When Men are Afraid of the Gym: Tips for Gym Newbies


by Joshua on January 25, 2012

The Daily Garriga classic!

I’ve been working out off-and-on now for about 20 years. Sure there have been times when I’ve disappeared from the gym for long stretches, but when I get in a training groove, I feel like a championship caliber athlete. I often find myself finishing up a workout, feeling like a lion who has just devoured his prey, knowing that everyone in sight is looking at me with a careful respect. When I was in my twenties and at my peak, I was 6’2”, 240lbs, and as strong as an ox. My max bench press was 375lbs – not bad for a kid who was skin and bones in high school. I may have slowed down a bit over the last five years, but I can still crank it up in the gym when I put my mind to it.

Over the years I’ve worked with lots of newbies in the gym and helped them develop the knowledge and confidence they needed to master the art of working out. Let’s face it, when it comes to working out, the battle is probably 90% mental. Once you understand the mental aspect of training, you are able to push yourself to physical boundaries you never imagined you could reach. I often tell people that the body, mind, and spirit are so completely unified that it is impossible to master one while ignoring the others.

There are a number of reasons that otherwise phenomenal people choose to ignore the development of their body through weight and cardio training. You may not be able to afford a gym membership, you may work long hours and have no free time to go to the gym, you may not have convenient access to a decent gym, or you may simply not enjoy working out. These are all understandable reasons for not going to the gym, but they can all be overcome through creative approaches toward exercise and fitness.

And for most men, these are not the real reasons they choose not to go to the gym.

Most men who want to get in shape, but choose not to work out, do so because they are intimidated by the gym.

Yes, the intimidation factor is the most common reason men do not work out. It is also the least acceptable reason. If you can discipline yourself to overcome the first few weeks of mental intimidation and physical discomfort, you can position yourself to enjoy a longer, healthier, and more rewarding life.

There are four primary mental obstacles that must be overcome before a newbie can feel comfortable in the gym.

1. Fear of the equipment.
This is by far the easiest mental obstacle to overcome. You won’t know how to use equipment if you’ve never had the opportunity to use it before. The only way to learn is by doing. The best way to overcome this obstacle is to go to the gym with a gym veteran. It’s always easier to learn when you have someone teaching you. It also reduces the intimidation factor that comes with worrying about using equipment the wrong way. If you are unable to find a veteran workout buddy, then I suggest you take advantage of the free training session most gyms offer new members. This will give you an opportunity to ask questions about anything and everything. I absolutely recommend hiring a full-time trainer if it’s in your budget. For most of us, the cost of a trainer is prohibitive and so we go it alone. You can always supplement your knowledge of exercises and equipment through online research and magazines at your local newsstand.

2. Fear of the meatheads.
While many veteran weightlifters think of themselves as lions and warriors, newbies often look at us and see irrational and potentially threatening meatheads. It’s funny, but usually not true. Most gym veterans love to share the knowledge they’ve acquired over a lifetime of training and will happily spend a few minutes giving you tips and encouragement. The key is to engage them when you have an opportunity – don’t fear them. Sure it may be disconcerting when you’re only a few feet away from a sweaty hulk who is grunting like an animal while pushing an ungodly pile of weight. Don’t be intimidated. Just laugh to yourself about how funny he looks, regain your composure, and then ask him if he has any advice on how to build your triceps. You’ll see that he’s probably a really nice guy and quite helpful.

3. Fear of how you look.
Are you unhappy with how your body currently looks and afraid that people in the gym will judge you? You shouldn’t be. Most gym vets don’t have the time or inclination to judge newbies. They’re too busy trying to master their own workout. And the women in your gym aren’t paying any attention to you. Seriously, they aren’t thinking about you. From my experience, it is usually the newbies who are judging themselves. So relax, remember that you came to the gym to transform your body, believe that you will transform your body, and feel good about yourself. You may not be in a position to show off at first, but you’ll be burning fat and adding muscle. So stick with it and reap the benefits.

4. Fear of the locker room.
I’m not going to lie – gym locker rooms can be dirty, smelly, and unpleasant. A lot of them are cramped and uncomfortable. I usually wear my workout clothes to the gym and wait until I get home to shower. This is probably the best option for newbies. However, some of you may find it absolutely necessary to shower at the gym so you can make it to wherever you need to be on time. If this is the case, be warned that you’ll be surrounded by naked old men who seem to enjoy being naked in front of other people. If you focus your gaze down and handle your business quickly, it shouldn’t be a problem. Seriously though, try to leave yourself enough time that you can shower at home.

Once you’ve overcome these four fears – equipment, meatheads, your body, and the locker room – you’re on your way to a more fit body and a happier you.

So you’re now a regular at the gym and you want to fit in well. What should you do?

a. Don’t force equipment you don’t understand. If you don’t know how to use something, ask someone. Take advantage of the confidence you gained by overcoming the four fears and just ask for help.

b. Don’t drop the weights. Dropping weights and making unnecessary noise is a breach of gym protocol. You’re going to want to be a good citizen at the gym and play by the rules. Also, if a weight is so heavy that you can’t help but drop it at the end of your set, you should probably be using a lighter weight. Don’t get crazy and injure yourself – or someone else!

c. Avoid heavy grunting. Seriously, it bothers you when others do it. Don’t be that guy. That’s not to say that you should avoid grunting altogether. A little grunting helps you lift more weight and breath properly. It’s just that I shouldn’t be able to hear you when my iPod is set to max volume.

d. Wipe down the equipment. There is nothing worse than walking over to a weight bench and finding it covered in sticky sweat and greasy hair products. Be considerate and wipe down your equipment when you’re finished.

e. Don’t sleep on the equipment. I don’t want you to feel rushed when you’re working out, but you probably shouldn’t spend more than 2-3 minutes resting between sets – even that is a lot. If you don’t have the energy to finish your sets in a timely manner, move on and give the next guy a chance.

f. Don’t smell bad. Going to the gym is no excuse to skip a shower. If you smell like a pile of old gym socks, you’re going to offend everyone around you and you’ll quickly gain the reputation as the smelly guy that no one likes.

Remember these six rules of etiquette and you’re on your way to being one of the regulars that everyone enjoys seeing and working out next to when they’re at the gym.

In order to maximize your workouts you should be eating right and taking vitamins. Please don’t take any weird supplements without first consulting your doctor. There is just too much junk out there in the market. I wouldn’t assume something is good for you just because you found it at GNC.

Finally, don’t take unplanned days off from the gym. You want to plan ahead for when you will take days off to rest. This will help you maintain a disciplined approach to your fitness training.

Now get off the Internet and get moving!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Erick June 25, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Thanks man, good tips!


davedale April 11, 2015 at 12:37 am

It is only in the past few decades that grown men have been afraid to shower at the gym . Guys used to be required to shower every day in PE class in high school, that’s why almost all your fathers would shower at the gym.
Antibiotic resistant skin infections are now very common, as people have forgotten the reason showering post work out used to be common-TO GET CLEAN.
If you are comfortable with your sexuality, you would have no reason to have a problem changing and showering in public , you won’t even give it a second thought. It is easy to divert your gaze if you want to.
Some believe that guys afraid of showering are insecure about their sexuality and are therefore afraid what might happen if they shower around other men. This may be why guys in the NFL and marines, etc., never seem to have a problem, but frequently more fem guys do. Many boys today are raised by single mothers, have no chance for male bonding as a kid, and may have good reason to be afraid of showering. If this is the case, please shower when you get home, all those germs brewing under sweaty clothing grow nasty bugs; please spare the rest of us from you taking them back to the gym the next day. You can avoid looking at a guys privates, but you can’t avoid bacteria left on a bench press.


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