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When you’re making strides to better yourself, don’t pay any mind to the asshole lunks trying to bring you down.

Sweaty and Self-Conscious: How to Get Over Your Workout Shame

Building Confidence at the Gym

When you’re making strides to better yourself, don’t pay any mind to the asshole lunks trying to bring you down.

By Alec Cudmore, St. Edward’s University


Exercise is so, so important.

It makes you live longer, look better and feel happier. And yet, so many obstacles find a way to keep you from this gloriously healthy activity— there isn’t enough time to go on that run. Homework needs to get done. There aren’t any gyms nearby. But even when the stars align and you have constant access to a workout facility, you still don’t go.

Is your willpower failing you? Or is there a reservation that comes from an even deeper, darker place of insecurity? For many, it’s the latter. Many people not only feel shame about their physique, but about the entire concept of exerting energy in front of others at all. Working out is about pushing yourself until failure—if one can’t fail in public, how can they hope to lift weights in front of others?

If the thought of shamefulness in the gym resonates with you, you are not alone. Working out solo isn’t a problem, but many folks often shift their entire schedules around the desire to work out in a private setting. Friends set their alarms for five in the morning just to have the gym to themselves—not out of convenience, but out of a distinct fear of being seen. Here are some tips on how to get over that wretched gym stage fright, and get the most out of your exercise routine.

No One Is Focused on You Except You

Thoughts cross our minds every second of every day—we can’t help that. In a facility specifically designed to have you sweat in front of other people, it’s easy to think the folks around you are focused on analyzing how every one of your sweat droplets fall, and in what patterns the sweat will form on your tank top. That’s the Spotlight Effect; psychologists have reassured many with social anxiety that it’s something constantly at play.

Sweaty and Self-Conscious: How to Get Over Your Workout Shame
Image via The Odyssey

Thankfully, studies have shown that while it may seem as if the world revolves around us, it quite often doesn’t. The human mind tends to make assumptions about what other human beings are focusing on. Often we think it’s our disheveled hair or our misbuttoned shirt that attracts the focus of a room. In reality, people are far too busy fussing about themselves to notice many of the qualities of another person’s appearance. Those “lunks” lifting weights aren’t thinking about how tiny you are; they’re focused on their own muscles or even what they plan to do later that day. Let that be a comfort to you.

Show Off Your (Fake) Confidence

Comedian Jim Gaffigan has this great bit about the futility of building a workout plan. In this special, he goes on to talk about how silly he feels trying out the different machines at the gym, many of which seem to be intent on placing you in the most humiliating positions possible for the human form.

Many newcomers to the gym are intimidated by the complexity of these machines. Much like acting on stage, using the hip abductor machine with confidence is the best way to sell a performance. If you start to falter, your mind will immediately begin to narrate the thoughts of everyone in the room for you. The more you struggle with a machine, the more it seems like you don’t know what you’re doing.

It’s scary. So the only option is to either learn how to use the machine properly beforehand with YouTube videos (which I can’t recommend enough), or confidently use the machine in a matter that seems most logical. This doesn’t mean ignoring helpful how to signs—it just means tackling the challenge with little thought to how silly you might look. You’d be surprised how quickly people assume you know what you’re doing—just look at the 2016 election.

Ever Try Role-Playing?

If you’ve never role-played before (sexually or otherwise), it’s likely you’re not entirely in tune with the idea of falling into character. If that’s true, this next tip may seem a bit odd. However, I encourage you hear me out, and perhaps give it a shot the next time you find yourself horribly self-conscious at the gym.

An enormously helpful method to relieve anxiety is to essentially adopt a desensitization technique through role-playing. The act of “becoming” another person is not just a matter of acting talent—anybody can do it. It merely involves the questioning of one’s own thoughts, and the playful adaptation of what we could consider not our thoughts. When going to the gym, a fantastic way to ease the mind is to pretend as if you’ve been there countless times, and you are in fact quite the macho man (or woman).

Sweaty and Self-Conscious: How to Get Over Your Workout Shame
Image via University of Maine

Rather than an escape from facing your own self-consciousness issues, think of this as adapting another extension of yourself. There is a part of you that would like to be endlessly confident at the gym—it’s in there somewhere, promise. The key is to normalize that way of thinking until it’s not a character or persona you adopt at specific times, but rather a normal sensation for when you go to the gym. Think of your gym self as a separate self, and you’ll feel far more engaged with the time spent at your local workout facility.

You Are a Champion (and the Assholes are Trash)

While the gym may seem to be filled with people who are already in shape, these people have not always been the way they are. Many fitness junkies are incredibly welcoming to newcomers, and they even take joy in helping a new face learn the ropes. Potheads love getting first timers high—the same goes for those obsessed with runner’s high.

As it is with all things in this world, however, there persists a community of douchebag assholes who only live on this earth to put others down due to their own insecurity. These types of people can easily be found at any gym. Avoid these people at all costs, if you can. And if you have any engagement with one of them, remember that they are scum and do not represent the general workout/fitness community. Good people want to help others—that is a wonderful and persistent truth that prevails in nearly every walk of life.

If someone tries to make you feel bad at the gym, they are trash.

Ignore them, and remind yourself that you are there to grow while they are there to mask an overwhelming sense of inferiority.

Bring Some Friends!

Seriously. Nothing gets rid of the workout willies faster than having a group of friends to laugh and learn with. Having a workout buddy who is about the same skill level as you helps to soothe a self-conscious soul. Not only does it give you more confidence, studies have shown several benefits arise from working out with a friend, including longer, harder workouts and even greater strides in improvement. Integrating fitness into your social life is a fantastic way to assuage your nervousness about the whole thing, and your body will thank you for it!

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