Gym anxiety and tips to help


Fitterstrongerbetter reader Erika asked me for some advice yesterday and rather than write an essay in a comment as a response, I figured I might as well make a post sharing my experience with the problem she’s having and some tips and tricks that may help.

“I dread going to the gym! I feel on the spot the whole time I’m there! I train in my house because I don’t like the ambiance in gyms but I don’t know if that’ll slow my progress! And I know lifting weights is an important part in losing weight and looking fitter. Any advice?”

I joined my gym in February and the first month was fine until I started weightlifting, then things changed. I presume it’s the same in a lot of places, but I get a lot of shit for being a girl who lifts weights. If I go at the wrong time of the day, I will get at least one comment from some idiot who thinks he’s being funny or clever. For example, things that have genuinely been said either to me or said to their fellow wankers gym buddies about me:

  • “I think you’re in the wrong room, love. Yoga class is on the first floor, we wouldn’t want you to break a nail, would we?”
  • “You’d think she’d be able to lift heavier than that, considering the size of her tits”
  • “Oh, you look sweaty, why don’t you leave the weights to the men and get back to the stairmaster”

If this shocks you, let me tell you, the first couple of times it happened I was shocked too. I am the only woman I have ever seen in the weight room and my personal trainer admitted that the girls tend to stay away and stick to cardio with a little bit of resistance training on the machines upstairs – I can see why.

I’m a very blunt person, I’m incredibly confident and speak my mind; if people are rude to me, I will quickly shut them up with my quick wit. Even if it’s not a comment specifically about a girl who lifts, I get bitched at about my arm pit hair (yes, I’m a feminist, what of it?) and people also want to interrupt my gym time to talk about my tattoos. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice when people want to compliment my body art and find out who I went to for this tattoo and that etc. but when I’m working out, I want to be left alone.

When it comes to the negative comments, I can shrug it off as their own insecurities, misogyny and general ignorance, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not irritating and it has actually made me really dislike being at the gym. Cardio and resistance training can be done at home in a variety of ways with ease but, like Erika, I appreciate the importance of weightlifting and know the gym has the best equipment for it.

So what can I do if I hate my gym?

Don’t worry, there is plenty of things you can do if you still want to get fit by weightlifting, but don’t like your gym:

Ask around to see how people rate other gyms and switch

It may be that the gym you have chosen doesn’t suit you, despite having great equipment, sometimes it just isn’t a good fit. There are about 10 different gyms within driving distance from me and I picked one based on its price and variety of classes. Since choosing this particular gym, I have had many people tell me that they hated going there due to the atmosphere and attitude of the other members. One of the other gyms is a women-only gym, another is at a country club so is full of older and therefore more mature people who leave you alone to do your thing in peace.

Can’t switch because of your contract? Pick quiet times

If, like me, you’re bound by an iron-clad year-long contract and are determined not to waste your money, pick quiet times of the day/evening.

I’ve found the worst atmosphere is at the weekends and from 3pm – 8pm Mon – Fri. People who have full time jobs but still want to go to the gym will pick either before or after work. After work, they have all evening to do whatever they want, so they have more time to socialise and goof around, which makes me feel uneasy like Erika. A group of 5 or so men (or college kids after 3pm) laughing and chatting is intimidating and I hate it, so I don’t visit my gym weekday evenings unless I absolutely have to.

Get in early and get out early. I’ll go somewhere between 8 am and 10 am on a week day, I’d go even earlier if my gym was within walking distance, but it’s a 30 minute drive away. I find the people at these times much more agreeable, they’ll smile at you if catch their eye but otherwise will leave you alone. These are the people serious about fitness; they probably have jobs, children and things to do so they’re wanting to be in and out as quickly as possible, they’re not there to make friends. This makes them the perfect people to be around when at the gym so you can focus on doing your best without distractions. If you can’t go before work in the morning, go sometime after 8pm when the socialisers and idiots realise they best get home so they don’t piss off their “birds” (common British slang for girlfriend) – the gym will start winding down for the night so you can be left to do your thing.

Take your iPod

Man, I don’t know what I’d do without this glorious piece of technology. When I have my ear buds in and my playlists I specifically made to pump me up for the gym, I am sodding invincible. They are like the sunglasses of the gym world; most people leave me alone and those who don’t, I can pretend I haven’t heard when I actually have because I don’t have my music on loud. If you pick songs that you love and make you feel energetic and confident, it’ll really help take you out of the gym in your mind. When I’ve got my earphones in and not looking in the countless mirrors gyms love, I might as well be the only person there and it’s great.

“Been there, done that, doesn’t help me feel any better!”

Okay, don’t worry, it looks like you’ll need my “How to weight train from home” post that I’ll be writing early next week. 😉


12 thoughts on “Gym anxiety and tips to help

    • I can imagine they’re fantastic. I’m stuck into an iron-clad contract with my gym that, regardless of whether I go or not, I still have to pay monthly until Feb 13. So, being as stubborn as I am, I just grin and bear it. Come February, I’ll either ditch gyms all together or try another on for size. 🙂

  1. wow! I never knew gyms in UK were like that. Everyone in USA ( that I know) thinks UK is pretty ahead of us in forward thinking and not stereotyping like that. This has NEVER happened to me in a gym ever and I would always lift weights. Actually, I have a lot of guys help me if I don’t know how to use something, spot me or give good workout advice. I have not once been mocked like that, but if I were with you, I would probably get in a fight so I’m glad this hasn’t happened lol. I’m too short tempered. This is really surprising to me!

    • Oh I wish our guys were more forward thinking. My guy is a male feminist and very supportive of me looking exactly how I want to look, but the majority don’t identify themselves as sexist, yet have a problem with my hairy pits, or having a lot of tattoos (a “manly” thing, apparently) and that I weightlift. It’s all either ignorance or insecurity. Don’t get me wrong, some of the guys at the gym are helpful and we have a laugh, but most of them are utter idiots. It just makes me more determined to prove them that I have as much of a right to be in the weight room as everyone else. But, when I can get out of my contract, I’ll definitely be changing gyms or getting my own weightlifting equipment for my home. 🙂

      • yeah that sounds annoying. crazy.. maybe its because more women in US have tattoos and are crazy? lol bc tats are not a big deal here AT ALL anymore. so interesting how diff. countries all have a diff. viewpt. dont blame you for wanting to switch though thats ridiculous to deal with when you are trying to get fit.

      • It’s odd, if you’re a woman with tattoos here, people are fine about it if they’re small and typical in design, like the one I have on my wrist. But when I started getting bigger pieces, people started treating me differently. I don’t mind about that though, when you choose to get tattoos in visible places you have to accept that you’ll get attention both good and bad. It’s mostly nice things that are said and when someone says anything negative about my tattoos, I just laugh it off. I might see how easy it is to get out of my contract and go to a quieter gym elsewhere to be honest.

  2. Those comments do shock me and cuz I luv ya, I know you aren’t making them up. Amazing, shocking and obviously from ignorant people. But I will say that this is why I don’t LIFT at the gym. I don’t want to deal with even so much as wondering what people are saying. I am larger than you so that makes it even worse.

    Regarding your iPod paragraph.. AMEM to that! I only do cardio and a weights class (with others so I don’t stand out). I have an amazing playlist and I just zone out everyone else and do my thing. Like with blinders on. That’s the only way to do it because if the others’ get to you… you will fail.

    I fail at home so I NEED the gym! 🙂

    • Like I said, it is incredibly irritating that they behave like such cavemen. It makes me feel like I’m back at school again where the boys will pick on you to get your attention. Pathetic little boys, it’s as if they think “But if she can lift weights, that will make my gender role I’ve assigned myself as a strong, hard man irrelevant! I must knock her down a few notches”

      iPods for the win. Keep up the good work, classes are a great way to get exercise and have security in numbers. I’m mega self conscious about my dancing, so although I show off at Zumba class, if I were asked to dance on my own, I’d freeze to the spot. Maybe someday I’ll be able to do a Napoleon Dynamite. 😛

  3. I feel so flattered for being mentioned (and quoted) in your amazing blog 🙂 !!! I hadn’t thought of attending it on quiet hours. In Mexico gyms are packed from 5 to 8pm with people trying to hit on each other or to chat from treadmill to treadmill (so annoying). I get uncomfortable by their lack of commitment to doing what has to be done in a gym!!!! I am also in a co-dependent relationship with my ipod when it comes to working out, as you say, it takes you to another place and the right songs make you feel undefeatable ;). I admire your guts and confidence! People who judge or say stupid things are sadly insecure and mostly ignorant.
    Thank you so much for this post!!! I’m looking forward for the “How to weight train from home” post 😀 !!!!

  4. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I will certainly comeback.

  5. I’m still learning from you, while I’m trying to reach my fitness goals. I check your blog every day and absolutely love reading everything that you post. Please keep these great posts coming!!

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