How to Get Over Feeling Like Everyone Is Watching You Work Out

For most people, going out in public is second nature. Picking up a prescription? No problem. Meeting the grandkids out for lunch? Just another Sunday. Yet, with physical activity, it's often a different story. Exercising in public—whether it's at the gym, a local park or just running around the neighborhood—can be a mental and emotional workout, especially when you're convinced that all eyes are on you.

Working out is a personal thing, after all. It involves your body, health and overall well-being. And when it's out there on the table (or the mat) for everyone to see, it's easy to feel exposed.

One might argue that you can always work out at home—it's accessible and comfortable, so why not?  For some, this might not be the best bet. Maybe you don't have enough space or already spend so much time at home. Maybe you have a house full of countless distractions. Meanwhile, the great outdoors offer fresh air and space. Gyms and studios have in-person guidance, high-end equipment and social connections. Basically, working out in public expands the possibilities.

Unfortunately, worrying about people watching you stands in the way of you and these resources. It's one big roadblock. When you're focused on the eyes of others, you can't focus on your body and its potential.

Why Do You Think Everyone Is Watching?  

Before you answer, "Because I can feel it!", hold that thought. Be honest with yourself: Have you actually caught every person staring, or has your imagination decided they must be?

Reality check: There is probably a reason why you feel like people are watching. According to Mackenzie Gelina, a yoga instructor in upstate New York, and Kristin Marzullo, an ACE-certified personal trainer in New York, fear is likely to blame.
Perhaps it's the fear of feeling clueless or the fear of being weak. It could be the fear of what people are thinking. Sometimes, it's all of the above.

Let's tackle the first point. Feeling inexperienced is intimidating, whether you're at the gym or hitting the pavement. The same goes for entering a Pilates class for the first time ever. However, everything in life starts at square one, so why is feeling like a newbie so taboo?

Gelina sums it in one word: Society. "Our culture places expertise on a pedestal," she points out. And while experience is certainly a source of pride, inexperience is shunned, making it difficult to embrace your newbie status.
There's also the fear of being weak. Like experience, strength is respected—especially in the fitness realm. Isn't that what we're all working toward, after all?

When asked why they think people are watching, many SparkPeople members voiced fears of other people's judgments. Are they looking at my form? My inability? My body, my strength, the fact that I'm sweating buckets? Man, I probably look awkward.

If any of these feelings sound familiar, take a step back. Take the time to recognize the reasons behind your thoughts. It's the first step to getting rid of them, once and for all. 

How to Get Over the Feeling Like Everyone is Watching   

1. De-Stress

Does the thought of publicly working out increase your heart rate before you even start your warmup? Consider de-stressing beforehand.

Marzullo encourages breathing exercises to calm your nerves "[Try] crocodile breathing, a technique where you lay on the floor and utilize diaphragmatic breathing," she suggests. "Meditation tactics like this have been proven to reduce anxiety and increase overall happiness."

The concept of de-stressing before a de-stressing activity may seem ironic, but when you take time to check in with yourself before hitting the gym, you might realize that it isn't as nerve-wracking as you think.  

2. Educate Yourself

Live in fear of feeling clueless? You can kick it to the curb by simply doing some research.

The internet is, as we all know, a powerful tool, and it can help answer any question you may have about performing different moves or what to expect in a workout class. If you're a visual learner, visit YouTube for step-by-step video demonstrations. Utilize Google to search for information about proper form and basic equipment. Looking for first-hand experience? Click on over to the SparkPeople message boards and ask fellow members what to expect.

Don't hesitate to talk to trainers and teachers, too. Many gyms have personal trainers on staff who are available to help you learn how to use machines or answer questions about the weight room. If you're someone who prefers a group fitness class setting, show up early to a scheduled class to ask the instructor any questions you might have before anyone else arrives. Don't hold anything back, and express your concerns or health conditions. A trainer that's worth working with will be happy to talk it through.

3. Try Modifications

Modifications are a game changer. They can target everything from fitness level to injuries, helping you to overcome the fear that you're incapable. Gelina encourages yoga students to use props, for example, even if they aren't beginners. A simple brick can instantly turn an uncomfortable move into something that feels good. "Take it slow and listen to what your body is saying," she advises, whether you're walking for the first time ever or branching out with a new strength-training move. From there, react by modifying accordingly.

During class, instructors often suggest modifications along the way. And if they don't? Ask! Again, this is another reason to communicate with your instructor beforehand. This will get your concerns on his or her radar and other people's judgments off yours.

4. View Yourself as a Work in Progress

While feeling inexperienced is uncomfortable, how you look at that inexperience matters more. Instead of seeing it as a spectacle for the public eye, view it as a sign of growth. You're challenging your body to something new and that's awesome.

When it comes to teaching yoga, Gelina is all about this concept. "I remind students that this is their practice and no one else's. Your body is not 'wrong' or 'right' for the way it moves. It'll improve in its own way."

Marzullo echoes a similar thought: "Everyone feels the pressure to perform perfectly in the gym, but you have to keep pushing in order [to get better]," she says. "Even as a trainer, I have days where my workouts feel weak."
Every single one of us is a work in progress, regardless of body type or strength.
5. Do What You Like

Staying fit isn't all about running laps and pumping iron. The realm of exercise stretches far and wide, so why limit yourself? By finding an activity that you love, the dread of people watching will take a backseat.  

SparkPeople member GRAMMACATHY is all about this tactic. "[I choose] to do fun activities," she shares. "I've found that I prefer adventures [over] routine workouts in the gym." Her adventures of choice? Hiking with the dog, taking yoga classes or swimming with a friend at the pool. By doing things that bring her joy, she concerns herself only with herself.
Never forget that you always have options. As GRAMMACATHY recommends, "If the gym is not working and makes you uncomfortable, seek out other activities."

6. Bring a Buddy

From shopping to brunch, friends make everything better. Exercise is no different. In fact, Gelina thinks this is the best way to shake the feeling that everyone is watching. With a good friend by your side, it'll be hard to care if that person across the room is judging your squat.

An experienced workout buddy can also double as inspiration. As SparkPeople member ESARINAS explains, "Having a workout buddy can boost your self-esteem. It's nice to know another person who knows the ropes and can teach you exercises that you've always wanted to learn."

Above all, you can support each other, whether or not you're at the same fitness level. Exercising together gives you a chance to bond over a challenging experience, and isn't that what friends are for?

7. Find a Mentor

If you're overwhelmed by cluelessness, find a mentor that you trust. He or she can guide you every step of the way, helping you forget about everyone's eyeballs and focus instead on learning about and embracing your new lifestyle.

Even if you're on the experienced side, don't shun the idea of a mentor. There's always space for improvement. Waving your ego goodbye will make room for more learning, growth and progress, and you might be surprised by what you learn from another person's journey to get fit.  

Discovering the right person takes time, so it is important to be patient and keep your eyes open for opportunities to grow. Until then, think about what the type of mentor you want. "[Find] what you want out of your program first, and then [find] an instructor to match you in the best way," SparkPeople member TWEETYKC00 suggests. Keep this in the back of your head, because you never know who you'll meet.

8. Give Yourself a Reality Check
Most of us are in our own little worlds. Does anyone really have the time to pay attention to other people's workouts? Do you? Probably not. 
"From what I've noticed working in a gym, no one is actually paying attention to you because they're too worried about making sure they don't look silly," explains Marzullo.
SparkPeople member PIXIEDUST22 adds, "People are focused on themselves. Everyone is paying far less attention to you than you think. Plus, people at the gym are generally friendly because we all have our endorphins going."
And if they are staring? "[You might just be] showing bad gym etiquette, like sweating on machines and mats you don't wipe down!" says PIXIEDUST22.
Otherwise, Marzullo pegs this as a sign of admiration. "It usually means you're doing something they want to do. Feel flattered and rock your workout with confidence. They might actually come up and ask you for advice."
It isn't easy to shake the feeling that all eyes are on you. It takes time, patience and persistence. Yet, facing discomfort is the only way to move forward.  
The more you worry about other people, the more your progress stalls. Exercise is about connecting with your body and no one else's. As Marzullo puts it, "You can't listen to what it's saying if you're concerned with what others are thinking." 
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Member Comments

Not sure if I've posted this before. I got a kickboxing Groupon to try it out, and thought i'd be the oldest, largest, shortest, most uncoordinated. A) I was none of the above - at least not that bad and B) everyone is so focused on their form/workout that they could care less. And sometimes I am the oldest :). Report
LABGIRL8, you are showing your age bias with your comment. Why should it matter what ages people are when they talk together? Why assume an "older man" is possibly hitting on the "young girl"? Maybe they know each other. Would you have assumed the same thought if it had been an "older woman" talking to a "younger boy" to use your language example? Why notice that? Most of us go to a gym to exercise and not make judgments. Guess you don't. Report
If I'm looking at you at the gym, (and I probably am because it gets boring on the elliptical) I'm probably thinking "Gee, that's cute workout outfit. I wonder where she got it?" or "You go, Girl!" or even "Wow! He's cute. Darn, he's talking to that young girl who wishes that old guy would leave her alone." Report
Thanks for sharing! Report
Thanks Report
No one really cares what you are doing. Report
I guess one blessing of being blind is that I don't notice what others are looking at! I've been told many do look at me by someone who thinks everyone is always looking at her and a perfectionist! I don't care if people are looking at me and I know I am not perfect when it comes to working out! I hope that if people are staring it is because I inspire them to reach beyond their imagined limits and just work out! I ask for help and I ask questions. Am I sweating too much? what does that even mean? I hope I am sweating!! I also feel people are too worried about how they look to worry about how I look! and, if they are staring in some mean spirited way, well that is their problem, not mine, right? Report
This article is the reason that I don't go as much as I should. Honestly, I am embarrassed at how I have gained weight coming from being at 17 percent body fat. It gives me anxiety going to the gym. I have injuries that I have to also watch out for. I have gone from being in great shape knowing it may take me a year to lose it. I am paying for two memberships and not working right now and, I am so vain and I know this song is about me. Now I am gonna suck it up and just go. I will say that I dislike all of the older men of men gawking . Please don't judge me...these are thoughts in my head. Now online. My letter to the abuser who turns out to be me. Report
“Easier said than done.” Report
Great points here, but to be fair, if you have a history of being the victim of extreme bullying it is difficult. No secret That today people can be very cruel. (Model- mathers public shaming of unsuspecting woman...). But we just have to rise above it. Report
"Generally" speaking, although many people may look at you in the gym, most people (at least those above age 30) are thinking "at least he/ she is making an effort". If you have a choice of gyms in your area, go to the gyms and assess if the crowd includes less fit and/or older people. Also, look at the class schedule--a fitness center that includes classes like "Gentle Yoga", or "Seniorcize" classes indicate that they are responding to more than the young and perfectly fit. When you are working out with equipment that you are not used to and suddenly you notice more people than normal looking at you, consider that perhaps you are not using the equipment correctly and ask one of the employees for a refresher on how to use. Many gym members don't want to tell someone that they are using equipment incorrectly because that is sometimes met with an angry response by the person using the equipment, but yet watch because they might notify gym personnel if you really are going to hurt yourself.

So, yes, people are going to look at you--it is just human nature. But, not all looks are condemning looks. Let's face it -- you are looking at people too (otherwise you wouldn't notice people looking at you), so it goes both ways. Report
To me it was never a hindrance to my progress. I am a senior citizen and ex-LEO. I had been in all kind of hostile situation and environment so nothing bothered me. I went to the gym for one purpose only. So I put in my custom ear plug and masking tape on top to tune out everything, breath and let my blood flowed to the muscles working. My wife said I looked awful with my tape covering my ears and my face contorted but I told her it didn't matter as long as I continued to progress and improved. It was the people who hulk up a bench or machine with water bottle and talking in the phone that others didn't like and stared at all the time. Report
Interesting thoughts! But realistically, some of us really do have reason to not feel comfortable walking or jogging in public, going to any gym where many people are preening at themselves in the mirrors or eyeing each other’s fancy gym wear . Especially if a person is really overweight. That really is our society, and that is just the way life is. Pooh poohing it and telling us to ignore it doesn’t help. Report
Truth is, each indifvidual is more concerned w/themselves then anyone else! Report


About The Author

Kirsten Nunez
Kirsten Nunez
Kirsten Nunez is a health and lifestyle writer, editor and author. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition and is currently based in New York. Kirsten spends her days writing articles and dreaming up healthy recipes.
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