Self-conscious perfectionist wanting to change so she can train better
December 2, 2009 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Please help me be less self-conscious at the gym

This is really sabotaging my workouts. I've training for 4 years now (various gyms) and am still ridiculously self conscious about it. The gym I'm currently at is both a normal fitness and a boxing gym, and I use both sections every day. In my boxing training, if any of the pro boys are training at the same time as me I get self-conscious of my technique and fitness, despite the fact that they've all been lovely and helpful. I'm currently trying to get my conditioning back after a bit of a lay-off from injury and I'm so embarrassed about my fitness/strength at present. I find I sometimes avoid working on my weaknesses or doing exercises that are difficult for me or unfamiliar (even when I totally need to do them) because I'm embarrassed about how bad I am at them and don't want anyone to know - which is totally self-defeating. Or I'll try to do them at home rather than at the gym so no-one else sees. Because there's only one other girl boxer at the gym (and she doesn't train with the same group as me) people sometimes really *are* looking at me, more for curiosity than anything else, and when it happens it throws me off a bit.

Also, when my trainer puts me through a really tough workout sometimes I waste energy being afraid that maybe I won't get through it and will have to stop - which is my biggest fear. This is even worse when other people are there but even when I'm training by myself I'm always terrified that I won't be able to complete a challenge I've set myself.

I want to stop being so self-conscious and feeling like I have to be really good at everything cos I can actually feel it lowering my energy levels and it's not what I should be focussing on. And I know if I keep doing these things I will eventually become good at them, but how can I stop feeling like an idiot in the mean time? Even when I was using the weights room I was self-conscious of the fact that I wasn't lifting much weight, I know everyone has to start somewhere but I felt embarrassed and it put me off doing it.

I guess my main concern is being bad at something/failing, especially in front of other people. How can I get past this?
posted by Chrysalis to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Try humility. That sounds flip, but I mean it sincerely - adopt a humble attitude on purpose. It's what helps me.
posted by tamaraster at 2:30 PM on December 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, when my trainer puts me through a really tough workout sometimes I waste energy being afraid that maybe I won't get through it and will have to stop - which is my biggest fear. This is even worse when other people are there but even when I'm training by myself I'm always terrified that I won't be able to complete a challenge I've set myself.

Failure is the point. If, when setting fitness goals for yourself, you don't fail most of the time, you're not setting the bar high enough. This doesn't mean you should always try for a personal best (and in fact if you do too often you'll likely end up overtrained/injured), but in order to know more precisely what your maximum capacity is you have to know what's just beyond it, right?

Everyone else is either in the same boat or slacking.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:33 PM on December 2, 2009 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've been the worst guy in the gym more than a few times, and it is pretty distracting sometimes.

About general self-consciousness: Think of training as a place at which you kind of want to make mistakes. Competitions are where you want to win, and training is where you want to get the wonkiness out of your system. Be mindful that training and sparring are about getting better, not about looking good and winning.

In judo, the people that lock you out in practice and do everything humanely possible to not take a fall are not ones that get better the fastest. Those guys never get to try out what they're bad at (or even get to attack at all). Whenever you do something awkwardly, just think, OK, that's one bad technique out of my system, I'm glad I have time to fix that before I fight.

With regard to being afraid you'll have to stop: Try to remember all the times you thought you'd have to stop by didn't in the past. The body can go on for quite a long time after it starts its gentle panicking.
posted by ignignokt at 2:45 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

If it helps - I also get really self conscious when working out sometimes. When I first began bench pressing I was so uncomfortable asking people to spot me. I hated drawing attention to myself and interacting with people I didn't know. I was at a point where I was just going to stop bench pressing all together. The thing that helped me the most was talking out loud to someone I was comfortable with about my fears and concerns. They didn't go away and I still feel uncomfortable every time I ask someone to spot me BUT I try to channel the anxiety and frustration into weight lifting. You could also try wearing headphones. Even if you aren't listening to music, people will think you are and maybe that will help you ignore your surroundings.
posted by useyourmachinegunarm at 3:08 PM on December 2, 2009

Look at it this way:

1. Every single person at that gym is there because they're not happy about the way they look and/or feel when they're not exercising. They really aren't paying attention to you, except to motivate themselves by "at least I look better than that"/"someday I could look like that", depending on how they look relative to you.

2. Anything worth achieving involves failure. You're GOING to fail. If you don't fail regularly, you're not trying hard enough. Try to focus on what a failure says about your dedication and commitment.
posted by davejay at 3:17 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's not so much about avoiding looking foolish, but accepting that it's ok to look silly from time to time. Consider, also, that a gym is a shared space, take ownership of some of that space for yourself.

Spend some time with your body by yourself, sometimes I find that I'm looking at other people as a surrogate for dealing with my own body issues. I make them out to be better, more in control than they are because I'm projecting a fantasy of how I'd like to be onto someone else rather than dealing maturely with the gap between my current self and my idealised one.
posted by Ultrahuman at 3:31 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

My solution to this is to work out before i've had my coffee or any chance to wake up. This way, my body doesn't realize i'm going to the gym, and my brain doesn't care about other people in the gym.
posted by mezamashii at 3:36 PM on December 2, 2009

I've been You!!

I don't know how old you are, but... I noticed the older/wiser I've become, the less I cared about other folks at the gym.

I was just thinking the other day that I wish I'd known years ago what I feel now - paying attention to all that other noise really doesn't matter!! Who are those people? Why do I care/notice them at all??

You are there to work on YOU. Enjoy your time at the gym. Ignore other folks. Odds are, they're feeling as self-conscious right now as you once did (now that you've stopped caring!) If they do actually look at you, it's because they're worried you are looking at them. Seriously. The other possibility is that if they notice you, it's because they're at the gym for admiration. In your mind, replace gym-peacock with some sad version of your favorite love-to-hate tabloid celebrity. Let someone else notice them. Not your job.

Easy to say, hard to do - I know.

But maybe take some time to realize that you won't care as much about the same stupid thing down the road, so please, don't care about it now.

Just. Let.It.Go.

Turn your attention to your breathing. Turn your attention to your posture. Re-direct your intention during your work-outs as often as necessary until just being in the moment is your new gym habit.

Good Luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:58 PM on December 2, 2009

Best answer: Are your balls falling out of your shorts? Are you wearing a singlet that looks like a string bikini bottom? Do you make noises like a swearing drunk Welshman with every rep? Do you overload your weights so badly your form looks like Quasimodo doing pilates? Do you pause mid set to walk up to the mirror and searchingly inspect your guns like they're a treasure map in code? Do you stride away from your 150kg squats like you're running late for a meeting without unracking cause you're so tough?

If the answer to these is no (and god, I hope it is), trust me, you don't look stupid. It's a gym, not a catwalk, and definitely not a MANIMAL competition - however much a few isolated dicks might think so. Everyone was unfitter than you at some point, everybody is there to do exactly the same thing you are: work out, feel good, and perhaps - perhaps - look good. They are far more concerned about their muscles than yours, and you need to focus on yours and not theirs, as well.

Exercise is not a competition. When you're reading a book on the train, do you check to see how fast everyone else is reading? Do you try to finish every group meal first? Or try to push the highest floor button the elevator? There's no 'winning' with exercise. Just pleasure. Practice some mindfulness and remember that those tough guys at the gym are all really nice, and love seeing someone else give their hobby a crack.
posted by smoke at 4:59 PM on December 2, 2009 [15 favorites]

I've only been going to the gym for about 2.5 years now, after having been totally inactive for my life prior to that. I still feel like there's TONS I don't know, which in turn makes me self-conscious. I feel like when I do weights, guys are judging me for having such low weights compared to them/other girls even.

What helps me is to realize that I'm there, making the effort, and that in itself is respectable. If I am doing things as well as I know how, then I figure anyone who wants to say anything is either going to be a) helpful or b) an asshole. I've made a lot of friends who are the former, and never actually had anyone say anything to me in terms of the latter.
posted by hepta at 5:12 PM on December 2, 2009

Nobody there cares about you. It's really true.
posted by vito90 at 5:16 PM on December 2, 2009

When I was a competitive powerlifter in training, I was thinking all the 'big boys' lifting all around me were quietly snickering about me (50 years old) I felt the exact same way.

My trainer later told me the men were all asking him if he could make their wives look as good as me.

After hearing that, I realized I was one bad assed bitch, and the more I though of myself as that the better I got.

Fuggettaboudit! You are doing a magnificent thing for yourself, most likely you are being highly admired, not dissed. :-)
posted by ~Sushma~ at 5:46 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mostly covered above, plus:
If your workout is so tough that you fall to your knees dry heaving and then roll over on to your back and gasp for breath, leaving a sweat angel on the floor, more people will think "god DAMN, that chick is hard core" than "ha, what a wuss." I promise.
posted by ctmf at 8:04 PM on December 2, 2009

Best answer: Just go as hard as you can. If you puke on the floor, that is a good thing. If you can't make it through a workout, that is another good thing. You will only come back stronger next time.
posted by jasondigitized at 4:58 AM on December 3, 2009

What they said. Trainer said if you didn't puke you didn't work hard enough. Boxing was part of the PL training, it was MUCH tougher than lifting, you are deeply admired by this old fart.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 5:37 AM on December 3, 2009

My senior year in undergrad, I did a sociological study on the Panopticon effect in the campus gym--I was in a group that was interested in how narcissistic undergrads behaved when they thought they were being watched and judged by their peers. I spent many lonely hours on the exercise bike in the corner, dutifully scribing notes about every weird little behavioral tic that I saw anywhere, and about how much time people spent doing what. The results weren't all that interesting for a research methods final project, but I think you might be interested: no one cares. For every minute that a guy working with free-weights on the edge of the room spent surreptitiously checking out the girl on the elliptical machine next to him, that girl spent ten minutes doing ridiculous things to preen for him. For every sideways glance the runner on the treadmill gave to the guy on the bench press, the guy on the bench press exerted a huge amount of effort to make it look like he was benching more than he was (trying to load the bar up with heavier weights on the end (against safety regs), grunting like Schwarzenegger in the '66 Mr. Universe contest, and so on). The asymmetry of effort was completely unbelievable--no one's effort was even close to commensurate with anyone else's appreciation of it. Every exit interview we administered revealed deep feelings of insecurity, but not a single person acknowledged making the same judgments about others that they feared the rest of the gym was making about them.

I guess what I'm driving at is, everyone in the gym is more-or-less obsessed with the notion that they're being watched and judged, and no one is judging. Those pro boxer guys, who have been lovely and helpful to you? They're being lovely and helpful, and then completely ignoring everyone else around them. If you can't finish a workout because it's too exhausting, no one except the trainer you're working with notices, and if someone were to notice, it's doubtful they'd care, both for the reasons detailed above, and because anyone who's prone to judging you is way too wrapped up in his/her own insecurities to actually do so.

Gyms are weird.
posted by Mayor West at 5:52 AM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seriously. Mayor West said it best. Nobody cares. I've been a gym-goer for over ten years, and I find it a place where I can be in my head and zone out during the workout, whether it's weights, stretching, or cardio. Occasionally, a trainer will make a comment to me, or I'll ask somebody if I can work in a set, but other than that, I don't give thought to anybody else unless they are flagrantly violating gym etiquette.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:29 AM on December 4, 2009

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