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I really like Katy Perry.

Right now when I work out at my university gym I have a lot of Katy Perry on my “workout 3” playlist. (I don’t know why I haven’t deleted my “workout 1” and “workout 2” playlists. I am a playlist hoarder.)

So, picture this.

I’m in the gym, right? I’m a sweaty dude and I’m surrounded by other sweaty dudes.

We’re very hardcore, okay? Got it?

We’re only allowed to laugh, joke and smile if we’re with a few friends, but when we’re alone we just kinda scowl at everything, to perform how angry we are at the weights.

“It’s just you and the weights, man. Just you and the weights.” Yeah. That’s what I’m talking about.

We’re not like those other weaklings who are just there to mess around and waste time. No, we’re serious. Weight lifting is serious business!!!

A lot of the guys have the arms ripped off our shirts, so we can show off the guns. I’m kind of a nerd weirdo, so instead of some supplement store logo on my t-shirt I have a Doctor Who t-shirt with the Eighth Doctor on it.

I’ve also got white iPod earphones in. These make me cool and hip and help me to fit in more.

“I Kissed A Girl” is blasting on my iPod. Aw, yeah. Let’s do this.

Someone walks up and starts using the rope pulldown near me.

Do I care? Am I really that much of a self-conscious weirdo?

Uh…

Apparently I do care, and I am a self-conscious weirdo, because without thinking I surreptitiously take out my iPod Nano and and lower the volume, to make sure it’s not loud enough that someone else will hear it.

Immediately inside my own head I’m like, “Wow, I can’t believe I just did that.” Then I turn the volume back up, because what the hell man, I think, mentally whacking myself on the head.

Then I do another set, and go on with my workout.

What’s my point with all this?

Everything in this post so far has been me performing a too-cool-for-school attitude:

  •  “Pfff, look how confident I am: I listen to Katy Perry while I workout and don’t even think twice.”
  • “Yeah haha I’m wearing my white iPod earphones but I’m joking about it self-consciously so it’s okay though right???”
  • “Oh I’m a nerd. I watch a popular television show! What a social outcast that makes me, here in 2014.”

So, relax. Everyone is self-conscious, and everyone performs an identity. Some of the identities we perform are more transparent than others, but no one ever truly “doesn’t care” what other people think. You are not alone.

With respect to your fear of going to be gym, that means…

Everyone at the Gym Is (at least a little bit) Self-Conscious

  • The huge bodybuilder is self-conscious that he’s holding too much water over his abs. Also, he hates the way his new shorts ride up his thighs, even though he’s totally proud of his thighs. (Having big legs lets you make jokes on the Internet about people who don’t squat.)
  • That thin guy is a runner and he doesn’t know exactly what to do, and you can see him look around in the middle of every rep to check if anyone is scoffing at his form.
  • The out-of-shape guy or girl on the elliptical is worrying that everyone is looking at him or her, and feeling totally out of place in this gym full of fit people.
  • The fit girl who seems totally confident is actually sneaking peeks in the mirror because she’s worried about her butt sweat showing through her grey Lululemons. (It never shows on the black ones, but these grey ones are horrible.)

If You’re Scared About Going to the Gym…

Congratulations. So is everyone when they first start going, and so are a lot of people even after they’ve been doing it for years.

Behind closed doors, everyone I’ve ever talked to has admitted to feeling nervous going to the gym. Yes, this includes super fit people.

Sometimes I see myself in the mirror at a bad angle or something and I’m like, “Oh my god I’m hideous and everyone is looking at me oh my god oh my god.”

Then I mentally slap myself because jeez, man, get over yourself. (And then secretly I’m glad no one can hear my thoughts.)

No one cares what you look like because they are all too concerned with themselves.

I didn’t go to the gym for months when I first began to lose weight because I was just way too self-conscious. I didn’t want to be the out-of-shape guy sweating and grunting awkwardly in a gym full of fit people.

This was a really bad, dumb decision on my part. I’ve regretted it for years. Going to the gym while on a diet is an excellent way to retain muscle mass. I lost more muscle than I should have because I was too nervous to the go.

When I finally did go I noticed:

  • Lots of people in the gym aren’t there because they are fit but because they want to get fit (in retrospect: duh).
  • If you really pay attention, and actually do look at other people, you realize no one is looking at you (except when they stealthily look around to see if anyone is looking at them).

Also, just as a side note: all those stereotypes of other people in the gym always end up being totally wrong in the most amusing ways.

  • The crazy 300 lb tattooed guy with the viking beard who’s always grunting and adding actual fucking chains to his barbell is actually the nicest, quickest-to-smile guy in the gym. After chatting for 10 seconds you feel like you’ve known him for years.
  • The guy who looks like a total dumb gym bro is actual a physics PhD candidate. He’s not listening to Nickleback; he’s listening to a lecture by Richard Feynman. (Then again: maybe he is listening to Nickelback. Who cares? C’mon man.)

The one thing people do have in common at the gym is this: everyone is there at least slightly because of vanity and a desire to look better.

No one is above this. I’m not and you’re not.

If you feel self-conscious at the gym that’s normal. That’s not going to magically go away. Realize that you’re not alone and it’s not a big deal.

I won’t even tell you not to think about it. You can if you want to. (I’ve clearly thought way too much about this.)

It only matters when it negatively affects your workout, because feeling self-conscious is a terrible reason to have a bad workout, or to have no workout at all.

If you’re worried about going to the gym, follow these rules:

  • Don’t wait until you’re more “in shape” to start going; you’ll just keep putting it off.
  • Make a promise to yourself to go at least five times (or at least enough to go up in weight on some exercises – once you see that, it’s much easier to get addicted).
  • Go with a friend, or even just an acquaintance. Simply being “with” someone, rather than being all alone, gives you a bunch of confidence. (You could go with someone you absolutely hate and this would still work.)
  • Go to Sport Chek or wherever and buy a bunch of sporty clothes that make you feel great. Be a total, unapologetic trend whore. Buy that Under Armour or those Nikes or Lululemons or whatever, so that your butt looks good or your arms stand out. Buy the hot-shit shoes of the season. (This is probably a terrible tip if you’re trying to save money, but whatever.) If you’re at the gym and you look at yourself in the mirror and think Damn, I look good, it’ll be far easier to get a really great workout than if you look at yourself in the mirror and get all self-conscious and worried.
  • If you do feel self-conscious, repeat: Everyone else feels this way. Everyone else feels this way. No one is looking at youthey are too busy worrying that someone is looking at them.

Once you go, it will get easier over time. You’ll just get habituated to it.

Also: if you go at the same time every day, or the same days of the week, you’ll start seeing familiar faces. The other people will stop being “nameless intimidating fit person” and will start being just people. You might even talk to them. Crazier things have happened!

Where was I? Oh yeah. The end of this post.

How do you overcome your gym fear? In a way, you don’t. You just kinda get used to having it until you’re still kind of afraid but at the same time it’s not a big deal. Welcome to being human, I guess.

So just go to the gym, you self-conscious weirdo. All of us other self-conscious weirdos are already there. Come hang out with us.