I recently joined a gym after a too-long exercise hiatus. My weekly personal training sessions with Jenn that kicked off my new fitness journey have been amazing, but I knew I needed to supplement the rest of my workout routine and give myself some variation that wasn’t running on the old treadmill in the basement. It was time for a change.
As my shiny new membership tag was scanned at the Croton-on-Hudson New York Sports Club, I was suddenly struck with a deep sense of fear.
You see, as a plus size queer person, I’ve never felt particularly comfortable at gyms.
Between the hyper masculine vibes of some weight rooms, the very real chance of harassment, and the competitive culture, it’s easy to feel out of place when you don’t look like the majority of other gym-goers.
Take for instance my first visit to my new gym: As I lifted some free weights, a few people (men and women) stared at me with disapproving looks. One guy even shook his head at me as we made eye contact. I wasn’t harmed in any way, but receiving judgement from random strangers doesn’t feel great. I felt like screaming, “Yes, I’m a fat person who is exercising!” but I instead put my weights back on the rack and found a more secluded area to do my cool down.
When I reflected on this experience and others like it, I wondered about what I could have done differently. I 100% know it shouldn’t be on me (there is no excuse for being an asshole for no good reason) but I also know that I am solely responsible for myself, my actions, and perceptions.
I began to consider how I could make myself feel more confident and better about myself at the gym. Here are a few of the ideas that I’ve tried at my fitness club that could make you feel more comfortable as well:
Focus on How Exercise Makes You Feel
Too many folks go to the gym to “burn off yesterday’s slice of cake.” There’s also an unhealthy tendency to focus on aspects of yourself that you don’t like (my butt is too big, my legs aren’t lean, etc) and the abundance of mirrors doesn’t help either.
Negative self-talk could lead you to view the gym as a negative place in general. If you find yourself having these thoughts when you workout at the gym, it’s time for a change.
Try focusing on how the physical activity you do at your gym actually makes you feel. Do your best to ignore your inner little critic and try to listen to your body instead.
Think about the rush of endorphins that you’ll get, the body’s amazing ability to heal, change, and become stronger in time. Focus on your gains, big or small. Your confidence will improve and the gym will start to feel like a celebratory place.
Wear Something that Makes You Feel Good
Sometimes the costume helps define the character. Switching up your workout wardrobe may help you feel a little more confident at the gym.
What should you wear to the gym? That’s entirely up to your personal preferences.
For someone who likes bright colors, that might mean going to Victoria’s Secret and purchasing the most colorful sports bra they sell. Someone else might feel better wearing the softest leggings they own if they prioritize physical comfort. Others may require certain gear for various types of exercise.
Take a look at the clothing you typically wear to the gym and asks yourself some questions. Are you comfortable in it? Does it fit properly? Does it make you smile? Does it suit the type of exercise you’re partaking in? Make adjustments and try wearing something different to your next workout. Don’t concern yourself with what other people are wearing: focus on you.
I like to wear old t-shirts that my parents handed down to me to the gym. They’re not super flattering, but they remind me of them and I smile whenever I wear one.
Tune It Out
One of the best ways I drown out the judgement of others as well as my inner saboteur (thanks, RuPaul) at the gym is by pumping up the positive jams. I’m an auditory person, and music can change my mood pretty quickly. Whoever invented headphones is a gem!
Make yourself a playlist of your favorite songs, preferably upbeat ones, and then listen to them during your next workout. Let the beat pump you up during your warm-up. Listen to Lady Gaga as you run on the treadmill and hear her when she tells you you’re “on the right track, baby.”
Try out my playlist, Songs that Celebrate Self-Love, on Spotify if you’re looking for positive tunes. Warning: you may find yourself singing along and jamming out to every track which could be a little embarrassing, but at least you’ll have fun!
I’m all about brushing off people and things that don’t matter, but you better believe I will stand up for myself if someone treats me rudely. You should do the same thing if someone is disrespecting you at the gym.
My Zumba instructor demonstrated this at a recent class. Some creepy dude was watching through the studio window for a bit too long. She paused class to tell him to either join in or beat it. He left and we resumed our dancing. I really respected her for not letting it slide. It was clear that she really cared about the safety of her students.
If some jerk is staring at you or making inappropriate comments before, during, or after your workout, call them out if you feel like it or notify a gym employee. Keep your safety in mind at all times but don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.
You’ll feel better taking action than if you simply stayed silent. Creepers expect silence and complacency, so I highly encourage you to flip the switch if you’re up to it and challenge unacceptable behavior. You deserve to be treated with respect. Take your power back!
Who knows, maybe your courage will change the atmosphere of your gym and make others feel more comfortable as well.
Are you getting a little bored with your gym? Try exercising outside for a change of scene.