Never Fear Another Workout, No Matter How Fit (or Fat) You Are

By , SparkPeople Blogger

I think as a society we’ve done ourselves a disservice with this customer-friendly question: How are you today? 

Recently I was going through a drive thru picking up something for my son when the young girl opened the window, smiled, and asked me how I was. 

Really?  I don’t know you and you’ve got 30 seconds to give me the food and send me on my way.  Am I really going to tell you how I am?  So I gave her the standard “fine, thank you” answer, even though that wasn’t really the truth that day.

What would have happened the first time I met my personal trainer two years ago if I had answered that question honestly?  It would have gone something like this:
  • Hi, I’m Mitchell.  How are you today?
  • Hi Mitchell.  I’m Michelene and I’m nervous, scared, embarrassed and angry!  I’m freaking out about stepping on the scale in front of you.  I think I may throw up!  I’m afraid that I won’t do the exercises right and you’ll judge me.  You’re probably judging me already because I need to lose 50 pounds.  Is everyone staring at me?  I feel like they are staring.  I don’t know if I even belong here.  Can I close my eyes while you measure my thighs? 
Can you imagine his response to that?  I could go on, but I think you get my drift.  Do you relate to having any of those feelings about being in the gym?

Part of my mission as a blogger here on the dailySpark is to share what's it feels like to maintain a large weight loss.  One of the reasons I feel like I am successful at maintaining is because exercise has been a routine part of my life the last three years.  Is it part of yours?

The first time I stepped foot in my local gym three years ago, I was honestly hoping that no one would notice me.  That’s kind of hard since I’m just shy of six feet tall, but mentally I was trying to be invisible.  Uncomfortable with my weight, my clothes, my appearance, and overwhelmed with anxiety, embarrassment and frustration, it was hard to even go.  For a year I avoided classes that might showcase my physical inabilities due to weight.  After I lost half of my weight my husband bought me a gift certificate for sessions with a personal trainer.  Mitchell, or Mr. Squat Police as I fondly call him, has now put up with me for two years.  He’s helped me through the other half of my weight loss, the recovery after shoulder surgery, and training for my first half marathon.  It was a very happy day when he put my picture and story up on his wall of success.  I’ve threatened to buy him a shirt that says “stop complaining, you pay me to do this!” and to write a blog called "Stupid Pet Tricks" (also known as things my trainer makes me do)!  He just laughs and gives me another variation of the squat!  After all the harassment I give him, I do want to publicly say: Thanks, Mitchell, for all you do!

What I wish for you is that you could skip over the "embarrassed to be at the gym" part and go right to enjoying all the options available to you there.  When I finally got the nerve to try Zumba, I was thoroughly encouraged by another woman in my class.  She was at the beginning of her weight-loss journey and she was not intimidated at all by the petite women with cute sporty outfits. She danced her heart out, and sang out loud even though the song was in Spanish and she didn’t know the words.  She got her sweat on and had a blast doing it.  When things got too challenging for her in the class, she just made up her own moves and kept right on grooving.  I think we should all copy that behavior and love working out no matter what stage of the healthy lifestyle journey we are on.

So where are you with your exercise program?  If working out in front of others is a challenge for you right now, try some of Coach Nicole’s workout videos or her new DVD.  You can do those in the comfort of your own home.  Consider joining Chris "SparkGuy" Downie's 10-Minute Fitness Club and get a streak going. It only takes 10 minutes a day! Give yourself grace to make mistakes, sweat a lot, get out of breath, look weird with gym hair, and realize that most people are so busy with their workout and their music that they aren’t even aware you are there.

Do you avoid the gym or participating in classes due to your weight?  Are you worried about doing it right and therefore don’t even try?  What step will you take now after reading this blog to help you move on from your fear?

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It is amusing that SP articles are all geared to gyms, like everyone has access to lots of choices for gyms locally. In rural life that is simply not true, any gym access is an hour away one way from me.
RCLYKE 5/22/2020
This is great Report
I do want to join a gym but I am not confident that I will get my monies worth. Its a time thing and confidence thing of not knowing what to do there. Report
I simply can't afford a gym, money-wise and with my schedule.
Schedule may lighten in the future.
When I had been able to make it to a gym, at weights of up to the mid 210s and as low as the low 130s, I'd never felt self conscious about my body. That was THEIR problem if they did not like. Although, occasionally, I had gotten kudos for my effort.

Now, however, my speed at working out on cardio equipment, and my choice of resistances (given my large body mass) with weight training. I had no interest in group fitness classes, because it was circuit weight training for me! So, my so-called "energy" I brought to the workout had drawn unsolicited comments, both good and bad, both to me and behind my back within earshot. During my salad days, I had not been frequently to a gym at all (the ones I could afford, were packed like sardine cans at all nearly hours of the day and evening, so I chose to work out at home!). As someone who was over 40 years old during many of my regular, frequent gym-going days ... my lack of energy smarts sometimes.

I understand there is only one chain that caters (but does not discriminate in favor of) those midlife and beyond and I don't live near it .... Report
So I have lost 50 lbs, and still have about another 75 to go. I did finally join the gym, but am extremely uncomfortable when it is crowded, and I HAVE noticed people looking at me. I thought Zumba would be good, but was very nervous about not being able to "do it right", so I went to watch a few different ones first. Not going to happen. I did not see a single person there anywhere close to where I am, so I am looking into a Zumba DVD to do at home. Report
Great Blog. I have a bad tendency to always worry what others may think. As a result, it impedes me from going to the gym at times even though I paid for a years worth of membership. This article was refreshing. Thank you. Report
I could care less what people think and maybe that's what happens when you turn 50. I pay money to go to my gym and I have as much right as anyone else. I too got the encouraging pep talk from a woman in the locker room commending me for having the courage to come. She is a little younger than me but clearly has her own issues because the poor thing has to work out in full make up and earrings.

I will need a little more time before I go to the pool but hey thats another day. Report
Great Blog! I have not stepped foot int he gym for those very reasons. Many years ago when I wasn't overweight and went to a gym which was female only, it was like a club for skinny (rail skinny) women who just stared at those different from them. I've never been back. I prefer being at home with my workout DVD's and I've come a long way with those, and love them. I finally bought Zumba too, but gave up on it because I couldn't get my body to move exactly the right way. One day I read an article about the calorie burn using Zumba, and the bottom line was, even if you aren't doing the exact steps, just moving to the beat of the music is a great calorie burn. Now I'll use it for fun exercise, something different. I love the music, and it feels good to move differently. Kudos to that woman you mentioned above! Report
I've tried YMCA and I am currently a member of Curves. I enjoy this much better than the YMCA. At Curves everyone is workingout to improve their health as well as losing weight. Report
What a great blog. I tried twice before to go to gyms to work out (and I was much smaller than I am now) and at both gyms I was stared at the entire time I was there. I quit both and didn't even try to set foot in one until after I had had cancer. Then a friend was going through some locations over the phone with me of the city recreation centers with indoor pools, since I wanted to do water exercise/swimming to start with, and I joined there. The people at the rec centers were all friendly and not judgemental. Some very slender people even came up and introduced themselves and looking forward to seeing me and working out with me.

They now have Zumba in the three centers closest to me, so I started going to that a few weeks ago. I really enjoy that, even though I can't keep up or do the steps right. And for anyone worried about not being accepted because of weight, 2 of the 3 instructors aren't all that slender, but they are having fun and leading us in having fun. Report
I love the blog. I am one of those people who go to the gym and my main focus is getting the best workout for myself each and every time I go. I'm trying to get my daughter to go more often, but she is extremely self conscience about being in the gym. She absolutely hate it with a passion. The last time we went together she was about to burst out in tears, because she didn't want to be there at all. I had talk to her, but she want to leave. I told her she has every right to be in the gym like everybody else. Well, I'm finding other options to help her to get her exercise in during the week. I refuse to give up on my daughter. Report
Fantastic blog...and no, there is no reason to fear those workouts! Report
I also belong to Planet Fitness and like their non-judgmental attitude. Unfortunately, not all fitness centers are like that. I'm glad to see all kinds of people working out. At times I feel self-conscious, but I know that at least I'm doing something which will pay off in the end. Report
Great blog and very encouraging! I sometimes feel self conscious at my Zumba class but I just block that out and keep on with the work out! Report
Planet Fitness is a judgement-free gym and they make a point of letting everyone know when they first walk in the door. There aren't very many "pencil people" - just average folks who are each on their own journey to fitness. It is the most comfortable gym I've ever gone to! Report
I was always too embarrassed at my gym to do anything but use the treadmill. I was afraid of all those machines and was too scared to ask someone to show me how to use them. When the treadmill got too boring I quit going to the gym and eventually cancelled my membership. Using SparkPeople's workout generator I've been able to lose weight without the gym. Some dumbells, resistance band, stability ball, and a medicine ball are all I need. It's also a lot cheaper, though I don't have any of the cool classes. I wish more people could be like the woman in your Zumba class - myself included...I'm too scared to try that too. Report
This had me in tears. I live in a small town where most of the people I went to school with have stuck around. The other people at the gym would be the same creeps who called me Oompa-loompa when I was a 176-pound 7th grader and the same ones who harassed me in the lunch line when I was a 225-pound sophomore and the same ones who thought I would be so relieved when they found another fat girl to pick on that they expected me to join in the name-calling. The only way I am ever going into a gym in this town is as a fit forty-something who can make them envious of all the weight I dropped while they are struggling to keep from piling on the pounds as they approach middle age. I know people grow up and change, but some wounds cut too deep to ever stop hurting completely. I think it would be a lot easier to do in a place where no one is likely to know me, but driving an hour to the gym and back sort of defeats the purpose of going, doesn't it? Report
Thank you for this blog!!! I still have about 40 pounds to lose and there are definitely days when I feel like I don't belong at the gym. Thanks for the motivation :-) Report
I go to the gym regularly. I am fairly thin and am not nervous about others seeing me. Let me just say that when I see heavier people at the gym, I think "yay for you, you are doing it!!". Yesterday I saw a pretty heavy girl RUNNING on the treadmill and I wanted to applaud. Report
You have just given a lot of people the courage to get moving @ the gym! Wahoo. Way to go. Wishing you success on your journey. Report
One of the advantages of being older is that I am no longer worried about looking like those buff 25 year olds at the gym. I know they are not looking at me, and if anybody ever did make a comment, my response would be "Hey, I'm here!" But when I look around the gym, I see other seriously overweight people, many gray heads, and even people who need help with cane or walker to get from one machine to the next. I love aqua Zumba, and most of the women in my class are morbidly obese, but they are moving! I recently started Spinning, and the leader always reminds us that if we can't keep up with her, to do what is comfortable, but keep those legs pumping! I am finding as I get more practice, I can keep up more. I will never be one of those buff young bodies (not happening at 65), but I am the best I can be now with my asthmatic, arthritic body!!!! Report
Wow this blog really hit home for me! Thanks for sharing your experience as I have been in the same place. All of those fears ran through my brain until one day a friend of mine said lets try Zumba. That was well over a year ago and I am still going to Zumba 4 times a week - I finally found an exercise program that I LOVE. Today, I am like the girl you refer to in your Zumba class...I am there to workout even if I have to modify my moves. As long as I am moving...that's all that matters. Once you find the exercise program that you thoroughly enjoy - then I think you have a better chance of sticking to it! Report
I think we miss out on so much, just because we're embarrassed. One of the best things Spark has given me is freedom from that. I'm not out there, judging what other people look like when they workout or play. Chances are, nobody else is judging me either. This is life, not junior high. I think most people respect the effort and enjoy watching people try their hardest. It's inspiring, no matter what your level of fitness. Plus, most people are concentrating on what they're doing and not paying that much attention to anybody else anyway. Life moves too quickly to be hiding in the shadows. Great blog, thanks for sharing!! Report
I have never done group exercise of any kind since sophomore year of high school. And I can't see it coming any time soon. The closest thing is when I take a walk with my sisters and our mom on Sunday afternoons after our family lunch. But we are all on the same page. High school degradation was enough for a life time.

My granddaugher (3 yrs old) does my exercise videos with me though. I won't even exercise were the people who live in my house can see me except for her. Report
Love the blog!! I don't go to a gym because of a) time, b) money, but have still felt the intimidation of being less dressed and watching the flab bounce in front of my husband. Now that I have lost most of my weight, he still stays out most of the time while I am working out. It actually kept me from exercising for quite a while (3 years at least). I am back to being consistent with the exercise, but generally I am working out while he is asleep (4:30-5:30 am). Silly, I's not like he doesn't see me's the jiggling that embarrasses me, and I still have plenty of jiggle when I move! Report
I have had a couple of bad experiences at gyms with people not only staring but coming up to me and commenting that for a "big person - you can really move". I think they were trying to be encouraging, but it had the opposite effect on me. As a result, I quit going. Now I am walking 3 miles a day and when I hit 150, I will go back and hit the gym. Report
awesome blog!

that was me about a year and a half ago! and 200lbs ago!

it took me, like, 1 week of not being able to go to the gym myself - hubby had to go at the same exact time as me or i would not walk in myself. after the first week i just didn't care anymore. no one bothered me, i went in - did my thing and left. but it is addicting. if i do not go to the gym... i feel terrible and sad. this is one habit i am never going to quit.

Awesome Blog. I have never been to a gym, excerise class and anything else along these lines. Im new to all of this. So I have a lot to learn. This is an extreme embearassment for me. I want to go hide somewhere and not be seen anywhere. Sorry about this. God Bless You and Have a Wonderful Week. Report
This reminded me of how far I've come.

It was a big deal just to go to walking outdoors when I first started. I'd go after dark around the block with my neighbor so I wouldn't have to feel like people were looking at me.

Now I go into athletic stores at the mall and try on their fitness clothes on the sale rack, and even sometimes wander back out on the floor to get more of them while wearing the stuff I'm trying on.

And I buy those cute hot pink outfits with the matching clingy pants, looking forward to wearing them at the gym. As a reward for getting to this point and staying here.

And now I'm just fine with people staring. Because I've worked d*mn hard to get to this point, and if they enjoy looking at the results, that's just fine. LOL

Good lord, I've turned into one of those gym bunnies everyone hates! hahahaha Report
Loved the blog and the attitude it brings! I enjoy working out at home but I also love running with my family (even though my adult children all lap me!) and being out in the community with communal fitness. Report
Great blog Mich!

I did skip the part about going to the gym, I've never set foot in a gym, D'OH. :-) Report
Oh wow. This post actually almost brought tears to my eyes. I'm a 21 year old college student and I use the gym on campus. You can just imagine who fills it. Teeny tiny girls that are wearing bright pink sports bras, flat abs, and matching shorts. It's very intimidating a lot of the time. As well as the guys there, who all look like the gym is their second home. I sometimes wonder if they see me and think "Thank God she is in the gym because she obviously needs it" as college students are extremely judgemental. Though, I try to use all of this to power me to run a bit fast for a bit longer. It is like I'm running toward my idealistic body shape. If it is possible for these girls, why not me? So I keep at it even though it can get pretty scary sometimes. Report
I don't have a problem with working out at a gym thanks to my military experience. My mind is more concerned with getting the exercise right and not injuring myself than if others notice me. One lady commented that I seem to be in a different zone. I told her that was the best way I know to work-out. This zone makes me ignore everyone around me especially those doing the same exercise faster or with more weights. I actually enjoy going to a gym with lots of people working out rather than doing an exercise video at home by myself. Report
After losing 45 pounds, I still feel extremely self conscious going to the gym. I'm in college so the people going to the gyms here aren't overweight, they're all extremely skinny, fit, and pretty. I can't stand it but I just have to do it. I work out 5 days a week at home right now and sometimes I run around my apartment complex a few times. But, I can't talk myself into joining a gym even though I want to partly because i'm cheap, but mostly because I don't have the confidence. I feel like a wreck. Report
I don't mind classes. I just tried zumba for the first time after a year at the gym 2 weeks ago. I wasn't afraid, it always looked like fun, but I finally got tired of 'regular' cardio machines. It's a nice change. Report
Another great blog -- I totally relate to all the thoughts in your head when you met Mitchell for the first time!

Great job!! Report
I prefer to workout by myself, but I don't have a problem if someone comes in while I'm there... We have a gym at the office, so I pick a time when it is generally empty... Report
I just started a ZUMBA class with my girlfriend the end of January & LOVE IT!!! I am soo addicted..& of course we are NOT the petite ones in the cutey attire...but we are moving to our own groove if we can't do the instructors moves & gettting a GREAT workout. I even bought the DVD's to do at home on the days there is no class!!! Report
when I started going to the gym at first I was afraid falling of the tread mill as the belt went flying around the answer the trainer use the elliptical it took me a week to learn how to use the machines ¬ feeling self conscious. Unlike the blog where many people said they worried that others thought of them. the big thing that bothered me was all the mirrors around the gym where you could see you self and how fat you are . since I have the genetic condition known as Neurofibromatious where small tumors from on the body and I have several on my face so you can’t hide them with clothing or make up I learned growing up feeling if you don’t like how I look don’t look at me.

I dislike working out in front of others so much I don't even like doing dvds at home where my DH can see me! Even the mirror reflections are too much! Thanks for giving me courage to look kindly on myself Report
Wow... sounds pretty familiar. I am beginning my journey of weight loss. Total newbie here. I'm pretty freaked out about joining a gym for various reasons, including the fact that I weigh the most I've ever weighed in my LIFE. It's hard to be gentle with myself when I know I am the one that got myself here. Thanks for your bit of inspiration. For now, until I can get the courage, I'm just going to be walking... Report
Your blog is amazing and inspirational. I am new to my community gym almost 2 months now and pretty much force myself to go in there everyday. But I am going and it is getting easier. I have a long way to go to reach my goal but I am taking it 10 lbs at a time. Thank you for your inspiraton. Report
I had a gym membership but ended it because all they had was equipment and no classes, plus the cost was too expensive. I then decided to check out my local Y and was able to get a membership for less then what I paid for my gym membership and I can actually swim, and do aerobic classes too.

The first time I tried a class I was scared of how I would do and what people around me were thinking. I then realized that not everyone started out looking like they do now.

I tried Zumba last month for the first time and I loved it. I didn't even care how good or bad I did because I just loved the music. I have alway been a fan of Latin music and now I realize that I could have been dancing to all of that music in my own house. I will take the class again when I can fit it into my schedule but since I can't I recently bought Zumba Fitness for my Wii. I tried it last night and loved it.

Now tonight when I go to my Volleyball game it will be interesting to see what everyone answers when you ask how are they. I will be thinking about this article that is for sure. Report
I have been invited to sometime join a few people at a class at a gym. I have never in my life worked out in a gym or in front of others. I know I'll have a mix of excitement and nerves, not because I am worried about what others will think of me, but because it will be new territory.

As somebody who works out at home, my husband sees me all the time puffing with sweat everywhere, but it doesn't bother me one bit. I am doing something good for myself and that is what matters.

I work out at home so I don't go to the gym. When I did, before I lost the weight, I had the exact same anxiety, the exact same voice in my head. Now, if I go, I push aside that voice and simply work out. I've decided that we are all at the gym for the same reason, it's to work on our own body not other people's. I do still avoid classes because I'm horribly uncoordinated. It's better for me to learn moves at my own pace in the privacy of my basement. Report
There I was, in a big commercial fitness center, which happened to be located in the building I was living in. I was fortunate enough to have met a personal trainer, who agreed to help me work out - after the gym officially closed to the public and was only open to people who lived in the building, as both he and I did. And there I was, in a long sweater, with a long, flowy sweater over it - so no one could see my arms, belly, hips, ummm - fat. The girls there were all already buff. All of them. Guys, too. I was/am very limber - I could DO all the exercises, but there was NO WAY I was going to let people see what was moving around in those sweaters. Fast forward to now, six months later: the excess weight is gone. Actually GONE. I like how I look in clothes again. I am still working feverishly to achieve the toned look that remains elusive - you know, tight skin over musculature. The arms are not ready for showing. (What will I do at pool time, again?) The thighs are thin, but not ready for showing. No more belly fat, nothing behind the beltway. TONING is my daily challenge now - and I will not give up, ever. How do you get back to loving the skin that you're in - when there is more of it than you really need? Report
The funny thing is that I joined spark yesterday and my introduction was "What if you told the truth when asked how you were?" I related to this as I am currently in an insecure place right now and attempting to fight my way out. I have a gym in my basement and sometimes think that it would be motivating to attend a gym where you may feel some accountability to others in a class. Food for thought. Report
My gym does not offer classes and I am to chicken to go find one by myself!

When I started my weight loss journey I walked the neighborhood and was worried about what people thought that were driving by. I got over it until I started running. When I joined the gym I worked out in the "Womens Only" room but when my hubby got me a trainer for christmas and he started kicking my butt I didn't have time to worry about people looking at me. After a year with him they fired him so I am adjusting to a new trainer now. He tortures me with circuit training so I do it up stairs out of sight of the main area so most people don't see me jumping and Report
The first time I tried Zumba I was kind of embarrassed--I wasn't used to dancing, and I'm pretty sure I was the biggest person in there that class. But it was so much fun, it was totally worth it! On any given night there will be people who weigh more or less than me, are older or younger than me, who can do the steps better or worse than me. But we're all just there having fun. :) Report