Too Fat for the Gym?

By Bethany Sanders

I invited a friend to the gym once and her answer surprised me:  “I’m too uncomfortable to exercise in front of other people at the gym.”

I didn’t understand at the time.  What was so embarrassing about hopping on a treadmill and doing your thing?

Fast forward about 15 years.  I’m older, have had two babies, and am considerably less fit.  Suddenly, I understand her completely.

Up until last December, I hadn’t belonged to a gym or fitness center for a long time for exactly the same reason.

I felt intimidated by all of the hard bodies.  I felt like I would be the only overweight person there.  I realize how backwards this feeling is, but I still chose to exercise outdoors or in my home.

The YMCA Worked for Me

But then a brand new YMCA opened up in my neighborhood.  One visit made me realize I’d finally found the perfect place to exercise.

People of all ages, shapes, and sizes can be found working out there every day.  My kids can work out with me (I’ve been encouraging a 1/2 mile run before they escape to the family game room), and I often run into friends and neighbors.

Suddenly, I’m exercising in public again, and I don’t mind a bit.

Find What’s Right for You

gym intimidationIn a recent New York Times article, blogger Julia Dalton-Brush talks about how difficult it can be to find a fitness center that’s right for you, especially when you’re overweight.

I have tried to get into fitness again so many times but have given up because I have felt uncomfortable. It might be my own insecurity, but I have walked into gyms where I see people in incredible shape and get intimidated or feel like everyone is staring at me.

For Ms. Dalton-Bush, the right fit was a spin class with understanding instructors.  For me, it was a large recreational center with a community feel.  Of course, you don’t have to belong to a gym to build an efficient fitness routine, but it’s something that I missed.

There are several things to look for in a new gym.  Location, hours of operation, price, services.  But it’s also important to learn about a gym’s “personality.”  No matter what your size or shape, you’ll never feel comfortable if it’s not a good fit.

As ironic as it sounds, have you ever felt too out of shape to go to the gym?  

Tell us about it in comments below.


  1. Will

    A very interesting write up! For some a very upsetting experience that shouldn’t be. From an opposite angle looking in I am a fitness instructor and I train people who have had these experiences. Now when someone recognises that they do need to take those positive steps through fitness, diet and overall health then they should be encouraged from the start. We live in a country that has a high overweight and obesity count and it really upsets me when good intentions of individuals to attend a local gym swings around and becomes a negative in their lives. Intimidation, lack of self confidence, unnecessary starring and comments from gym users. I am kind of an old fashion teacher (ex army pti) I believe in the old training methods. I have combatted this whole subject by teaching unconfident clients that they don’t need to drive to the gym at least not yet. You see the Gym is there looking at you when you open the front door, its a small corner in your living room or even the journey to work. If your walk back to the car after a gym session makes you feel unhappy, then you are not going to go back the desire will be lost. Fitness and mind set should be trained in parallel, that way when you train and achieve confidence starts to grow. When that confidence has grown enough strut yourself back down the gym chin up and do some damage. The gym is everywhere around us the trick is to recognise it.

  2. O.

    When I was in college I joined a health club after going as a guest with a friend who was a member.

    It was a small unit from one of the large health club chains (there was no pool for instance). So I felt comfortable from the start (but I was also thinner then).

    The contract I signed when I payed for a membership stated that I was not to harass other members . I possibly could face termination if I did, I don’t really remember all of what it said.

    But I think that is a good thing to have in a gym’s membership contract. Let’s face it, they will loose money if all members can’t feel safe and comfortable in their gyms.

    It was a nice relaxed smaller gym with a variety of types of people. I remember there was even an elderly man who was often using the treadmill while I was there.

  3. Alex Sebuliba

    I am VERY Passionate about this topic as i myself have experienced this in the past, I am in good shape, fit, healthy and in my mid twenties, but attended a gym that was well known for steroid use. I found myself intimated buy all of the potential Mr Universe contenders and often avoided certain exercises so that i wouldn’t be laughed at (due to a significant decrease in weight used in comparison). Only after asking for help did i realize that those people you see pumping iron to the max or sweating to near death are so focused on there aims, that they don’t know you exist as they are there to focus solely on themselves. Also from my experience that i may have seen someone doing something unorthodox or just plain ridiculous in the gym, or even someone who is incredibly overweight and thought something negative, however as soon as i’m doing my exercise or leave the gym that exercise/person is/are last thing i think about. Its all in our heads, i think a great place to start if you have the funds is somewhere like a fat camp/weight loss camp which is a great place to start to get the motivation and mind set to workout around others.

  4. Jim

    Absolutely you gotta find the right place. There are places you can go where people are very judgmental. It can be particularly intimidating if you don’t have a huge amount of confidence in yourself.

  5. Spectra

    I’ve never felt intimidated at my gym. It’s part of my workplace; it’s in the hospital and only open to hospital employees. So, basically, my workout buddies are my co-workers—middle aged, kinda saggy, not-quite-in-shape folks that are just there to get a workout in. I’ve never felt intimidated by anyone there–I think that if our gym had more “hardbody” type bodybuilders, I’d feel a little intimidated, but that’s never been the case. In any case…you should never feel bad about getting out there and working out. Most of the time, people are going to respect you for working out, no matter what your weight is. I see a woman in our gym almost every day–she probably weighs close to 300 lbs and comes in to walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes a day. I think she’s new to fitness/exercise, but I think it’s awesome that she’s taking the first steps to get fit.