Gymtimidation, gym

Let’s face it, gyms are perfect places to work out, pump up, and get in shape. A gym gives access to all sorts of expensive, heavy duty equipment that would not only take up a ton of space in your home but remove a ton of cash from your wallet. They boast personal trainers to help you get fit, offer classes for every level and coordinate weight loss programs. Hitting the gym is also a great way to meet like-minded partners and buddies who can encourage you to go the distance.

But if gyms are so great, why don’t more people go to them? One of the reasons may be a social phenomenon scaring away the self-conscious. They call it gymtimidation, a frightening and perhaps demoralizing new factor that rears its ugly head to stop some from going to the gym. Just imagine people who are so intimidated by the thought of the gym they would compare the need to go with that of the dentist or the DMV!

How did this come about? Why does gymtimidation exist? First impressions are always important and sadly most gyms do not execute this well. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Color Scheme or Scheming Colors?

Believe it or not one of the first things that give that initial and perhaps negative feeling flight is the perception of colors! Everything is shiny, metallic chrome and black, a color pattern proven to be an intimidating sight. Floor mat colors are unappealing shades of pink, green, gray, and brown. It all mixes together to create a visually unappealing mess that screams unfriendly!

Gymtimidation, gym
Source: Thinkstock/Digital Vision

2. Listen Closely

Aside from sight, sound can play an equal factor in putting people off. Grunting bodies, the clink and clank of weights, and electronic whirr of equipment can be downright jarring to those not used to it. Some gyms try to drown out the sounds with music. Unfortunately, this sometimes creates its own set of problems from genre choices offending certain people to the loud music making it hard to hear and understand those trying to help you.

3. Reflections

Walk into your average gym and you will notice quickly that mirrors are everywhere. These mirrors are actually meant as a training aid as things like leaning too far one direction, not having a straight back, or even having a limb positioned a little off can increase the risk of injury. You’re supposed to look into the mirror as you exercise to make sure you are doing things the proper way. Gym newbies, however, simply see their own unimpressive reflections staring back at them. This tends to force many to become extremely self-conscious.

4. What to Wear?

Many gyms also have a fairly lax dress code of which many gym veterans enjoy the freedom. For the average gym newcomer looking to lose weight, walking past fit people wearing anything from sweats and armbands to little more than their underwear can be tough. 

Not only that but finding work out clothes and supportive gear that makes people comfortable is a task in itself. Clothing, both their own and other people’s, can leave some of those suffering from gymtimidation feeling embarrassed, self-conscious, and awkward. Thankfully, there are some gyms starting to crack down on this with basic dress codes.

5. Rules and Regulations

Speaking of rules, many gyms don’t post all or in some cases any of their regulations. Sometimes they don’t even tend to explain them clearly to newcomers. Sometimes rules that seem like common practice to a frequent gym visitor is like a strange new language to someone new. Things like frowning upon sitting or leaning on equipment unless they are in use don’t instinctively make sense to everybody.

After the use of most gym equipment, the visitor must clean and sanitize what they’ve used. This means an uninformed newbie sitting down to rest for a moment on a weight bench before getting up and walking away would get into trouble for breaking both rules! The long list of rules along with the possibility of getting in trouble for messing up from staff or fellow gym members if you forget anything can easily scare someone off.

6. Unequipped-ment

Some equipment just isn’t made to fit all sizes–especially larger clientele looking to lose weight or smaller individuals looking to gain mass. Not only that, most equipment doesn’t even come with instructions. Even when the how to’s are posted somewhere, it is still possible to injure yourself if you aren’t sure what you are doing or haven’t been properly trained by someone. It is easy to misuse equipment and some, such as the weight lifting station, can be downright dangerous to use alone. At least staff can be asked for help and instructions. Well, that is if the staff doesn’t intimidate as well…

7. The Intimidators

Many people easily find gym staff members to be intimidating. It’s hard to imagine a bubbly twenty-something-year-old could be scary, but the problem can stem less from what people are and be more of what they represent. To a newbie, those who work at the gym are essentially everything that they are not.

Gymtimidation, gym
Source: Thinkstock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

An older, overweight or underweight individual is likely to feel even older and more overweight or underweight when having to deal with someone like that. This only drives home the feeling that the newbie doesn’t belong. It also doesn’t help that many personal trainers try to oversell their regimens. It takes 30 minutes of training three times a week to stay fit, but trainers and staff are eager to encourage longer, overwhelming sessions as part of their programs.

8. Class Structure

What about the people just there for class-based weight loss programs such as yoga classes? Well, the gym isn’t easy for them, either. Once they have made it through the shiny, black and chrome, mirror infested gauntlet that is the gym proper, they find a classroom equally shiny and full of mirrors.

People familiar with the class tend to drift to the front while newcomers hide in the back. This makes it harder to see and hear the instructor which can lead to frustration or even injury. Things get worse if this is a class with music as it adds to drowning out the instructor. Newbies also feel awkward asking for help when the entire class stops just for them.

9. Culture Clash

Years of social myths have led to a strong anti-obese culture with people of larger sizes seen as lazy or overeaters. There are also gender-specific practices that can lead to people being deemed weird for not following the norm. Men who want to get smaller but not be ripped or women who want to be big and strong can get some funny, unwanted looks. Other old myths like the idea of “no pain,no gain” still circulate among gym-goers, leading to frustration and injury from working with bad information. People get sick of things just not working for them and it’s clear to see why so many quit when the easiest option is to drop out.

Gyms are a great resource for getting in shape, trying new weight loss programs, taking classes, and staying healthy. It’s a shame they can also be so intimidating. Thankfully, people on both sides of the spectrum can see what causes gymtimidation in order to help gyms and gym-goers alike make life more comfortable for newcomers.

If going to the gym intimidates you, call around to find a gym that is welcoming to newcomers. Get some friends together and go to the gym together. Studies have shown going to the gym in comfortable clothes with people who are like yourself makes the experience less difficult for everyone in the group. Working out together also improves chances of sticking with it and makes the entire experience more fun!

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Featured Image Source: Thinkstock/Chris Clinton