Cringe-factor aside, Planet Fitness was definitely onto something when they branded themselves the “Judgement-Free Zone” where egos and juice-heads aren’t welcome.
But despite its Lunk Alarm, ban on gallon jugs, and absolutely no squat racks in sight, “gym-timidation” is still very real across the fitness world (including PF).
So real that half of non-gym-goers consider the idea of visiting a gym “scary,” and 67% of us don’t use our gym memberships at all. But just how bad is gym-timidation?
Check out these 10+ gym anxiety statistics to find out.
Many People Experience “Gym-timidation”
- Over half of gym-goers admit avoiding the gym out of fear of judgment or anxiety.
- Nearly half (47%) of gym members feel intimidated training next to someone who’s fit, while 17% have anxiety around the opposite sex at the gym.
- Seven in ten young adults felt judged while exercising.
Do People Really Judge Others At the Gym?
The human ones will…
No, really, forming judgments and opinions about others is hardwired in human instinct and how we interact with the world around us. So we analyze how others look and behave and draw conclusions about them, no matter how incorrect or off-base they may be.
It’s the same reason you sigh at the guy grunting in the squat rack (“ego much?”) or the girl sprinting at 12 MPH on the treadmill (“show-off”). Or why you assume the car in front of you committing the cardinal sin of driving — the Jersey Slide — has an a-hole in the cockpit.
But the silent judgments at the gym aren’t necessarily rooted in meanness either.
In fact — no offense — but unless you’re hoarding weights, causing a scene, or dangling from the cable machine performing your own low-budget rendition of Cirque du Soleil, your fellow gym-goers likely won’t even notice you.
Aside from the rogue jerk, most gym members are actually extremely nice. The fittest ones remember their newbie days, were once in your shoes, and respect the hell out of you!
It’s So Powerful That It Inspired an Entire Gym Chain
Planet Fitness’s anti-gymtimidation “Judgement-Free Zone” (yes, it was a typo they ran with) is the butt of nearly every gym-related joke out there. But it was actually a genius marketing idea in a world where training near someone fitter or of the opposite gender is a huge anxiety trigger.
The brothers behind the global gym chain — Marc and Michael Grondahl — snatched up a struggling Gold’s Gym in New Hampshire in 1992. It wasn’t long before they realized that their customer base would always fit into the classic “bodybuilder” stereotype.
The Grondahls and their new business partner — CEO Chris Rondeau — adjusted their sails, opening the first Planet Fitness in 1993 to cater to “regular” people at a low $10/month.
Planet Fitness’s somewhat rocky reputation revolved around the idea of no gymtimidation (which they trademarked in 2013). Each club banned “lunk” behavior, ranging from grunting to slamming weights, and even removed equipment that would lure in hobbyist bodybuilders.
The idea stuck. By 2020, Planet Fitness had more than 2,000 clubs and 15.5 million members.
(How often those 15 million members scan in at their PF club is another story.)
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Women Experience More Anxiety than Men
- A poll of 1,438 women revealed that 33% prefer women-only gyms, and 78% fear being harassed at their fitness clubs (another 40% were).
- Women are more likely to experience gym-timidation than men (65% vs. 36%).
- Of the most common gym fears in women, 55% are afraid they’re not fit enough, 49% are insecure about their choice of clothing, and 25% dread being stereotyped.
Gymtimidation Isn’t Stopping All Women, Though
It’s not just gym anxiety. Women are also statistically more likely to develop an anxiety disorder within their lifetime (33% for women versus 22% for men).
However, stepping foot into what many consider a “male-dominated” facility isn’t as big a barrier as we once thought. In fact, women are outpacing men 50.5% to 49.5% in gym memberships and are joining fitness clubs at record rates (+32.2% in 2010–19 vs. +23.2% for men).
But we can’t ignore the fact that harassment is still a big problem at gyms. In fact, of the 60% of women who felt harassed at the gym (by men), the most common complaints were men:
- Standing too close to or brushing against them
- Making patronizing, inappropriate, or sexual comments
- Laughing at them
- Flirting with them
- Not taking “no” for an answer
- Following them around
Sure, some of these things might be honest mistakes if they happen once or twice. But listen, guys … if you have a habit of mansplaining the deadlift to girls, literally stalking women as they’re on machines, or catcalling women in leggings, please stop.
(Also, if there’s ever an appropriate time to “white knight,” this is it.)
Are There Women-Only Gyms In the U.S.?
Not only do they exist, but they’ve likely been around longer than you have. The first Curves — a women-oriented gym — opened its doors in Texas back in 1992. But women-only gyms are actually making an unexpected comeback on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Women-only gyms emerged as an empowering “new” trend on Tik Tok targeting women who’ve felt harassed, insecure, or generally uncomfortable around creepy men at the gym.
Curves still exist, though the chain clarifies it’s not technically “women’s only” (you would too if there was a threat of a legal suit overhead). But ladies’ only gym boutiques — whether they’re traditional gyms, yoga, or spin — are popping up in major cities across the country.
However, while dubbing gyms “social clubs” make this OK, there are legal battles for gyms designating areas of their gyms as “women’s only.” The Connecticut Supreme Court recently ruled that these separate spaces were discriminatory against men and transgender people.
Anxiety Is Preventing People From Exercising
- Half of those who don’t visit the gym consider it “scary.”
- Those who fear the gym list feeling like a newbie, self-consciousness, and being afraid to ask for help as their top reasons.
- Thirty-one percent of people experience anxiety when they imagine getting in shape.
- Interest in gym memberships surged by 300% during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many predicting that the rise in gym memberships will increase gym-timidation rates.
If You Can’t Curb Gymtimidation, Do This!
Between the fear of judgment and harassment, it’s no wonder so many gym memberships go unused. Overcome the gymtimidation and anxiety by:
Finding a Training Partner
The old saying is true — there’s strength in numbers! Partnering up with a friend who has experience can help you learn the ropes from somebody you trust while also improving your performance. Training with a partner can inspire you to more than double your session’s length.
Registering for Newbie-Only Group Classes
Most gyms offer free group classes for monthly members. But if you’re a true newbie and can’t afford a personal trainer (which costs $60+/hour), enroll in your gym’s beginner classes. These courses will ease you into circuit training in a separate, private room with fellow beginners.
Visiting the Gym During Non-Peak Hours
The best way to avoid the crowds and potential eyes on you is to visit the gym when it’s least crowded. Schedule your training sessions for mid-day on the weekdays, late evenings, and late afternoon on the weekends to dodge the crowds.
Doing Your Research
If you don’t want to wind up in a gym fail compilation, and you’re too afraid to ask other gym-goers how to use the equipment, do some research! Watch YouTube videos and read articles to master the form before giving ‘er a go.
Exercising at Home Instead
Unless you need a cable machine or a Peloton, building a home gym could cost just a few hundred dollars. Invest in adjustable dumbbells, resistance bands, a squat rack, a barbell, weight plates, an adjustable bench, kettlebells, or any combination of the lot.
The Pandemic Is Helping People Overcome Gymtimidation
- In the UK, 30% of adults began an exercise routine for the first time ever during lockdown, potentially reducing the odds of feeling embarrassed at the gym as a newbie.
Limited Capacity & Social Distancing Might Help
Although 39% of us gained at least 2.5 pounds during the pandemic, only 30.2% of us exercised less during lockdown. So if the fear of not understanding the exercises or looking like a newbie were your #1 gym anxiety triggers, COVID-19 may have actually been excellent practice.
As gyms across the country slowly reopen and loosen their COVID restrictions, your transition from home gym to “real gym” could be even smoother.
Social distancing (and normal gym courtesy) could curb the fear of exercising too close to someone who’s fitter than you or of the opposite gender.
Gyms were also less crowded in 2021, operating at closer to 70% of pre-COVID levels. As more of your fellow gym-goers turn to virtual and home workouts to dodge their gymtimidation and COVID fears, that also lessens the swarm of people typically at the gym during peak hours.
These factors allow you more time to adjust to the gym atmosphere before gyms reopen like normal and for good.
Gymtimidation is very real and one of the major reasons people avoid fitness clubs or getting fit altogether. Of course, your options aren’t to visit the gym a few times per week or fall into a vicious cycle of unhealthy habits.
If even the thought of visiting the gym during off-hours makes you nervous, try training with a friend to make it a social experience, virtual workouts, or home training sessions.
Or, find a gym that makes you feel comfortable and free of judgment (spelled the right way).
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