The situation typically goes something like this: You’re new to the gym. You’ve chosen a sensible workout, arm curls with eight-pound weights, when you hear what sounds like a wild animal howling across the room. You look to see that these grunts and groans are coming from an actual person who writhes as he/she lifts a bar as heavy as you are and throws it to the ground upon completion, glaring at you as he/she drinks from his protein shake sippy cup. Suddenly your arm curls seem sad. You are not worthy of working out alongside this arrogant Adonis-wannabe. The air is thick with shame.
Gym-shaming or “gymtimidation”—as it’s also known—is a feeling we’ve all experienced at one point or another.
Online sources define gym-shaming as the “self-conscious, confidence-vanishing feeling one experiences when faced with an intimidating, embarrassing or potentially awkward situation at the gym. It often involves feelings of fear or anxiety of being judged based on one’s fitness level.”
Based on several comments posted on the Seattle University Confessions 2.0 Facebook page, students have recently been experiencing feelings of gym-shaming at our fitness center. For a school that prides itself on being accepting and inclusive, these sorts of concerns are particularly troubling.
Seattle U junior Jennifer Sasaki is a member of the fitness staff, and even she reports having feelings of intimidation.
“Sometimes people aren’t as comfortable working out or doing certain exercises, especially strength-training, because we feel like we don’t know what we’re doing and other people are going to be looking at us and think we don’t know [what we’re doing]. Maybe that’s partly us thinking that people are looking at us more than they actually are, but that happens all the time,” said Sasaki.
She explained that the gym tends to be separated by gender.
“For the most part, the girls stay upstairs and the guys use the machines downstairs and lift weights,” Sasaki said.
This separation may be caused by gym-shame. Sasaki said that some of her female friends have reservations about lifting on the strength floor.
“All the guys lift down here and they’re all using the benches and [my friends] don’t want to be the [only] girls,” Sasaki said.
Even daily gymgoer M.J. Cordero says she avoids the strength floor.
“I only stay [on the second floor] and I don’t go downstairs. I don’t go down there because it is almost all guys and it is kind of intimidating,” Cordero said.
Junior Sheila Fisher comes to the gym a couple of days per week and says she feel relatively comfortable.
“I usually come with my friends or roommates or someone else. We try to help each other figure it out if we don’t know how to use a machine,” Fisher said. “It makes it entertaining and fun.”
Senior Tomas Mendez, a member of the swim team, said, “I think that here at Seattle U it’s more inviting than at a 24 Hour Fitness Center or an LA Fitness. You see a lot more people learning how to lift or learning how to use the machines and you don’t see that as often at a corporate gym… I don’t feel like there’s much gym intimidation here. It’s mostly college students that are intermediate gymgoers. ”
As Mendez theorized, some stats suggest that gym-shaming is also prominent in the world outside of Seattle U.
According to Planet Fitness CEO Michael Grondahl, 85 percent of Americans do not belong to a gym.
Grondahl argues that the industry has been pervaded by judgmental attitudes—the word “gym” itself is now tainted. To fend off this negative association, he coined the Planet Fitness slogan, “We’re not a gym, we’re Planet Fitness.”
In an ad campaign that began in 2011, Planet Fitness shelled out an estimated $10 to $12 million promoting their unique brand of accepting fitness. Today, the company has four million members, 60 percent of which are women.
Here are some tips from precor.com on how to overcome gym-shaming:
1) Write down what you want to accomplish at the gym. Know and be proud of your current level of fitness and develop a workout that will suit your fitness goals.
2) Focus on your workout.
3) Make an active effort to focus in on your own workout and not those surrounding you. Put in your headphones, watch the TV and hone in on your workout.
4) Believe in yourself. You are your only competition and your worst critic. Remind yourself that those who criticize you for trying do so to satisfy their own insecurities.
5) Remember that we’ve all been in or are currently in your shoes, so there is no reason to feel insecure. Keep your goals in mind, be proud of how far you’ve come and keep pressing forward.
Let’s get fit or not get fit, free of shame.