Surveying Americans on Gymtimidation and Its Impact on Mental Health
It’s happened to the best of us. It’s post-work day and you’re more than ready to sweat it out at your 4pm hot yoga class, but after seeing a shredded, Megan Fox look-alike do a crow pose in a matching set, your confidence swiftly goes down the tubes.
Working out at a gym can often be intimidating due to performance or appearance-related anxiety––think fear of navigating heavy weights or a defeatist body image in the locker room. This common anxiety, coined “gymtimidation,” can have a negative impact on fitness goals or prevent some from going to the gym altogether.
But how is gym anxiety affecting Americans’ collective mental health? And how does the severity of “gymtimidation” differ state by state? Do certain workouts or equipment intensify the fear of judgment for gym-goers? We surveyed over 3,000 people from across the U.S. to try and answer these questions and more. We then turned to one of our in-house personal trainers to give us some pro tips on how to combat gymtimidation head-on!
- Almost 90% of people are concerned about how other people perceive them at the gym.
- The most common reason Gen Z hates going to the gym? Fear of judgment (38%).
- 44% will avoid going to the gym at certain times because there are too many people around.
- While 30% experience performance-based anxiety at the gym, 42% admit they experience appearance-based anxiety when working out.
- Despite respondents feeling judged at the gym themselves, 3 in 4 respondents say they rarely or never judge others at the gym.
- Over 37% feel more judged in a gym class setting than in a standard gym setting.
How are Americans Working Out?
Before we dive into how Americans experience gymtimidation, we wanted to get a feel for how Americans currently work out and what their fitness preferences are.
Even though working out with a partner can provide a slew of potential benefits (we’ll go more in-depth about this later), 71% of Americans say they prefer to work out alone. What’s more, the majority of Americans love an indoor workout––77% of our respondents prefer it to any outdoor exercise.
When are Americans hitting the gym? Monday is the most popular day of the week for a workout. The generations are split on what time of day is the best for exercise, however, 33% of baby boomers prefer to go to the gym in the morning, while 34% of Gen Zers and 31% of millennials prefer to go to the gym at night.
When it comes to working out at home or at the gym, you might be surprised to know that only 9% of respondents say they never work out at home. Combine this with the fact that only 15% of our respondents say they exclusively work out at the gym and it becomes clear that there’s a very large majority of people that are either never working out, working out at home exclusively, or switching between working out at home and working out at a gym. Out of all generations, Gen Zers (21%) seem to work out at the gym the most.
Meanwhile, 15% of our respondents say they would be willing to pay more for a gym membership if they didn’t feel judged when working out at said gym. This is our study’s first example of “gymtimidation” in action.
Which States Are Impacted Most & Least by Gymtimidation?
According to survey results, the degree to which American gym-goers experience gymtimidation varies quite a bit from state to state. Georgians are the Americans least affected by gymtimidation (23% less than the national average), while Oregonians are the most affected (22% above the national average). However, Oregon’s neighbor to the south, California, is the second least affected, so the 900 miles or so between Los Angeles and Portland must make a big difference when it comes to gym anxiety!
What Are The Main Reasons Americans Don’t Enjoy the Gym?
So, gymtimidation is clearly a widespread issue, and our survey found that there are a variety of reasons for Americans not liking the gym. But simply stating a problem exists doesn’t do much good, so not only are we going to go over the most common gym barriers that respondents mentioned in our survey, we’re also going to propose some potential solutions with help from Myprotein personal trainer Sean Butt.
1) COVID-19 Concerns
COVID-19 has changed the entire world in a way we’ll never forget, so it makes sense that it’s the biggest reason for avoiding the gym among our respondents. However, Sean has some advice for those that are kept away from the gym by COVID:
Avoid peak hours – Ask an employee what the peak hours at your gym are and try to make those times work with your schedule. Not only will having fewer people around allow you to safely practice social distancing, it can also help with our survey’s second most commonly cited gym issue…
2) Fear of Judgement
The second most commonly cited reason our respondents don’t like the gym, “fear of judgment,” is the main idea behind this entire study, and there’s no one solution to overcoming it. We’ll go more in-depth with the gymtimidation experienced by the average American shortly, but there are a few different things you can do. Here are some of Sean’s recommendations:
Learn the layout – Learning the layout of the gym can help make you feel more in control and stop you from walking around looking a little lost.
Practice at home first – If you’re worried about trying a new exercise, try it at home first by watching videos of personal trainers demonstrating the exercise online, recording yourself as you attempt to copy what they’re doing, then comparing the video of the trainer doing the exercise to the video of you doing the exercise.
Go in with a plan of attack – Know what you’re training before you walk into the gym. When you’re starting out it can help to have a list of exercises you can do if a piece of equipment you would normally use is being used. Be prepared!
Wear the right clothes – Wear something that makes you feel comfortable and confident! If you’re worried about how you look then those worries will seep into your lifts and movements, and ultimately you will feel worse.
3) Lack of Motivation
Getting up off the couch, driving to the gym, changing into gym clothes, completing your workout, driving back home, taking a shower – it’s a lot for anybody. The key to making working out easier is motivation, but how does one get motivated so they can get into shape and stay healthy? Sean has a few potential solutions to our respondents’ third most frequently cited reason for not liking the gym.
Find a workout buddy – Sometimes we need a hype person who will help us along our journey! Even if you’ve already been training on your own for a while, having someone with you can be massively beneficial. As well as providing motivation, they can help with form and technique – and what’s better than being able to laugh together?
Make a banging playlist – This will help with focus, drive and maybe help you squeeze out that last rep or two.
Keep track of your workout – Track your lifts, repetitions, and sets. You might not see progression right away, but if your results are written down on paper or even in the notes on your phone it’s a visual reminder that you’re smashing it!
Celebrate your wins – Celebrate your wins and successes no matter how small they may seem. Managed one extra press-up in comparison to last week? GO ON! Celebrate these small wins in the beginning to help build your confidence.
Is Fear of Judgment in the Gym Affecting Mental Health?
How many Americans say they suffer from gymtimidation? And does it affect some people more than others? One of the most important questions on our survey was, “On a scale of one to five, how concerned are you about how other people perceive you while you work out?” About 51% of our respondents chose either a four or a five, meaning they’re very concerned with how they’re perceived by others while working out, and another almost 25% answered with a three out of five, which means only about one in four gym-goers don’t care about what others think of them during a workout.
The generation most affected by gymtimidation is Gen Z with 38% of our Gen Z respondents saying they are impacted by a fear of judgment at the gym. The most intimidating gym equipment is free weights, like dumbbells and barbells, with 37% of our respondents saying they feel more intimidated by free weights than any other type of gym equipment.
So, how one is perceived by others at the gym is something a lot of people struggle with, but what can be done about it? Sean’s advice: “Stop comparing yourselves to others – Everyone’s fitness journey starts somewhere – some have been working out for years, some have just started, while others may have started and stopped only to start again. We’re all at different points in our journeys and lives, so don’t worry about everyone else, just focus on yourself. And don’t judge others if you don’t want to be judged yourself!”
Take Home Message
If you’re suffering from gymtimidation, hopefully, these tips will help you work through some of your gym anxiety. Candidly, there’s no quick and easy fix-all for anything in health and fitness, but committing to a plan and seeing it all the way through will help with your success in the long run.
If you’re hoping to boost your performance as well as your confidence in the gym, take a look at our creatine supplements, like our creatine powder and pre-workout. A super-popular sport supplement, creatine helps boost performance in bursts of short-term, high-intensity exercise.
Our survey ran for two weeks in February of 2022 and received 3,140 responses. We asked respondents if they ever experience gymtimidation, which specific pieces of gym equipment they find the most intimidating, and more. Note that Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming were not included in our state-by-state results due to a lack of responses.