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Dealing with Gym Intimidation

Are you afraid of joining a gym? Learn how to deal with your gym fears


Updated July 30, 2014

Dealing with Gym Intimidation

"I really want to get in shape before I go to the gym." That's the first thing my client, *Jessica, said when she hired me to be her personal trainer. When I asked her why she didn't just use the gym to get in shape she said, "Are you crazy? I'd get laughed out of there!"

It's unfortunate, but plenty of people feel intimidated at the thought of joining a gym. Walking into a huge open room with hundreds of mysterious machines is tough and what's worse is that the members seem to be in great shape and know exactly what they're doing. It's not hard to see why so many people think they're too out of shape to join a gym.

The good news is that there are many choices for how and where you workout and each gym offers a different type of atmosphere. The trick is to find one that feels welcoming to you.

Why Gyms Can Be Intimidating

Navigating the gym can throw anyone for a loop, even experienced exercisers. I've seen many personal training clients slink into the gym for their first meeting with me, a look of fear on their faces as they wonder if they dressed right...what kind of torture will I put them through...how silly will they look in front of all these people. It's normal to experience those fears when you join a gym and it's not hard to see why when you look at how some health clubs are set up:

  • Open spaces - If you're looking for privacy during workouts, joining a large gym may not be for you. In many health clubs, the workout areas are open with cardio machines lined up behind one another and weight machines sprawled out across the floor. Some group fitness rooms may be lined with windows so people can see in and some find this uncomfortable when just getting started with exercise.
  • Confusing machinery - Treadmills, bikes, elliptical trainers, balls, bands, weight machines...all that equipment can be very confusing if you've never used them before. The fear of looking stupid is something we all experience when trying new things and the overwhelming choices can add to that fear.
  • Aggressive salespeople - Working up the courage to visit a gym can be hard for some people and, if you're shy, an aggressive salesperson may intimidate you even more. Not all health clubs are like that, but many do put pressure on you to sign up. Many people find themselves signing over their firstborn without even being sure they want a membership at all.
  • Hardcore exercisers - Every gym has regulars and some can be a little intimidating if you make an honest mistake (like taking too long on a machine or not putting your weights back in the right place). Though you'll find most members are helpful and nice, not all gym-goers are patient with newcomers and it can be scary to navigate the gym with these types of people.
  • Beautiful people - Then there are the beautiful people. Though there are a wide variety of gym-goers, big and small, there are always going to be those people that seem to have perfect bodies. Many newbies can be intimidated when they see this, not remembering that everybody starts off as a beginner at one point or another.

If you tend to be intimidated by gyms, but you still want a place you can workout, there are some other options out there for you. All it takes is a little time and research to find the right place for you.

Choosing Your Health Club

There are many factors to consider when choosing a health club, from location to membership fees and contracts. But none of that matters if it doesn't have the right kind of atmosphere. When looking for a gym, you want to find a place where you feel comfortable and that might not always be at the nearest chain such as 24 Hour Fitness, Bally's, Gold's or Lifetime Fitness. Although these types of gyms usually offer a wide range of services and classes, the large spaces and sometimes aggressive salespeople can make it uncomfortable for some. For more individualized and caring attention as well as a welcoming atmosphere, check out some of these ideas.


The YMCA is a non-profit community service organization focusing on family health and wellness. Though each one is different, most offer a relaxed atmosphere, friendly staff and a great place for families to exercise and play together. Check into your local YMCA to see what kinds of programs they have to offer, both for kids and adults.

Next Page: More Exercise Options

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