How to Overcome Intimidation at Your New Gym

November 2, 2018

Karen asks, “How do you overcome feeling intimated and self-conscious as a newcomer when you see people throwing barbells over their heads and swinging around on pull-up bars?”


Okay. Karen, yes, we understand. This is scary. This is intimidating. Because what you’re doing is you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, which is a great thing. Now, as humans we’re really good at keeping ourselves in our comfort zone. We try to avoid the discomfort. We try and keep ourselves with the things that we’re comfortable with. As soon as we go through the school system, and we get to the point where we start to be able to choose the subjects that we want to study, we’re then choosing to do things that we’re good at. The more we do things that we’re good at, the better at them we start to become. Then we do more of them, and we become better again. After the age of maybe 12, 13, 14, we become very specialised in what we do.

This is good because we need specialists, but it also means that we’re neglecting things. When it comes to your health and your fitness, if we start to neglect things, that’s where we start to have some issues. So we need to be able to expand this bubble because the more we can expand this bubble, the more elements of your health and fitness it will encompass. The only way that we can push the limits and the boundaries of this bubble is to get out there to the edge of the bubble and give them a push. The edges of the bubble, this is where we’re starting to get outside our comfort zone.

Let’s do a little bit of a thought experiment. I’d like everyone who’s watching or listening to this to think of something that they are good at. Maybe it’s your job. Somewhere where you’re in your comfort zone, where you’re in charge. Maybe it is your job. Maybe it’s being at the gym. Maybe it’s playing a musical instrument. Something where you feel comfortable, you feel in control. Now I want you picture an outsider coming into that environment. Maybe it’s someone who doesn’t know the role at your job that they’re expected to do and they’re a newcomer into the business. Maybe it’s someone who’s coming into the gym, as is the example we’re talking about today, where they’re intimated about starting a new programme. Think of this person coming in.

What you need to remember is that everyone is an expert at something. You are an expert at something. You are an expert in your particular field. When people come into your environment, they’re feeling exactly the same way that you are when you’re starting off with a new gym programme, a new exercise programme. This can be a really good thought experiment, a really good look into the importance of having empathy, of being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It can actually be really valuable when we say, “Well, I’m intimidated by a certain environment.” Then you can start to understand the other people when they’re coming into your environment, into your domain, are feeling exactly the same way.

Now, this experiment, this thought experiment, tells us a few different things. Firstly, it tells us that people judge you a lot less than you think. It’s natural to perceive that we’re be judged. It’s human nature to perceive that we’re being judged. But if you think of people coming into your environment of comfort, you don’t judge them nearly as much as you think that they would judge you. The second thing that we can learn from this experiment is that people want to help us more than we think. If someone’s coming into your environment, into your domain, you’d go out of your way to try and help them, to try and bring them up to your level. Exactly the same thing would happen in a gym environment. Also, people will respect your journey a lot more than you think.

This seems to be a problem that when you’re coming into a new exercise environment and you see all these people who are eight or nine out ten in terms of their progression through their health and exercise journey, and you’re maybe a one, a two, or a three out of ten, we incorrectly perceive that going from a nine to a ten is more important than going from a one to a two. It’s absolutely not the case. In fact, not only is this not the case, it’s more important to be able to go from a one to a two than it is to go from a nine to a ten. Because if you’re going from a one to a two, that’s 100% improvement. Someone going from a nine to a ten, it’s not. It’s a 9 or a 10% improvement.

So just remember, the importance of your goals is not driven by the magnitude of the goals. It’s driven by the fact that you’re progressing along your continuum. Everyone is an expert as something. Everyone has a certain niche that they are good at. So make sure you put this in perspective. Understand that, yes, this is something that intimidates you, but to be able to achieve what you want to achieve, you have to be able to push the limits of that bubble, sometimes be a little uncomfortable with it, but realise that people are not judging you almost as much as you may think.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.

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