With 2023 in full swing, people from all different walks of life have begun their new year with resolutions to improve their physical and mental health. But when “gymtimidation” comes into the mix, it can become a barrier to meeting both of those goals.
Gymtimidation is defined as a feeling of anxiety or overwhelming fear of working out in a gym environment, leaving people intimidated enough to head home early, skip workouts or even stop going to the gym entirely.
While it sounds like a fun buzzword, gymtimidation can take a serious toll on those who experience it, especially women and non-men.
“The gym is a space that’s generally being dominated by cis-men. It can be really scary for women and non-men to go in there for the first time and feel comfortable with what they’re doing,” said Serena Calkins, president of WWU Girl Gains at Western.
Kylie Vasquez, a self-employed personal trainer at Vasquez Training, said a prominent cause of gymtimidation she commonly sees in women is struggles with body dysmorphia. She added that being inexperienced with gym equipment can further amplify it.
Causes for gymtimidation vary. Bre Shanklin, Member Experience director at Anytime Fitness for the Barkley and Cordata locations, shared what her gymtimidation was like when she first stepped into a gym.
“The first time was terrifying,” Shanklin recalled. “Walking on a treadmill was the only thing I knew how to do. … Many times I sat in the parking lot and decided whether or not I was actually going to go in there. … I would think everyone was watching me and felt stupid, to be honest.”
Marlene Sexton, director of behavioral therapy at ThreeHealth in Lynnwood, often works with women who’ve experienced traumatic episodes and severe anxiety in relation to the gym. She teaches them not to let this fear or other people determine how healthy they get to be by helping them find more comfortable ways to exercise.
“We want to conquer the fear, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be going back to the gym,” Sexton said. “I really talk to them about all the other ways that they can move and be healthy. … Like, let’s think of stuff that you can do, that you enjoy doing. Let’s get the body moving.”
For women and non-men who choose to tackle gymtimidation head-on, Bellingham exercise experts and leaders have some recommendations. Below is a list of five strategies on where to start:
1. Partner up with a personal trainer
“Having a trainer by your side is like having a really good workout partner with you. … We can guide you through the equipment and ease things in and make that setting itself feel a lot more comfortable,” said Alec Smith, a trainer at Anytime Fitness’s Barkley location.
2. Surround yourself with people you trust
Calkins recommends inviting a friend, and if you can’t find one who’s available, WWU Girl Gains offers “buddy pairings” for members to find a gym partner. Sexton approves of specialized workout classes where participants perform the same exercises together.
“There’s comfort in having other people [around you] at the same level that you are,” Sexton said.
3. Knowledge is power
Isabela Alvarez, director of public relations for WWU Girl Gains, said asking weight room staff questions about how to use the machines with proper form is a game changer in gaining confidence at the gym.
“Now I feel pride when I complete a lift instead of fear and insecurity,” Alvarez said.
4. Get familiarized with your space
Vasquez suggests slowly working your way around areas rather than beginning a circuit in the middle of the floor.
“Get familiarized with the area and where things are. … The more you are around, the more comfortable you get,” she said.
5. Motivate yourself with rewards
Calkins suggests finding things that excite you and turning them into rewards for showing up and working out, including:
Grabbing your favorite post-workout meal or smoothie
Planning a cute workout outfit that you feel confident in
Making a new, energetic playlist to listen to during your workout
6. Go easy on yourself
“Remember not to compare your chapter one to someone else's chapter 20,” Calkins said. Everyone that you see at the gym, at some point, started out exactly where you are now.”
Shanklin said although she no longer deals with the same gymtimidation as she did years before, “watching [women] start out on a treadmill like I did … to [witnessing them] walking over to that weight room and start lifting stuff. … My heart explodes, I love that so much.”
Janet Lopez (she/her) is a city life reporter for The Front. She is majoring in marketing with a concentration in public relations. Her work is focused on lifestyle, upcoming events and sharing fun little stories about Bellingham that you might not have known otherwise.
You can reach her at email@example.com.