Dr. Erin Nitschke by Dr. Erin Nitschke

Not all health and fitness professionals remember to consider that a gym environment is not second nature to everyone. Complicating the idea of exercising in a gym environment is the fact that not all gyms or studios fit the same mold or structure. 

Depending on the individual, a gym space can be a source of intimidation and anxiety and, as a result, leave a newcomer feeling de-motivated and discouraged. We refer to this phenomenon as “gymtimidation”. The definition of this experience varies by source but is commonly thought to be associated with feelings of insecurity or feeling threatened by others in the same gym space who may be in a better perceived state of physical health. Every person can experience this at some point along their health journey. Even health and exercise professionals.

What Causes Gymtimidation

Gymtimidation, much like anything that is perceived as intimidating, is different for each person who experiences it. For some, it’s the size of the gym. Others worry about how to use the equipment or if they are “doing it wrong.” Still, others feel this anxiety because it brings to the forefront their own insecurities about body image, confidence, and self-perception.  

Gymtimidation can and does thwart a person’s best intentions and efforts to meet their health goals as it causes them to end a session early, skip a session entirely, or let their membership lapse without reinstating it. What all of us forget is that no one is born knowing how to do it all correctly. We need to be brave enough to be a beginner.

Overcoming Gymtimidation 

 Before anyone can overcome gym-based anxiety or fear, they must recognize when it’s happening and what causes them to feel the way they do. Ask yourself these reflective questions before deciding how you can tackle the perceived threat of the gym space:

·       If I had to explain my concern about going to the gym, how would I describe it to a close friend or trusted individual?

·       What are my top three concerns with the gym environment?

·       What would help me improve my sense of belonging and confidence in a gym setting? 

Answering these questions in a journaling format or discussing them out loud with a friend, colleague, or family member can help reveal the root cause(s) of your sensations and perceptions as well as outline a roadmap to help you navigate moving forward and out of your gym-based anxiety.


Just as there is no single cookie-cutter approach to achieving personal health goals, there is no singular gymtimidation strategy that will work for every person who experiences the anxiety of exercising in a gym. Try a few different strategies, see how they feel to you, and shift to others if you find something is not the right fit.

·       Explore other options. Check out what other facilities are available near you or in your general location. You might find a smaller gym with fewer members. Alternatively, you might consider hiring a virtual personal trainer or health coach until you feel more confident with your progress.

·       Bring a friend. There’s power in numbers and using a buddy system offers necessary social support and accountability. Recruit a friend to workout with you.

·       Dress comfortably. Part of the experience of gymtimidation is related to not feeling comfortable in an environment where tight or revealing clothing is often worn. Invest in workout gear that you feel comfortable in rather than choosing what seems popular.

·       Avoid peak times. Each gym or studio is likely to have peak hours where the space is more crowded than others. Usually, this means between 5-7 a.m., noon, and after 4 p.m. You can also ask the front desk or manager when the peak hours are, so you are sure to avoid a larger crowd.

·       Explore a group class. If you are more comfortable participating in a collective group that aligns with your skill level and experience, a small group class or small group personal training might be of interest.

·       Ask for an orientation. Most gyms will offer “intro to equipment” sessions. If this is not specifically advertised as a member benefit, contact the fitness manager, and ask if someone could give you a tour and show you the basics of the equipment.

·       Create a power playlist. Music is a motivator and it also helps take the focus off the environment. If music is not your preference, check out a podcast or audiobook to enjoy.

·       Celebrate your wins. Just making it to the gym is a win if you are experiencing anxiety. Celebrate that. Create a weekly log or journal of your accomplishments.

·       Check out a streaming fitness service. If you are new to physical activity routines, consider checking out an online streaming service to practice building strength and confidence before venturing into a new gym.

·       Give yourself grace and space. Nerves are normal and the anxiety of a gym atmosphere is more common than you might think. Others experience it (I have even experienced it in new gyms). Acknowledge and accept that this might happen more than once, and it is ok to feel this way and it is more than acceptable to ask a gym employee for help.

Overcoming gymtimidation, like achieving health and fitness goals, is a process that takes time. Don’t rush it. Embrace how you are feeling and focus on taking the initial first step forward.

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