Poll: Are You Gym-o-Phobic?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  76 comments   :  20,045 Views

You're thinking about joining a gym to lose weight and tone up. But the fact that you are overweight (and aren't an exercise guru) prevents you from going. After all, a health club is the Mecca were fit, healthy, and thin people congregate, right? You'd stand out like a sore thumb in a place like that! Talk about feeling out of place...

Ever felt like you're not "good enough" or "fit enough" or "skinny enough" to go to the gym right now? That you need to lose weight before you join a gym, but that you need to join the gym in order to lose weight? (Try to wrap your head around that one!)

You're not alone. I've heard this time and time again from friends, family members, and SparkPeople members. When I recently read about the 8 mental barriers that keep people from the gym, it led me to wonder: How common is gym-o-phobia? Are you (or have you ever been) too self-conscious to work out at a gym?

For some reason, I've never been embarrassed about sweating, moving, jiggling (yes, I jiggle!), or exercising in front of other people. I haven't been fit or thin my entire life. I was overweight throughout many of my college years, and even though I felt self-conscious about my body, I still belonged to (and frequented) the gym. I think that I never felt embarrassment about moving my body for a few reasons.

I was an active child and teen who always participated in sports and dance. Having an athletic past meant practicing, exercising, sweating, and sometimes looking stupid and making mistakes in front of everyone: teammates, coaches, and crowds. I think this prepared me for exercising without feeling self-conscious as an adult. Plus, because of my history in organized sports, I learned a lot about exercising. I starting hitting the weight room as a teenager, which meant that even though I didn't become a "fitness expert" until much later in my life, I still had a good sense of what to do in the gym—and how to do it somewhat correctly.

I think it's normal to feel afraid of something new and different, to feel self-conscious in a new environment. But at the same time, no one was born knowing how to lift weights. In truth, every person who is now a gym rat had to start at the same point: not knowing what to do (and possibly) being out of shape. If it weren't for these past experiences, I think I'd feel a lot more afraid of the gym. I'd feel self-conscious and uncertain of myself, as if everyone was watching me and just KNEW that I had no idea what I was doing.

When I'm at the gym, I don't really pay attention to anyone else. I'm focused on myself! If other gym-goers are anything like me, they're not watching you, critiquing you, or thinking anything about you, your body, the fact that you're reading the instructions on the weight machine, or how you're spending your time there. And if they are, well who cares really? If someone has a problem with you being there, that is their problem—not yours. So tell me...

Take the poll below: Have you ever been gym-o-phobic? Then tell me in the comments: If so, were you ever able to get over it? How?

Are you (or have you ever been) gym-o-phobic?

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    I was one of those OBESE women that DRAGGED herself to the gym, as I knew I had to get God's Temple in order. I signed up for nutrition counseling and she was also a trainer, so she gave me some pointers. Within a couple of weeks, people were coming up to me and asking me how I could do what I do, and of course I told them it was by His Grace, and as they saw the weight come off of me, they told their friends and they started coming in, also. I always made eye contact, though not at first, and smiled at everybody and talked with them, it made it easier for me to do what I was doing, as I realized that they didn't care that I weighed over 300 lbs. We were all there for the same thing, to get in shape! I love going to the gym, and when I recover from my surgery, I'm headed back, by His Grace!


    - Nancy Jean -
    GA - 5/5/2015   8:40:20 AM
  • HILLSLUG98239
    If you're really out of shape and really heavy, please know this: when I see you at the gym, I will make eye contact and smile at you because you are my HERO. You're fighting back and taking positive steps. That's amazing. I've been heavy most of my life, but I'm also pretty active. I know how hard it can be to take those first few steps, and admire people who do it. Please don't assume the worst, and think I'm making fun of you. You're a rock star! - 6/11/2014   4:55:07 PM
  • 74
    I swim as my preferred form of exercise so that requires the gym as I am not rich enough or motivated enough to have my own pool. I am blessed to have access to the gym on a military base so cost is not an object though I have to pay for my swimming pass. I have had times where I felt self conscious in a gym but not to the point I wouldn't go or put off going. I do wash my hands well afterward! ( Just like after being out in public anywhere.) - 2/23/2011   3:27:22 PM
  • 73
    I really enjoyed going to the gym and working out with a personal trainer. But, my job situation changed and there just isn't time in my schedule to go. I try to go on the weekends when I can. I wish the gym location was closer to my home and more convenient! - 2/20/2011   12:53:01 PM
    For me, not only do I need a doctor's report stating that I'm allowed to join the gym, I need a fitness report also to state that I'm fit enough to join. Then I'll rather exercise at home, less money wasted - 2/16/2011   4:18:25 AM
    Packing clothes and shower gear, Getting to a gym, paying for the membership, failing to utilize said membership, are all reasons I stopped going to a gym. Instead I invested in equipment for home. A treadmill, pull up bar, dumbells, squat rack, olympic bar and weights. With the exception of the treadmill, I bought the equipment a little at a time. I availed myself of a personal trainer for a few weeks. Then turned to online resources for my workouts, guidance on scaling, movement videos, and support forum. I'm a closet exerciser. - 2/16/2011   3:13:46 AM
    I'd LOVE to be able to get to a gym. Finances and the new responsibility of caring for my mom who has Alzheimer's have made many things difficult right now! Even finding help so I can get out of the house is a real trick! I'm so thankful for friends from church! (enuf whining! :o) - 2/15/2011   7:10:16 PM
    I haven't gotten the guts to exercise in a gym yet. I need to re lose the extra pounds i have recently gain these past few months, but i don't avoid the gym because of how i look. I just feel self-concious about exercising at a gym, i use a treadmill at home and get soaked in sweet. Not sure if i want to do this in public and pay for a gym membership.

    In April the community i live in is planning on charging everyone a fee that includes the use of the gym and the swimming pool. Maybe if I have to pay for something anyway i will get the guts to try it. - 2/15/2011   9:46:01 AM
  • 68
    I even work out in what I call the "Big Boy" part of the gym...I have as much right to be there as those meatheads! - 2/14/2011   9:44:56 AM
  • 67
    I always loved the gym...but unfortunately with job loss and new job at 50% cut in pay, had to give it up...so walk & use SP's posted exercises to keep moving... - 2/14/2011   8:21:04 AM
  • 66
    I still have moments where I'm sure everyone in the gym is looking at me as the "fat freak". When I feel that way I find that I push myself even harder. I'm hoping that my feelings of "inadequacy" are hitting my competitive side and will make me stronger and leaner in the end. Now I just have to get through that annoying "I don't have time" mindset and get into the gym more often! - 2/13/2011   7:23:49 PM
    I'm a gym-a-phobe. I was never very athletic, and I'm uncoordinated to boot! I had a gym membership for a few years and mainly used the aerobics classes and some of the free weights. But, the fact that the aerobics room had a glass wall in the back for all those working on machines to watch the class was one of the reasons I chose to quit the gym. Not to mention the comments I had from men who knew me in my business life making comments to me about my lack of coordination with the rest of my aerobics class. The gym should have been paying me for my entertainment value, LOL! Thankfully I am now going to Jazzercise which is a better work-out environment for me. No mirrors, no glass walls, and no guys. Plus the age range of the women there is from 20s - 70+. It's inspiring to see mature women working out 4-5 days a week and they have been doing that since the 1980s. And it's great fun to dance and tone your body at the same time. - 2/13/2011   6:41:18 PM
  • 64
    I feel a little self-conscious doing the weight training. I don't want to be reading the directions, doing improper form, and all these other things. I know people aren't really looking at me, but I haven't gotten out of my own head yet. This is new to my new gym. I used to be a regular weight lifter in college, and managed to do it occasionally at my old gym, but I guess this one is busier, and there are more people there. - 2/13/2011   4:30:47 PM
  • AMETHYST2364
    I like going to the gym...just selfconcious. I tried to do the step class and almost killed myself tripping over the step. I turned and saw some of the guy trainers laughing so that kind of shyed me away. So I headed for the treadmill will my sister. It was in the back of the gym so we could watch the other people and thank God because I dropped my towel on the treadmill why I was walking on it and fell, road the treadmill right off onto the carpet. My sister and I started laughing so hard we had to leave the room. So we went into the room that had a circuit just for the ladies and this trainer that was laughing at me before found us! I was so embarrassed, I never went back. Instead I found a place to do water aerobics, although I wasn't comfortable in a suit, I figured no one could see me screw up unless I was to drown. So I took my chances! Needless to say, I am still in need of losing weight, but I am not giving up. I liked this article it brought back a good laugh. :) - 2/13/2011   2:02:44 PM
  • 62
    Yep, that's me, Gym-o-Phobic. 5 out of 8 on the quiz, so maybe I'm not totally hopeless. Our church has a fully functioning gym with a full-time trainer, so maybe, some day, I'll get the guts to head there, I know I need it.
    Instead of going to the gym, I bought a Schwinn Airodyne stationary bike, a heavy duty treadmill and I've put in an in-ground swimming pool - which I can hardly wait for to unfreeze.
    Would I be embarrassed in front of all the trim women and muscular men? Yes, my Big Apple shaped body is a source of embarrassment, my gut (I don't drink at all) looks like I should have a beer addiction.
    I also have a broken back that would eliminate a number of weight machines and I've recently suffered a tear in my right shoulder that I have an appointment to see about.
    I know I need to see a trainer and I know they've probably seen people who are heavier than I, but ..... - 2/13/2011   1:28:48 PM
  • 61
    I've never been a gymophobe, but found that different venues definitely have different personalities. I used to belong to some popular chain fitness palaces and found lots of young women in perfectly coordinated gear giggling through their workouts while trying to attract the attention of the grunting muscle-dudes. Then I switched, first to the local YMCA and then to the closer Community College Fitness Center. At both places I found a totally different mix of young/old, fit/definitely overweight, class participants/solo routines, social/focused and found I felt much more comfortable in that environment. Although amply staffed with teachers and trainers, there was not the push to sign up members for pricey personal training sessions and many on staff were close to my age rather than solely young hard bodies. Costs at these types of gyms is usually less than at for-profit chains and they're not going to close and disappear overnight. - 2/13/2011   9:44:07 AM
    I have belonged to two different "fancy" gyms and although I felt intimidated at first (like I don't "belong" here), I soon realized that the bodybuilding guys are concentrating on their own workouts & barely notice I'm there! Eventually you develop a nodding acquaintance, or perhaps a friendship or two.
    Most gyms have a 7-day or 14-day free trial, so I'd take advantage of that to observe the atmosphere of all the local gyms before choosing one. Go a few times & hang out somewhere inconspicuous so you can see how people interact. - 2/13/2011   8:53:38 AM
  • 59
    In my town I've belonged to 2 different gyms, both of them locally owned. We don't have any big chains here in my rural area. I was afraid of the gym, but the first one I went to I found a lot of people older than me, people, both men and women in their 60's, 70's, and I think 80's. They weren't fast but they used the weight machines and they walked on the treadmill and I felt at home there. And because I work with elderly and disabled I was so glad to see them out doing something. I went during the middle of the day, which I think helped. These people were not wearing workout clothes but just some of the women regular polyesterd pants and a top, some of the men sweat pants but a few were in jeans. But they were there doing it!
    But this gym did not have a pool or any classes. After about 6 months of working out I wanted to try some different things. So I switched to a gym that had those and was again terrified because I thought all the jocks went to the gym and I would stick out. I had been working out but was still older, overweight, and self conscious. Again I usually go in the middle of the day. I use my lunch hour from work. Again I was pleasantly surprised to find a mix of much older, some my age but not very fit, one lady who comes in with a walker and a younger woman comes in and helps her get set up, and a mix. There are some really fit but not as many during that time. The classes during the day, both pool and gym, have a mix of people too, and quite a few my age (56) or older. So my gym experiences, once I got through my phobias, has been very positive. The personal trainers are great too! - 2/13/2011   8:14:47 AM
  • RKK123
    I have never been gym-o-phobic, but I have some friends who are. I always tell them that people at the gyms are more than likely not paying any attention. Even if they are, they are probably cheering you on! - 2/12/2011   8:57:50 PM
  • 57
    Joined a gym with two others who soon quit. I kept going for some time and really enjoyed the water aerobics. But the $75 a month got to be out of my budget range. There is a weight room with bikes and tread mills at the school I work at. I keep planning to go (for free) but am intimidated at the thought of the football players or wrestling team showing up. Lame huh?
    - 2/12/2011   8:30:27 PM
  • 56
    I don't like going, but it is about me, so I remember that. - 2/12/2011   8:15:33 PM
  • 55
    I've been called a "Gym rat", because of the amount of time that I spend in the gym. I actually love and look forward to going. I keep a gym bag packed in my car at all times. I'm at the gym very early in the mornings on the days I'm off at night from work. Beside, I've always been an early riser and I prefer to get my workout done before 8 in the mornings. I've gone to the gym at different times, but I like the early mornings. I notice that it's too, crowdy it and the body odor is out of control. lol - 2/12/2011   7:41:34 PM
  • 54
    I don't go to a gym right now, because I can't afford it. I work out in my living room on the Wii Fit Plus. I'm hoping to join the local Y when I move in with my mother at the end of March. I feel self-conscious when working out because my face turns really red. I will feel totally fine, not over-exerted at all, but I look like a beet! The jiggling doesn't help either. - 2/12/2011   6:56:13 PM
  • 53
    I am an obese 62-year-old who has now lost 40 lbs. on Sparkpeople and the skin on my arms and legs droops like a bloodhound's. A gym full of beauty-obsessed 20-somethings is no place for me. Than doesn't mean I don't get exercise in spite of saying "yes" to 7 out of 8 of the mental barriers mentioned in the article--I can still do pushups, crunches, squats, and light weights at home, without embarrassment, and then go for a walk like all the other old coots in my neighborhood. It's working, why do I really need a gym? - 2/12/2011   5:33:14 PM
    I refuse to pay the cost only to have to wait until the equipment I wish to use is available or have to go at ridiculous times. I wear a pedometer at work (I'm a high school librarian) and get plenty of exercise shelving the books, troubleshooting the computers and helping the students. It's easy to put in at least 10,000 steps per day. - 2/12/2011   4:47:59 PM
  • 51

    When I was young I enjoyed the gym and playing badminton and swimming. But now, the Y isn't a place to have fun: it's all about competition and pushing oneself, and beautiful young bodies complaining about their imperfections and dissatisfaction with their performance. They're depressing places to be. Even when I'm staying at a hotel and the people aren't their usual competitors, its all about working hard and hurrying away. I work hard enough during the day. I want to exercise but enjoy myself too.
    I'm sticking to walking and stair climbing by myself at home and at work. That I can do in peace and harmony without people yelling and grunting and criticizing.
    - 2/12/2011   3:28:58 PM
  • 50
    When I was in between high school and college I got a gym membership so I could do my summer work out for the softball team. When I signed up they said I got a free training session. Free training? Well, I'll take that. So I went there to get the free training.

    I met the trainer, who was this huge bulking man, and he talked to me about my goals and such, and I told him how I had my summer workout to complete. Well, he continued by measuring my body composition with one of those hand held devices. When I told him that I weighed like 200 pounds he looked at me with this confused/disgusted look. Which was really welcoming!...

    After that I just wanted to leave the gym immediately. But I didn't want to seem that I was affected by this guy. He wasn't really interested in showing me how to use the machines, not that I wanted him to show me anymore, after he made me feel so bad about myself. I ended up running on the treadmill out of his sight for 30 minutes, then I left the gym and never went back again.

    Part of the problem was that it was one of those huge chain gyms and that they only care about getting your money, not actually helping you get fit. :( But I think now I'd be able to go into a gym and get my workout on. I'm gaining confidence and starting not to care what others think anymore. - 2/12/2011   3:15:54 PM
  • 49
    I am having some success. I'm down a few lbs. I am back to working out, and happy about that. - 2/12/2011   2:19:22 PM
  • BENDER98
    My problem with going to the gym stems from having heard employees comment on the lack of fitness of new members. hearing them talk so cruelly showed me that it wasn't the gym for me. - 2/12/2011   2:11:45 PM
  • 47
    I just joined the Y last month. And every time I go, which is 4-5 times a week, I have to talk myself into gettingout of the car (usually my 5 year old gets me to move faster bc she wants to play!) & when I get inside I have to talk myself into go to the class (Zumba or Gym Drills) or the weight room. I have a really hard time getting out of my own way. But once I'm moving, I'm okay. I'm the heaviest and most out of shape in both classes but I stick it out until the end and I think the super in shape people respect that. - 2/12/2011   1:05:25 PM
  • 46
    Never had an issue with going to the GYM, didn't always enjoy going depending on the gym itself. Some where very much a look and see sort of deal with poor equipment, other's great equipment but not enough of it to accommodate the number of people who belonged to the gym itself. last gym I was a member of the owner gave me 2 weeks before I left, then it was a month, then 2 months, then 3 .. then after 6 months he talked to me and found out that for all my weight I had more gym experience then many of their gym bunnies had. - 2/12/2011   12:56:01 PM
  • 45
    I think a lot of the fear and self-consciousness is caused by imaginary worries. Truth is, no one cares about what anyone else is doing at the gym. We are all there to work out. I agree, if someone truly is making judgments about you, it's THEIR problem. You can't control what others think and do, you can only control how you react to it. - 2/12/2011   12:03:36 PM
    I always felt awkward because I didn't know how to use the machines. Once I had an introductory session I felt more confident, but I only really started to love the gym after joining a women's gym. I don't have a problem working out with men in my karate club, but somehow in the gym it makes for a very different atmosphere to have women only. It seems everybody is more serious about their workout and not trying to impress anybody else. - 2/12/2011   11:22:02 AM
  • 43
    i've NEVER had a problem but my boyfriend is DEATHLY opposed. but you know what--in the 20 or so years that i've had a gym membership SOMEwhere, i have NEVER had a problem--not with infections, having something be stolen--nothing. personally, i think his fears are a little premature, especially if you take some very simple precautions. - 2/12/2011   11:19:02 AM
  • 42
    I go to the YMCA. There are all shapes, sizes, and AGES there which actually inspire me. - 2/12/2011   10:10:20 AM
  • 41
    I am one of those people that sweat the minute I start moving (even when I'm at my goal weight). I hate sweating so much in front of other people. Also - I usually work out at home unless I'm traveling, so I don't always know how things work everywhere.
    - 2/12/2011   9:55:17 AM
  • 40
    I don't LIKE gyms, but I'm not afraid of them. The one place I would hate is the locker room, but I've never been in a situation where I had to use one regularly. - 2/12/2011   9:43:38 AM
    Here in NY I got so turned off to gyms. I just dislike waiting for equipment and the people their using it as a pick up joint and the bodybuilders grunting loudly as they lift weights, I workout at home or at a dance studio.
    I know this isn't the case everywhere but that's how come I stay far away from them. You are right I am scared of them now LOL - 2/12/2011   9:34:14 AM
    I had purchased a one year membership that also came with 4 "personal" training sessions. The kid that was the "trainer" was trying to get me to do things that I was just not able to do on my first few visits. On the 3rd session, when I went in, I overheard him saying to another trainer "wish I could dump this fat one, she will be fat forever because she won't do anything I tell her to do". I never went back and never will....... - 2/12/2011   9:31:27 AM
  • 37
    We are blessed to have fitness center in our apartment complex. - 2/12/2011   8:52:00 AM
  • 36
    I love the gym, but absolutely hate classes. I can never follow the instructions and get frustrated. Fortunately I LOVE free weights and cardio and have a wonderful trainer - 2/12/2011   8:40:38 AM
  • 35
    No, never have. I figure that everyone is there for a reason and had to start somewhere. I like to watch people as they grow in their goals and workouts and see the changes they are making with their body and goals. It's amazing to see how people change.
    When I lost 70 pounds and have kept it off for now over 9 years. I wear different clothes, shorter dresses, cut my hair short and wear things that show up my body-to a point. I wear a two piece and etc.
    I like watching faces on people of their excitedness of their accomplishments. - 2/12/2011   8:14:00 AM
    I first joined Curves back in 2004 when I was 40 lbs into an 80 lb weight loss. I felt less self conscious at a place where only women worked out. 20 pounds later I joined a "real" gym and started taking group classes and I discovered the athlete inside in me. Now the gym is my favorite place to be. - 2/12/2011   7:44:51 AM
  • 33
    I've been overweight most of my life, but I've always been pretty athletic, so it has never been an issue for me to go to the gym. When I used to do classes, though, I would always stay in the back, especially if I was just getting back to a period of going when I wasn't as flexible.. Now, my biggest obstacle to going to the gym is time, time, time, so I work out at home mostly.. - 2/12/2011   7:34:28 AM
  • 32
    I'm not gym-o-phobic in that I have no fears about people seeing me fat or looking at me in workout clothes or any such fears.

    But I absolutely *hate* working out in the gym. Hate it! It's a miserable ordeal to exercise that way. I've wasted so much money getting a gym membership (and I was required to buy a whole year) and then quitting after a couple of months because I can't stand it any more. This has happened several times, and now I simply refuse to join a gym. (Don't like Curves either.) - 2/12/2011   7:33:56 AM
  • 31
    My husband and I joined a gym 4 months ago and we both love it. - 2/12/2011   7:16:25 AM
  • 30
    i used to be so self-conscious you wouldn't even believe it. i was one of those people afraid to walk around my neighborhood because i thought people would just stare at me. that was 150lbs ago.

    what made me change? one very good friend i met here on sparkpeople. she was heavier than me and constantly wrote about going to the gym, her trainer and loving every minute of it. we talked and talked and i finally got up the nerve. at first i would not go alone... hubby had to come with me. i would sit in the parking lot and wait for him if i got there first. we had to go at the slowest time so the fewest people were there. a week after that --- i was daring to go on my own as long as i knew hubby was coming. a week later i didn't give a darn who was there or if they stared at me. .

    i was there for me and no one was going to change that.

    it made me feel sooo darn awesome and in control.

    i love the gym!! - 2/12/2011   6:10:33 AM
  • 29
    Nicole, thanks for sharing this, now I realize why I never have been afraid of the gym. I was an overweight/obese child, yet I did ballet and karate, and then my senior year of high school (still obese) took Weight Training as a class. It was one of the best things I ever did!!!!!!! I don't know how else I'd know how to use all that complicated equipment, and yet it is so fun to use when you know how to use it. I think all gyms should come with an hour introduction to the equipment, because it is SO SO SO useful to branch your strength out to using it!!! PS. there are some typos errors in your blog post, might want to look it over once more! - 2/12/2011   4:18:45 AM
  • 28
    I use to hate going to the gym. I felt like I was so gross that everyone must be noticing it. But today I love the gym. It's sometimes a real challenge forcing myself out the door, but once I get there, I really enjoy it. I don't think about how I look or who's looking.

    I guess there are some positive things about getting older and wiser. - 2/12/2011   12:24:09 AM
  • 27
    I prefer to go to group exercise classes at the gym. To me, the atmosphere is friendlier and less judgmental. Once when I was in the free weight area, a woman came up to me claiming to be a trainer, and started criticizing everything she'd been watching me do - claiming I was just wasting my time. Her attack attitude just put me down, and now I only do weights at home - away from the snoopy trainers, and where I don't need to feel awkward about being the only woman using weights. - 2/11/2011   11:19:29 PM

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