Gym Classy Lady: Why I’m OK With Feeling Like an Idiot at the Gym

how to feel confident

I consider myself a pretty confident person. I enjoy public speaking, love to tell jokes and stories in crowds, and carry myself with my head held reasonably (perhaps too) high. But for some reason, one thing in life has always had the effect of turning me into a 7th grader and forgetting how to feel confident entirely: the gym.

I know. A girl writing a column reviewing workout classes finds them completely terrifying? A so-called-fitness-fanatic (if you call yourself something long enough, it sticks) is afraid of a weight room? What? But it’s true! I am not intimidated by much in life, but put me in some lululemon (please!) in a room full of girls who in any other world would be my friends, and I turn into the love child of Kristen Wiig from SNL and, well, Kristen Wiig from Bridesmaids. Awkward (yet hilarious, I’m funny even when I’m awkward) city.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a natural athlete. Maybe it’s because I’m always trying new things and nothing is as glaringly “newbie” as grabbing the wrong mat/weights/band/other workout class items I can’t even begin to describe… whatever it is, it’s uncomfortable enough to keep me home, enjoying The Bachelor and a treadmill. Well, almost. I would never really enjoy a treadmill.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with how to feel confident at the gym (validate my neuroses in the comments section, please). I have friends who are too nervous to even go to a gym, let alone to classes. And I used to be that way as well, darting past the classroom, straight for the elliptical. Ahh, the elliptical. The less-intimidating treadmill.

I used to get so nervous before classes that I would have to go with a friend. Or two. Safety in numbers, I thought? And before I would make it to the gym, I’d stop by a drugstore and buy myself little presents, like Goldfish and new nail polish. (It’s worth noting that this trick helped me discover one of my favorite nail colors…and Essie’s Sand Tropez lasted even longer than Body Pump.)

But I digress. Regardless of my nerves, the class always turned out the same way: I would be terribly embarrassed at first, someone else would inevitably be new as well, the class would be hard, but a great workout, I’d sweat and pant, and in the end, a happy endorphin high would allow me to forget the terror of 45 minutes before.

Many fears can be faced by anticipating the worst thing that could possibly happen if the fear came true. For me, I go straight to “I’ll be carried out of spin by EMTs because I’ve passed out or thrown up mid-class,” but that’s probably taking it to the extreme. I’m a relatively healthy, (relatively) young girl; the worst thing that is going to happen to me in an exercise class is looking like an moron.

Once I faced my fear and started to get over the awkwardness, I learned very quickly that I am someone who needs to be pushed at the gym, or I’ll give 50% and shrug my way home. It’s not that I want to be a slacker, it’s that mental side of exercise. I think I’m working hard when I’m alone, but it turns out I’m capable of a lot more than I think. Or perhaps my pain threshold is higher than I think. Whatever it is, I’m more likely to test my limits when others are watching (and suffering) alongside me. So I’m beginning to come around, I’ll even go to classes by myself! Which is good, since I’m going to have many to review here (suggest ideas in the comments, please!). Slowly, I’m realizing that it’s ok to look like an idiot every week or so, which is why I’m now considering a Zumba class. I believe Zumba to be Dante’s seventh circle of awkwardness.

Are you also neurotically intimidated by exercise? Join me in the quest to conquer what I’m cleverly coined gymtimidation. Yes, that’s right, I made up a word. Hopefully, having a fake word for a real fear will help you to address what is keeping you back and to join me for underwater robot acrobatics (I wish!), or whatever keeps you motivated.

And if all else fails to get you to the gym, here’s what I keep telling myself… two fundamental, age-old truths:

1. You never regret a workout.

2. No one else is paying attention to you anyway. They’ll all worried about how dumb they look. Except me, I look awesome.

Share This Post:
    • Briana

      I can totally relate to this… I usually peer pressure people into coming to new classes with me, or else try to go at non-peak times to minimize embarrassment. But there’s usually some amount of embarrassment involved in trying new machines/exercises/movements at the gym!

    • AD

      You should definitely try out Lithe Method when it opens in February (if you are in the NYC area).

      • Gym Classy Lady

        Thank you! I have contacted them… it looks like a great class!

    • Hannah

      Let me start by saying I love your writing voice! Really fun article to read. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

      I’m starting pilates this week, and am pretty nervous about that. I have a very strong core from kickboxing (was also nervous the first time I did that 7 months ago, but fell in love when I just turned my mind set from being nervous to pretending I’m a bad ass), but am still worried I’ll look like an unbalanced mess.

      Really looking forward to more of these articles.

      • Gym Classy Lady

        Thanks, Hannah!! You made my day. :)

        I love Pilates (it’s probably my favorite exercise activity of all time) and kickboxing! You’ll be fine, Pilates is actually pretty manageable, especially if you can master kickboxing. I wish I could find a good kickboxing class in New York.

    • belle

      I love Zumba precisely because EVERYONE looks like an idiot, except the teacher. My favourite is a 10am weekday class I used to do during uni holidays. About 10 people tops, all older women who are wearing fancy workout gear but have even less rhythm and shimmying ability than me. And no one minds if I can’t get a step and just boogie on the spot for a minute or so, up the back, enjoying the music. Unlike Step class, where you get evil eyes if you dare spin the wrong way (that’s me, always going against the crowd!)

    • Whatever

      I can handle going to Zumba but when I don’t have an instructor telling me what to do, I feel like a complete fool. I’m really trying to force myself to use the weight machines this year.

    • Body Athletics Blog

      True true! People should never regret working out. I’ve seen plenty of noobie gym users but I never give them a hard time. Being healthy in any way is encouraged. Nice article. As a college swimmer I’m a pretty active person, but I know how hard it can be for those who usually don’t stay active to start being active.

      You should check out some of my workouts –>