Reasons To Not Fear The Gym

The word gymnasium originates from the Ancient Greek term gymnόs meaning “naked” while gymazo, a related Greek verb means, “to train naked”. So right there we can’t be too surprised that many people feel a little uncomfortable with the thought of going to a gym. We hear the many horror stories and urban legends detailing the epic fails of gym visits gone bad and recoil in disgust that anyone would pay to experience such physical and emotional pain. There is a myriad of research to suggest that the gym environment is perceived as unwelcoming to the novice exerciser. From the sea of steel and high tech cardio machines to resistance training stations that look more like medieval torture devices (not to mention the skinny, spandex clad fitness people jumping up and down while measuring their heart rates), the gym is more like a battlefield than a welcoming, healthy environment. Would it be surprising to note that looks can be deceiving?

Fitness centers and gyms, alike, can be healthy, fun, and friendly places once we are able to peel back the curtain and see it for what it really is. From an experienced personal trainer’s perspective, there are a few secrets to share in the hopes of easing the minds of fitness newbies…

1. You’re Not Alone

According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, the current and global number of fitness club members is 131,700,00 and only 33-percent actually use their memberships. The struggle to continue an exercise program is a popular one and by the time January moves into February, most first timers will have traded their yoga pants for a pair of flannel PJs.

The key to surviving the first few months of fitness center phobia is to remember that there are others in the same situation, sharing the same fears and feelings of intimidation. Search out those people for support and the rate of adherence and comfort goes up.

2. It Only Looks Intimidating

At first glance, the gym may strike fear into the hearts of many, but what exactly is intimidating and why? Research has shown that color makes a difference in the comfort level of both women and novice exercisers. Feelings of intimidation may occur when we step into an environment full of black and steel (a popular choice of décor for many gyms). Interestingly, other colours like purple, blue, and green can not only light up the room, but add a sense of comfort to those just starting out.

Another common complaint is the grunting and groaning of weight lifters and the clanging of weights as they are dropped to the floor. The fact is, novice or expert alike, no one appreciates that behavior in a fitness center. In fact, most gyms have rules about dropping or clanging weights while lifting. It may be in one’s best interest to search out a gym that keeps that unnecessary behavior at bay.

3. No One is Looking at You

One of the most common complaints from new exercisers is the feeling one gets when walking into or around the fitness center. It feels like all eyes are on us; watching and judging our every move (and potential mistake). The good news is, most of the time, everyone is too busy looking at himself or herself in the mirror.

Whether it is attending to proper form or for more vanity-based reasons, most people are too focused on what they are doing to be looking around the gym for the newbies. So take a breath and relax…no one is watching.

4. Most People are Doing it Wrong

Speaking from the experience of a personal trainer, most exercisers are working out incorrectly. From bodybuilders and athletes to the average exercise enthusiast, unless they have had the coaching from an exercise specialist, they are usually following the advice of a brother’s friend’s cousin’s uncle that looked amazing by doing a particular exercise.

Word of mouth does not make the safest or most effective trainer. If there is one thing we can do to ensure our fitness success it is investing some time and money into a good personal trainer (at least at the start) to help us ensure the safest and most effective training techniques.

5. It Only Takes a Few Visits to Feel Like a Pro

Although it may not seem possible to believe now, after a few visits to the gym one may feel a sense of belonging that comes with familiarity. A few trips to the fitness center will help orient the novice exerciser.

It takes time to accustom yourself to the gym protocol, gym equipment, gym schedules, and the regular members that attend at the same time. Once we get through the uncomfortableness of learning new things, comfort, safety, and a sense of mastery will settle in…even at the gym.

6. Social Support in Numbers

Exercise psychology research strongly suggests that social support is one of the most important factors in sticking to an exercise program. Fitness centers are great at offering group exercise experiences such as spinning, STEP aerobics, group resistance training, and the like. Not into the group fitness scene?

Individual exercises including cardiovascular machines and resistance training in a gym setting will still offer the novice exerciser a chance to meet like-minded people. Believe it or not, gym membership may offer a sense of family and community to those who may otherwise feel isolated.

7. No One Cares What You Look Like

While there are a few exercise participants that spend much time and money to look good at the gym, most of us will arrive in the simplest of workout attire. The workout gear does not make or break the workout just like an outfit of spandex-lycra does not make the exerciser.

Finding clothes that fit and are comfortable—combined with finding athletic shoes that offer enough support is all that is necessary. Although the industry of fitness wants to sell us 100-dollar yoga pants to go with our 80-dollar techno-shirt, it makes no difference…no one cares what we look like.

8. Come as You Are

There remains a belief that we need to be fit or lose the weight before joining a fitness facility. The good news about gyms today is they offer a wide variety of fitness classes and exercise programs for all levels and abilities.

What’s more, if the group fitness instructor is well trained and experienced, he will be able to offer various levels of each exercise to include all abilities in the fitness class. Keep in mind, if the newbie experiences a class or trainer that cannot provide alternative solutions, it isn’t the fault of the participant…it’s the fault of the trainer.

9. Avoid Jumping Into the Deep End of Exercise

The tendency to jump right into an exercise program can be too much for the average novice to avoid. Ask any personal trainer and they will tell you that most people drop out of their exercise program because they took on more than they should have. Too much, too hard, too fast, too soon, and too involved can overwhelm anyone.

Exercise psychologists have suggested that starting with only two days a week and increasing slowly overtime is the way to beat the odds of exercise drop out. During those two sessions, choose the exercise that is most enjoyable. For example, if one hates the thought weight lifting, but loves the stationary bike, start there. While it may take months before a full and comprehensive training program is established, at least the commitment to the exercise remains.


Kathi Cameron, MA, RCC

Kathi has worked in the health and fitness profession for over 25 years and holds a degree in Kinesiology with master’s degrees in exercise and sport psychology and clinical counselling. She is currently a corporate facilitator in health promotion on topics relating to exercise, mental health, and addiction awareness. She is a firm believer in the prescription of exercise for positive mental health and that good health can be enjoyed at every size.