My mouse hovered over the button. I was afraid to hit publish.
I hope everyone knows the weird, simultaneous apprehension and satisfaction that comes with finishing something you really put all of yourself into. The doubt—what if this is actually terrible, what if nobody reads it? what if people are just tolerating me?—mixes with the enormous relief of being finished.
I knew that this time I was going to step on some toes. I also knew that what I was writing had been real to me and the people I’ve trained, and was grounded in real research.
Still, when I published How to Stop Feeling Judged at the Gym on my site and around the internet, I got exactly the kind of comments I expected:
“Want to know the un-PC, hard truth about gyms, which reflects the psychology of human social groups? No one gives a shit about you.”
“Anyone who is judging you is a cunt. The VAST majority of gym-goers will either show you complete apathy OR will be proud of you for getting off the couch”
“Step 1: leave ego at the door.”
“You’re at the gym because you’re trying to better yourself. If someone is going to make fun of you for that, then shame on them…People are going to try and drag you down every step of the way, so you have to learn how to deal with it by being confident in yourself.”
“I promise no one at the gym cares about what you’re doing. Just do your thing.”
“Most people are only focused one one person at the gym: themselves.”
“The main thing is don’t be a slacker and space waster and people won’t judge.”
“I think I can help make this as clear as possible…. It might sting a little but trust me, I am trying to kick into motion a realization and new mindset / outlook for people that have this problem.
Get over your fucking self. Nobody gives a single shit whether you’re there or not, what you’re doing, or what you look like. At all.”
Ouch. But I felt fine about it, because I also got other comments and private messages.
People telling me that my article described exactly how they felt every time they set foot in a gym. People telling me that I described exactly how they have always felt about fitness.
People that were glad to have real strategies to work on their problems.
To me, those are the people I’m writing for. If you could “just do it” (and most people can’t), you wouldn’t be reading this. If you feel confident every time you step in a gym, or don’t feel confident but do it anyway, that’s incredible. Not everyone feels that way.
Can you just “get over your fucking self?”
When I started working out, no one told me that I wouldn’t be judged. And I definitely felt judged.
What if someone, as I approached the door on my first day, had pulled me aside and said: “hey, just so you know, no one gives a shit about you?”
Yeah, I know that’s unfair. Let’s make it “just so you know, no one in the gym is judging you.” Either way, kind or profane, would that advice have helped?
When I think back to the slamming deadlifts and guttural grunts, the muscle-y men and chalk dust, I’m pretty sure there isn’t anything in the world that could have kept me from being intimidated on my first day at the gym.
“No one is judging you” wouldn’t have helped when I dropped the barbell on my neck and heads turned in my direction. My face would still have burned with embarrassment.
“No one is judging you” wouldn’t have helped every time the guy next to me grabbed weights twice as heavy to do the same exercise I was doing.
“No one is judging you” wouldn’t have changed the way I felt watching a group of huge dudes congratulate each other for putting up more weight than I could count.
It isn’t as simple as “no one is judging you”
People didn’t actually need to be judging me for me to feel judged.
I felt judged because I was weak and they were strong. Because they were confident and I was terrified. Because they knew what they were doing and I was clueless.
My fear of the gym and certainty that I was being judged came from my thoughts and beliefs—not theirs.
“No one is judging you” can’t change how you feel about yourself. No matter how many people told me that, no matter how many different ways I heard it, it would never feel true.
Because I was judging myself. I had held my own self-image up to them and found it lacking. Every second I spent in that gym was another comparison, another act of judgment.
What can you do?
In the original article, I outlined four causes of gym anxiety:
- Not knowing what to do
- Comparing yourself to other people
- Feeling judged
- Feeling like you don’t belong
Feeling judged is only one reason for feeling uncomfortable in the gym, and really these four causes are not so separate from each other.
If it helps you to know that people aren’t judging you in the gym, that’s great. I’m truly happy for you.
For the record, it is mostly true. Most people at the gym are there to work out, not judge other people.
But if that isn’t enough for you, there are strategies you can use to make your gym-going experience less painful and intimidating.
I’ll see you in the gym once you use them.