who are taking care of their mental and physical health.”

Comparing ourselves to others: It can be all too easy to compare yourself to seasoned gym-goers or fitness enthusiasts who seem to have it all figured out. Remember, everyone starts somewhere, and they were once beginners too. 

Nesbitt says to remind yourself that, “for the most part, people come to the gym to invest in themselves. Most people want to support others in their journey, and most would lend a hand or give encouragement if asked. Anyone looking at others, especially someone new to fitness, is probably thinking, ‘Good for them!‘ ”

A lack of confidence: Many feel unsure about their abilities or doubt their progress, which hinders their willingness to work out in public and semi-public spaces.

Nesbitt says her gym has made it easy for newbies. “GoodLife offers a 20-minute Fit Fix workout,” she says. “It’s an excellent way to get started and learn about strength training machines.” It’s is a nine-step circuit designed to work the largest to smallest muscle groups, safely and effectively activating the lower back, legs, chest, arms, glutes and abs.

Empowering ourselves to overcome gymtimidation:

Empowering ourselves to overcome a lack of confidence is essential for embarking on a successful fitness journey. By recognizing that gymtimidation can be a common, we can normalize the feeling and realize that we are not alone in this experience.

Educate yourself: Familiarize yourself with gym equipment and exercises through online resources, videos or apps. Understanding what you can do will boost your confidence.

Start small: Begin with exercises that match your fitness level. It’s not a competition; it’s about personal growth and improvement.

“A great place to start is to implement small habits every day that you can build upon as you gain more confidence and momentum,” Canadian myfitnesspal ambassador, Nicole Osinga tells me. “Start with 20 minutes a day or every other day with something simple, like walking or a light jog. As you start to understand your habits, you will be able to modify.”

Bring a friend: Working out with a friend can make the gym experience less intimidating and more enjoyable. You can motivate and support each other on your fitness journey. From the same Ipsos poll mentioned above, 52% of Canadians that stated they’re intimidated by the gym say that going with a friend would make it less intimidating.

Seek professional guidance: Consider hiring a personal trainer for a few sessions. They will create a tailored workout plan and teach you proper techniques and which gym equipment you need, helping you through any fears of doing exercises incorrectly, all while avoiding injury.

Off-peak hours: Don’t love a crowd? Choose less busy hours initially, as it can reduce the pressure of being observed.

Positive self-talk: Replace negative self-talk with affirmations, like “I am capable of progress,” “I am on my own unique fitness journey,” and ”I deserve to prioritize my health.” By reframing our thoughts, we can build self-confidence and cultivate a sense of self-worth. and remind yourself that everyone is at the gym to better themselves, just like you.

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Navigating a cliquey gym or dealing with bullies?

Ever been to a gym and felt like it was super cliquey or people weren’t the nicest? Same. While most people at the gym are focussed on their workouts, there could be a few bad eggs who don’t follow gym etiquette. Don’t fret – not all gyms are good and not people are nice. Just don’t let a bad experience define your fitness journey.

Just like with finding the perfect workout routine, you will have to try a few gyms and studios to find one that is the right fit for you. Take advantage of free intro classes, trial periods and Class Pass to sample different gym environments, studios and their communities. Use this time as the opportunity to connect with welcoming and supportive individuals who share similar fitness goals.

The benefits of overcoming gymtimidation:

When you conquer gymtimidation, you open up a whole new world of physical and mental health benefits. Your regular gym visits will help you feel stronger, more energized, and ready to take on whatever life throws your way. And the best part? These benefits don’t just stop at your physical health, they extend to your mental health too.

Improved physical health: Regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, strengthens muscles, and boosts the immune system.

Mental well-being: Exercise releases endorphins, reducing stress, anxiety and depression, while promoting better sleep and cognitive function.

Social connection: Gyms offer an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals, fostering a sense of community and support.

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Don’t compare yourself to others and try to have have fun

Being intimidated is a common hurdle for most when getting fit. By understanding the causes and taking proactive steps to feel more confident, many end up enjoying the benefits of exercise in a gym or fitness studio setting. Remember, these are meant to be communities that provide a place of self-improvement and personal growth. Don’t let gymtimidation hold you back; take that first step towards a fitter, stronger, and more confident you!