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Where and How to Work Out In the Face of Gymtimidation

Working out can be intimidating, particularly in your school’s fitness center. Here some other, less-distressing places to work out and what exercises you can do once you get there.
April 22, 2018
11 mins read

Having free access to your school’s gym is one of the many perks of college. You probably first toured the facility at orientation, thinking, “Wow, this place is amazing! My legs are gonna be so toned by the time I walk across that stage toward the university President. I hope they notice!”

Though the president probably won’t say anything, you still want to try for those calves; maybe you could try for some abs and a weirdly muscular back that kind of looks like a face — if you’re into that. And most likely, you made the decision any healthy, on-top-of-their-shit college student would and went to the gym at least once.

If you’re like me, however, that was the last time you went to the gym. There are many reasons to stop going; namely, there are the beautiful people slowly becoming more beautiful before your eyes and who were probably never out of shape, thus they are mainly there to rub their beauty in other people’s faces, especially yours.

But of course, the gym is more than just a hotbed for hot people; it’s also rampant with know-it-all gym rats who are quick to scoff at your form or give you all the advice you never asked for.

“Gymtimidation” is real and it could eat you alive at pretty much any point in your workout. Whether you’re stepping into the lion’s den of a weight area, with those huge, heaving guys putting on muscle they don’t need, or running on an elliptical adjacent to girls who wouldn’t stop their jog to help you if you keeled over before them.

If you’re not as fit as they are or if you don’t know as much about the craft as they do, part of you probably fears them.

For those with social anxiety or some other kind of limiting condition, this fear and discomfort can be magnified greatly.

Take your everyday case of gymtimidation and add an already fast heart rate, an inability to focus on your workout, wondering why the frat guy who got on the bicep curl machine after you didn’t consider sanitizing it first and wondering what fresh hell awaits you in the locker room.

With this, you have an idea of what a person prone to anxiety will experience working out at a gym. Everyone feels this way at some point, anxiety or no anxiety. Still, far too many stop exercising altogether because of it.

No one can blame you for not going, but there are plenty of ways to avoid gymtimidation while still getting a workout in and diminishing any anxieties all in one fell swoop. Here are some ways to approach your workout without facing the gym.

Where to work out: At home

Where the heart is, and where your heart is soon to be thumping furiously as you push 10-pound dumbbells toward your apartment’s bathroom ceiling. Seriously though, it’s so easy working out at home. You don’t even need to buy any equipment to do it.

How: Jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, squats and the rest are all tried and true. You can modify them to fit your needs and reduce whatever health risks you’ve come to associate with them, but they’re all good to start with to get you where you want or need to be.

If it’s in the budget, get a dumbbell, an exercise band or anything that would help improve your workout. I got a simple 15-pound dumbbell earlier this semester, and a diversified workout with it once a day has helped me get toned beyond my greatest expectations. Using it consistently at home has led me to see physical improvements in myself that I didn’t anticipate going in.

You could also take a page from your parents and use the workout video approach. Aerobics, yoga and Pilates all come in video form that you can pull up on YouTube and copy at home.

Even those specialized workouts that suspiciously have a whole channel dedicated to advertising them are decent approaches; however, although they may not be as accessible or financially feasible. Workout videos, on the other hand, are a great way to bring someone who knows what they’re talking about to the safety of your home.

If you want, you could even pick a Jane Fonda or Billy Blanks one; the laughter from the first will improve your ab strength, and the second will induct you officially as a member of #taebonation.

If you struggle with losing weight or sticking to an exercise routine, you’ll see that it all comes down to habit. If you’re working out at home, you will find that you’ll begin reflexively accepting it as part of your schedule much quicker than you would if you were to trek to the gym several times a week.

Just brush your teeth, put on your beard oil and then do whatever exercises you set for yourself that day; then rinse and repeat. It’ll become routine at home, which will make sure you stick with it longer and see greater results.

Where: Some other place where you feel comfortable

There’s this huge lake two minutes from my house where everyone and their mom works out. There’s an even nicer lake five minutes from my house that not nearly as many people know about or put to use.

That’s my place to walk or jog; it’s nice to be outdoors, and the relative lack of human life — not to mention the abundance of duck life — puts me at ease.

Granted, there a few a few places where you should definitely avoid working out. Mainly, don’t go for a run on the street in a busy part of your town if you’re susceptible to gymtimidation.

If you’re not, though, then go right ahead; I don’t understand why anyone would want to, but do whatever works for you. Personally, I feel like running in public means even more eyes on you than going to the gym.

How: Run like the wind. Unless you want to walk your dumbbell to the car, set it in the passenger seat next to you, drive somewhere and put on a gun show for the local lake’s ducks, cardio may be the best option here.

In my junior year of high school, I started walking and jogging one neighborhood over from mine. I would walk once a day for however long I felt, and tried to increase my time and distance as I kept on. I actually ended up losing (a healthy) 100 pounds from doing this over the span of a year, with some added dieting.

Where: A different gym

Sure, it may seem counterintuitive. However, if your school’s gym sets off your anxiety, it could help to check out other gyms in the area, especially if you go to a smaller school.

The fact that your peers are so immediately, ubiquitously around you may be spurring your anxiety. Working out between strangers could be more comfortable.

Some gyms, like Planet Fitness and Average Joe’s Gym, specifically market with those affected by gymtimidation in mind. Planet Fitness emphasizes acceptance of your body and of those around you, rather than comparing yourself to others. Specific gyms in your area may have similar reputations and they’re all worth looking into and checking out.

How: For me, the second I learned that the Y had everything for young men to enjoy, there was no going back. Working out there is much less anxiety-inducing than my school’s gym.

So, you have options. You can do any of these or mix them together while working up the courage and mental strength to venture into the campus gym. However, getting into the campus gym should still be your goal.

You shouldn’t just avoid the gym for your tenure as a student there; you ought to get to a point where you can focus more on what you’re doing than on how other people feel about it.

Until then, work on reducing that gymtimidation and building your confidence. Just find the closest neighborhood with the cutest old people to run around and look forward to the unreasonable amount of weight you’ll drop.

Andrew Crossan, University of South Carolina

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Andrew Crossan

University of South Carolina

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