How Do I Overcome Gymtimidation?

This is a question I received from a reader:

“Hi Lisa! I started following you on Instagram and since I follow so few people and I let so few people follow ME, I thought I’d shoot you an email to let you know how much I loved your book!  Very inspiring and fun and I am just reading through your blog now.StatesmanSocial - book picture

I am 37 and a formerly obese woman (up to 215 when I was about 26, I am 5’8) – I have been married since 2006 and gained back some weight and recently have had significant back pain and have been trying to lose weight again and exercise.

I hadn’t been able to do much cardio because of the back pain so started Jamie Eason’s program since it started with one month only of weights – I figured that I’d be fine after a month of that and focusing on core again. HAHA!  MRI last week showed disc protrusion L4-5 Grr.

Nevertheless, I did proceed with starting the cardio and am down 17 lbs and enjoying the program, overall.  I am NOT doing it at the gym.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in a blog post, at some point, on finding a trainer for those who are intimidated because of weight or past bad experiences (check and check).  I have avoided gyms for years because of this.   Anyway, lovely to meet you, electronically!”


Dear S,

Nice to meet you electronically too!  I’m glad you liked my book 🙂 Good for you for getting back in shape and congratulations on your weight loss.
Yes, gyms and trainers are intimidating. I have some tips for you below; first, let’s talk about your injury.  It sounds like you need help with your form so you don’t hurt your back any further. The downside to videos and online programs is that no one can correct you if you are lifting wrong, which is where injuries can happen.  Have you tried a physical therapist?  It might be covered by your insurance and they specialize in helping people recover.
If you want to go the trainer route, most personal trainers will want (or require) you to get a medical release signed by your doctor that will specify your limitations  (i.e. – do not lift over 20 lbs, or avoid exercises where you lift weight above your head,) and confirm that it is safe for you to exercise.  Once your doctor says it’s ok for you to workout, here are some tips for getting back to the gym.

I Hate the GymGymtimidation

Planet Fitness is making a killing exploiting people’s fears about going to the gym.  They even coined the term ‘gymtimidation’.  Pretty much everyone who feels out of shape is going to feel embarrassed at one point or another when there are buff people standing in the vicinity.  When I first went to the gym and I was overweight, it was awkward, but fortunately no one knew me.  These were some of my fears and feelings:

  • Everyone will look at me and judge me
  • I will do something wrong with the machines and people will laugh at me
  • These fit people look so much better than me; I’ll never look like them

    Planet Fitness gymtimidation commercial
    Planet Fitness gymtimidation commercial

When I started gaining back weight this summer it was pretty humbling returning to the gym for the first time.  These were my fears and feelings:

  • Someone’s going to call me out on my weight gain
  • People are going to talk about me behind my back
  • I wish no one knew me; I’m ashamed I couldn’t control my emotional eating.
So my fears essentially boiled down to wanting to avoid public humiliation.  But I got over it and you can too.  These are some things I did:

7 Tips for Overcoming Gymtimidation

  1. Workout at odd hours. Train when the gym is less crowded and/or people you know are not there.
  2. Wear clothes that make you feel good.
    Suitcase full of gym clothes
    Suitcase full of gym clothes

    There is a time and place for crop tops and booty shorts.  When you’re not feeling it, wear workout clothes that are a little loose to hide your muffin top so you feel more confident.  Or wear silly T-shirts that make you smile.  Personally, I like to wear my shirt that says, “Be nice to me or I’ll blog about you.”

  3. Tell yourself that you have a right to be healthy and that the gym is made for all shapes, sizes and stages of fitness.  It was created for people to improve themselves, no matter their start point.
  4. Remember why you are doing thisArnold WaterI’m a person who needs a goal, something bigger than myself to inspire me to stick with it when things get hard or uncomfortable.  Recently I wrote on my gallon water bottle, “Do It For Arnold,” because I was training for the Arnold Amateur and I found it very motivating to read.  Why are you getting fit?  For your kids?  Your health?  Is there a token you can carry with you to remind you of this goal?
  5. Most people are not judging you.

    Here’s a secret: A lot of really fit people were once fat.  This is true.  I can’t tell you how many svelte people at the gym have shown me their “before” pictures, so they are probably supportive of anyone trying to get fit.  Also, they are too busy working out and flexing their own muscles to judge yours, so stop worrying about them.

  6. Listen to happy musicMusicMusic distracts you and can lift your mood.  Also, when you’re wearing earphones it is a signal to others to not bug you.
  7.  Reward yourself. I can be bribed.  There is a sauna at my gym and I like to pretend that I’m in a fancy spa in Vegas when I sit in there, so after my initial workouts I factored in some time to just relax in the sauna before having to rush back home to work, chores and life.  Figure out a non-food prize to give yourself so you look forward to going to the gym.

When Your Biggest Fear Happens

Well, wouldn’t you know it, the very first day back to the gym I ran into a guy I knew.  He got on the StairMaster next to me (even though I was wearing my ‘don’t bug me’ earphones) and said, “Wow, you gained some weight!”

Ouch.  I was mortified and also felt a little angry and self-defensive.  Whatever happened to keeping it to yourself if you have nothing nice to say, dude?  #AndYouWonderWhyYou’reStillSingle

I felt my cheeks flush crimson, because…he was right.  In four months I went from a size 1 to a size 7.  And I’m a fitness blogger, so I should know better, right?

Here’s what I said:  “My mom got diagnosed with cancer and I gained some weight back dealing with it.  But I’m getting back on track.”

Was it embarrassing?  Hell yeah!  Did I die?  Clearly not.  Sometimes it’s good when your actual fears come true, because then you realize that the consequences are not really all that dramatic after all.  We moved past the awkward moment and chatted about our kids.  No big whoop.

Another thing to remember is that no one is perfect and that at some point you are going to mess up on the road to fitness Nirvana.  I saw Arnold Swarzenegger speak the other week and he said, “Everybody falls down.  You’re only a loser if you don’t get back up.”Stand up

Like you, I fell down off the fitness path for awhile.  And, like you, I’m getting back on track.  Don’t let fear of other people judging you hold you back.  Be brave, even when you don’t feel like it.  Will other people respect you more?  Who cares?  You’ll respect yourself more.


Hope that helps!

Lisa 😉

Do you have a question you’d like to ask?  I’d love to hear from you!


Lisa Traugott is a Mom’s Choice Award winning writer, fitness blogger, wife and mom of two.

If you’d like to know what it’s like to train for your first bodybuilding competition while also potty training a rambunctious toddler, check out her book, “She’s Losing It!” available at Resolution Front Cover.4837209 (c) 2015 Lisa Traugott. All rights reserved. No portion of this blog, including any text, photographs, video, and artwork, may be reproduced or copied without written permission.


2 thoughts on “How Do I Overcome Gymtimidation?

  1. Thanks for the post, Lisa! Great thoughts and I’ll certainly give some thought to returning to the big scary gym. 🙂

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