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Gymtimidation: Breaking Down the Barriers to Female Fitness

Do you avoid the gym for fear of standing out? Do you feel like you ‘need to get fit’ before you start exercising? If so, you’re not alone.

Unfortunately, ‘gymtimidation’ is very real, with as many as 50% of people reporting that they find the gym a daunting place[1]. However, there are plenty of reasons not to give up on your fitness goals and overcome gymtimidation once and for all.

In this edition of our Female Myths series, we’re delving deep into the causes of gymtimidation, so you can side-step fear, boost your confidence, and smash your fitness goals.

What causes gymtimidation?

Gymtimidation describes a fear of exercising at the gym or working out in front of other people. Far more than simply a media buzzword, this phenomenon presents a significant barrier to exercise. Reports show that as many as 65% of women avoid the gym due to anxiety or fear of judgement[2]. While such fears stem from various sources, common causes of gymtimidation include:

1. Feeling body-conscious

One in three gym-goers reports that they feel self-conscious when working out next to someone in good shape[3]. However, it’s important to remember that everyone started exactly where you are now, and those around you are generally more focused on achieving their goals than on you.

2. Worrying about looking silly

One survey showed that 58% of women feel that people will judge them if they don’t know how to use gym equipment. Another 42% think that other gym-goers would look down on them if they did an exercise with bad form[4]. However, one of the biggest elements of improving the gym is skill acquisition, which comes with repetition of effort. The more consistently you train, the faster you’ll start to see results from your hard work and feel more confident in your environment.

3. Unrealistic expectations from social media

As many as 55% of women avoid the gym because they feel they don’t look fit enough to attend [5]. And, given the prevalence of unrealistic body ideals everywhere on social media, it’s not surprising that so many women feel this way. However, remember that social media is a highlight reel of people’s lives. Many of the ‘fitness models’ on Instagram and many appear in good shape as a combination of curated photos, clever editing tricks, disordered eating practices, and, all-too-often, performance-enhancing substances. Your fitness journey is unique, so try not to fall into the trap of comparing yours to somebody else’s.

Read how Sam rediscovered her happiness, confidence and self-esteem through weight training at Ultimate Performance.

4. Beating gymtimidation

While there are several perfectly understandable reasons many women struggle with a fear of working out, there are a whole host of reasons why you shouldn’t let gymtimidation get the better of you. Regular exercise and weight training have extensive beneficial effects, including lower disease risk, improved mental health and cognition, and increased life quality and duration[6],[7],[8],[9],[10],[11]. For women specifically, weight training has numerous benefits, including:

  • Lower risk for osteoporosis
  • Improved strength
  • Lower risk for injuries like low back pain
  • Improved hormonal balance
  • Improved body composition

How to overcome your fear of the gym

So, what can you do to overcome the fear and start putting your fitness goals into action? These are some of the main issues we hear most often from prospective female clients.

1. ‘I’ve always done classes, but I’m not sure how to start resistance training.’

Classes are a great way to meet new people and become familiar with the gym environment. However, whether your goal is to tone up, lose fat, or improve health, resistance training is a tool that can help you build and retain muscle, increase your physical strength and improve your metabolic health.

One of the crucial components of an effective resistance training program is progressive overload, which is achieved by increasing the demand on your muscles over time. While some classes may involve weights, they often focus on muscular endurance (by performing a high number of repetitions at lower loads) and may not provide enough stimulation to show tangible results. So, while you’ll get better at the exercises involved in your classes, you may not see much of a change in your physique. A resistance training program that provides an increasing challenge to your body and is tailored to you and your goals will do far more to help you achieve results.

Beginner Daniela found her natural confidence after achieving a stunning 27kg transformation training with weights for the first time. 

2. ‘How can I feel more confident stepping in the gym?’

Our clients regularly cite a lack of confidence as a reason for failing to reach their fitness goals. Surveys show that even the most enthusiastic gym-goers feel intimidated from time to time, with 50% of experienced gym trainees reporting that they also feel self-conscious occasionally. So don’t feel like you’re alone[12]. However, there’s nothing like a concrete goal to focus your attention on, so set aside some time to set a SMART goal that breaks down your vision into manageable chunks.

Another important element of achieving any goal is having a plan, of which your training program is an important component. If you know exactly what, why, when and how to perform each exercise, you’ll feel far more confident stepping foot in the weights area. If you’re not sure where to start, professional support is a great way to learn the ropes, maximise your return on investment and get it right from the start. A personal trainer can work with you to set goals effectively and develop a training plan that matches your skill level and anatomical structure, and sets clear, tangible goals.

3. ‘I feel like I don’t know where to start when it comes to lifting weights.’

It may seem overwhelming when it comes to starting in the gym. Sifting through the endless fitness workouts and fat loss routines you see ‘experts’ and celebrities promoting across social media can seem like a minefield to the average gym-goer.

Fortunately, keeping it simple is a great way to start making progress and build up your confidence. When you first start resistance training, most of your gains will be neurological. This means that the more you perform each movement, the quicker you will see your strength increase and your confidence grow.

This initial learning phase is why, for most beginners, it’s generally safer and more effective to focus on machines and exercises with a high degree of stability. For example, rather than diving straight into a barbell back squat, try mastering a dumbbell split squat or a leg press. Once you master the basics, you’ll feel far more confident progressing to more advanced exercises.

If you’re unsure where to start, our ‘Principles Of Muscle Building Program Design’ is your first port of call to learn the concepts behind the muscle building workouts of the world’s most successful personal trainers.

Katrina switched from triathlon training to weights to complete her impressive 24kg transformation journey. 

4. ‘I feel like everyone’s looking at me when I’m in the gym.’

You will inevitably make eye contact with another gym-goer at some point as you exercise. However, most people are more concerned about how they look than they are worried about you. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, ‘what other people think of me is none of my business.’ So, while it’s tempting to dwell on other people’s opinions, try to divert your focus to what you can control: your goals.

5. ‘I’m afraid I’m going to look stupid in workout kit because I feel big.’

According to surveys, as many as 65% of women say they avoid the gym due to their weight[13]. It’s understandable that you may feel uncomfortable in the gym when you aren’t 100% happy in your skin. However, the only way to improve your body confidence is by taking the plunge. Don’t underestimate the power of some new workout gear when it comes to boosting your confidence and unleashing your inner superwoman. Even if you feel ‘big’ right now, your self-belief will go up a notch each time you reach a new milestone in your fitness journey.

Female weight loss before and after

Ultimate Performance helped Zrinka regain her confidence one workout at a time to make her incredible 53kg transformation.

6. ‘Is the weights area for men only?’

In short, no! Research shows that as many as one in five women report feeling intimidated when lifting weights in front of men[14]. A common cause is that there are often cultural perceptions that women don’t belong in the weights area. However, this is a perception that needs to change, and fast. Resistance training is a highly effective and beneficial tool for improving health, fitness, and mental well-being, regardless of your gender or age. So, next time you feel like you don’t ‘belong’ in the weights area, try to remember that you have just as much right to be in there as anyone else.

7. ‘I’m afraid of getting an injury.’

Fear of injury is a common barrier to exercise, with 45% of women reporting that this has held them back in the past[15]. It can be easy to worry about hurting yourself in the gym while you’re still familiarising yourself with resistance training. However, weight training is one of the most effective ways to reduce your injury risk as it improves the stability and integrity of your joints, as well as helping maintain physical function as you age. If you focus on performing each movement with control and take adequate rest periods between exercises, you’ll do more to reduce your risk for injury than increase it.

If you have a history of injuries, this could be an additional incentive to seek professional support. A personal trainer can work with you to create a tailored exercise plan that considers your goal, capabilities and injury history. In addition, they can help reinforce effective technique and ensure you reap the rewards from your investment.

Weight training had a life-changing impact on 53-year-old Heather after years  of debilitating injuries and chronic arthritis in her joints left her feeling old and unable to keep fit. 

8. ‘Do I need to get fitter and stronger before I start lifting weights?’

Research shows that as many as 45% of women feel too unfit to start attending the gym[16]. And while it’s easy to feel put off from going if you don’t feel in peak condition, regular exercise is one of the best investments you can make in your long-term physical and mental health. Gyms exist to help you get fitter, stronger, and achieve your health goals. From the newest trainee to the most seasoned gym junkie, everyone is there for one reason: to improve themselves. Unless you’ve been advised against exercising by your doctor, the best way to improve your health is to start moving. You don’t have to be fit to start; you just have to start.

Breaking down the barriers

Gymtimidation is a barrier that holds too many women back from achieving their fitness goals. However, whatever your gender, starting point or appearance, every goal is equally valid. So, while there may be multiple factors that lead to gymtimidation that you can’t control, a clear plan will allow you to tackle the gym with confidence.

If you’re still not sure where to begin, reach out to learn more about how we can help you start your fitness journey.

Key Takeaways

  • Gymtimidation, the fear of exercising at the gym or in front of other people, is a common barrier that prevents women from achieving their fitness goals.
  • Gymtimidation doesn’t just affect gym ‘newbies’ as even the most experienced gym trainees feel self-conscious from time to time.
  • Common triggers of gymtimidation include feeling body conscious, worrying about exercising in front of others and pressure from social media expectations.
  • For most gym newbies, keeping it simple can help you build confidence and belief in your abilities.
  • It’s easy to feel put off by the gym when you don’t feel on top form, but resistance training is one of the best ways to improve your body composition and health in the long term.
  • Professional guidance from a personal trainer can provide a source of support, accountability and structure to your training to start you off on the right path towards your goals.

As our CEO and founder at Ultimate Performance, Nick Mitchell, states “Some men would be better to train like women and some women would be better to train like men.” Contrary to popular belief, women do not get bulky from lifting heavy weights. Read here to learn more.


[1] Gervis, Z. (2021). Americans aren’t lazy — we’re just scared of the gym. [Last accessed 19 August 2021].

[2] FitRated. (2021). Workout Worries – A look at what causes gym aversion and anxiety. [Last accessed 19 August 2021].

[3] Gervis, Z. (2021). Americans aren’t lazy — we’re just scared of the gym.

[4] FitRated. (2021). Workout Worries – A look at what causes gym aversion and anxiety.

[5] FitRated. (2021). Workout Worries – A look at what causes gym aversion and anxiety.

[6] Colberg, S.R., et al. (2010). Exercise and type 2 diabetes: the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement. Diabetes Care, 33(12).

[7] Tian, D., Meng, J. (2019). Exercise for Prevention and Relief of Cardiovascular Disease: Prognoses, Mechanisms, and Approaches. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity.

[8] Chekroud, S.R., et al. (2018). Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1.2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study. The Lancet Psychiatry, 5(9).

[9] Kashihara, K., et al. (2009). Positive effects of acute and moderate physical exercise on cognitive function. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 28(4).

[10] Berger, B.G., McInman, A. (1993). Exercise and the Quality of Life. Handbook of Research on Sport Psychology. Maxwell Macmillan, New York, pp.729-760.

[11] Croft, A.M., Palmer, J.V. (2012). Exercise and life expectancy. The Lancet, 379(9818).

[12] Gervis, Z. (2021). Americans aren’t lazy — we’re just scared of the gym.

[13] FitRated. (2021). Workout Worries – A look at what causes gym aversion and anxiety.

[14] Gervis, Z. (2021). Americans aren’t lazy — we’re just scared of the gym.

[15] FitRated. (2021). Workout Worries – A look at what causes gym aversion and anxiety. [Last accessed 19 August 2021].

[16] FitRated. (2021). Workout Worries – A look at what causes gym aversion and anxiety.

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