Whenever we do something new, say hitting the gym for the first time, there are many pressures known and unknown, evident and hidden. While for many embarking on a fitness journey is exciting, others might find it challenging and stressful.
“‘Gymtimidation’ is a common experience for those who are new to the gym setting,” says Mumbai-based clinical and sports psychologist, Kunashni Parikh. “It is a psychological experience of fear, anxiety, and self-doubt that makes you wonder whether working out in a gym is meant for you or not.”
Gymtimidation is real, say experts, and is one of the main reasons for many to drop gym routines before it gathered steam.
What triggers gymtimidation?
According to Parikh, several psychological factors contribute to gymtimidation.
• Low self-confidence: People with very negative self-perceptions typically find it challenging to start something new. Their first gym experience makes them feel more anxious and increases their chances of feeling intimidated by the other members and the unfamiliar environment.
Sometimes, people also experience a fear of judgment making mistakes, which can also increase the chances of gymtimidation.
• Comparison with others: One’s enthusiasm and motivation to engage in fitness activities might get hampered by comparing with other people rather than focusing on personal achievements.
“When you are constantly self-critical and compare yourself with others, it may result in a negative view of yourself in your head,” says Parikh.
• Body image issues: Negative perceptions, thoughts, or feelings about one’s own physical appearance fuel body image issues, which severely affects the emotional well-being of the person.
“Body image issues can make it more likely for people to compare themselves to others and dread being judged, which can make them feel intimidated at the gym,” adds Parikh.
Who is prone to gymtimidation?
Anyone can feel intimidated at the gym, regardless of age or gender. The only thing that influences it is the person’s prior gym experience.
“A teenager, a middle-aged adult, or an elderly person – people who face gymtimidation are beginners of any age group,” says Parikh.
“The incidents of intimidation in the gym are commonly observed in people who have body image concerns, who perceive themselves as either severely overweight or extremely underweight, and who often get comments about their weight or physical appearance from others,” adds Parikh.
Overachievers form the other group of individuals who are frequently intimidated at the gym.
“When you have a lot of accomplishments under your belt and are motivated by them, entering a new space may seem difficult. You might not feel well unless you believe you have overcome the new challenge,” explains Parikh.
Are you getting intimidated at the gym?
Gymtimidation manifests differently in people. While a sudden decline in attendance becomes the key indicator, extreme nervousness, a tendency to look around constantly, unnecessary clothing adjustments, etc. are other indicators.
“People can even have panic attacks, an extreme form of fear or nervousness where people start sweating and trembling their hands. This is a sign of extreme anxiety,” says Parikh.
Some people also tend to over-exercise to compensate for how they are feeling. It can lead to exercise burnout or injuries.
When gym anxiety affects motivation
When you experience intimidation at the gym, the intensely negative emotions make you lose motivation and make you want to quit the gym altogether.
“Once beginners feel stressed and uneasy at the gym, they start finding reasons to stop going to the gym,” says Amal C Bose, fitness trainer and assistant professor of physical education, Sree Sankara College, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
“Even if they do show up, a lack of motivation can negatively impact their gym session by lowering their passion and drive to workout, resulting in less effort and limited progress towards fitness goals,” adds Bose.
Ways to deal with gymtimidation
- Know your why: “Know your why – that’s what we call it in psychology,” says Parikh. It relates to the idea of knowing and figuring out one’s motivations, principles, and life goals. When it comes to the context of working out, it is crucial to understand one’s fitness goals to effectively stick to them and keep motivation high.
- Do not compare with others: Instead of comparing yourself to others in the gym, Parikh advises comparing yourself to earlier days, which will help in understanding your improvement from the past days.
- Get the bearings right: An extremely new atmosphere with big equipment and well-built people could be strange and stressful for a newbie in the gym. Getting a mini orientation about the gym and exercises from the fitness trainer or other staff allows you to get to know the setting, the people, and the training methods before starting the actual training. This helps to eliminate the starting trouble.
- Take it step by step: Instead of starting the gym suddenly with a heavy routine, going with a gentle routine and gradually working your way up to a demanding routine will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed in the early period.
- Find your comfortable time: If a big crowd in the gym bothers you to go to the gym, look for a time when you can locate a comfortable area for yourself to work out, preferably a time slot when there are less people around.
- Wear comfortable clothes: If you try to look the way other people look and wear something you are not comfortable with, it is going to worsen your anxiety. Because you already feel stressed about working out in a new space and about your appearance.
What fitness experts can do?
To prevent new gym members from being frightened by the unfamiliar environment or other members, Bose emphasizes the value of communication, education, and motivation on the part of the fitness trainers and gym staff.
“The most important step in combating gymtimidation is building a strong rapport with the clients and communicating with them effectively,” says Bose. “A friendly atmosphere will make it easier for people to interact and express their problems or concerns without feeling awkward. It is possible that some people will not be interested in merely discussing fitness. In such cases, we must consider their likes and dislikes and interact to make them lively.”
Educating the clients thoroughly about the training methods is the next step that helps with understanding the training objectives. It in fact is related to boosting motivation in people.
Motivation instils confidence and a sense of support, reducing gymtimidation.
- Gymtimidation is the experience of feeling anxious or intimidated in a gym environment, especially for people who are unfamiliar with the setting.
- While low self-confidence, comparison with others, and body image issues are the primary causes of gymtimidation, people of all age groups and gender can get intimidated at the gym.
- Shortage in attendance, panic attacks, over-exercising, etc., are some of the signs of gymtimidation.
- To avoid feeling intimidated at the gym, you should know what your workout is all about, stop comparing yourself to others, get orientation, progressively increase your workout intensity, locate a pleasant time slot, and dress comfortably.