How To Overcome Your Exercise Fears

by Charlotte on October 13, 2008 · 23 comments

This will not surprise you: I spend a considerable amount of my life trying to convince people to try new things. It ranges from small things like trying to get a stranger at the grocery store to try the free yogurt sample with me to big things like voting in a primary election (you! Vote!!) to the gross things like convincing my three pre-men that peeing IN the toilet rather than just in its general direction will result in sunshine, puppies and a happy mother. But aside from literally having to mop down my walls (that’s why we painted them high gloss Mr. Home Depot man!), the most common changes I champion are of the fitness variety.

So, naturally, I hear a lot of excuses (some refer to them as legitimate reasons but whatevs.) They are varied and occasionally creative but they usually distill down to some variation of the following:

Excuse: I might be bad at it.
My answer: Of course you will. If you expect to be the best at everything you try then you will never try anything. Just accept that it probably won’t come naturally to you – if it did you would have figured it out by now and you’d be playing pro golf with Tiger – and move on. I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret of mine: I suck at most things I try. Especially at first. That’s why God invented giggling. Everyone is horrible at something but it doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy it! Have we learned nothing from American Idol? Other variations of this theme include “I’m too uncoordinated” “I’m not a runner” and “I spaz like a three-legged chicken whenever anyone starts counting backwards.”

Excuse: I might not like it.
My answer: True. I’ve done lots of things I hated. But I’ve always learned something from it so it’s not a waste of time. I’m not asking you to pick out curtains with it; just try it twice. Try it once and you’ll probably hate it but go a second time and guaranteed there will be someone newer than you there. It’s amazing what feeling like a “regular” does for your confidence! And if you try it twice and still hate it? Cross it off your list. You’ll get no grief from me.

Excuse: People will stare at me.
My answer: You lucky dog. I’ve been making desperate bids for attention practically my whole life and still rarely get a chuckle from a passerby. But seriously, I do realize that some people are not as exhibitionistic as I am and balk at getting checked out. This is especially true in a gym setting but can be true for any fitness endeavor. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that people really aren’t watching you. They are. They might be ranking you on the hotness scale. They might be making fun of you. They might be wondering where you got those sexysexy yoga pants. They might be staring off into the distance in your general direction. But chances are, whatever they’re thinking, unless you’re Marissa Miller or David Beckham, you’re not the main attraction. So if you just keep going about your business, then so will they. (Alternative option: if you are really brave/confrontational, stare right back at them. Ear wiggling optional.)

Excuse: I don’t know what I’m doing.
My answer: Nobody does. At least not at first. There is nothing natural about the chest press or a roundhouse – they’re learned skills. And thankfully most of us “regulars” (man I feel like I’m subliminally pimping fiber here – yay for poop!) remember what it was like to be a newbie. We’ll help you if you ask! Or ask a friend you trust to show you around. Or one of those gym employees standing around looking bored. Asking questions doesn’t make you look silly, it makes you look smart. Besides, teachers love it when you ask them questions. It’s so much easier than trying to read your mind based solely on that squinched-up face you’re making.

Excuse: I might get hurt.
My answer: This one’s a certainty. You will get hurt. But think how cool the battle scar will be to show off to all your buddies! I know, I know, some people have legitimate health issues but even quadraplegics can exercise so surely you can find something that won’t exacerbate your bursitis. Besides, exercise provides a huge range of health benefits so that scraped shin or rolled ankle will be totally worth it in the end! And if you tell someone you’re really sore from weight lifting/yoga/recumbant hand biking then you might even get a free massage out of it. (Just don’t tell them your butt is sore. I once had someone at the gym ask me to massage their butt for them because they had a big ol’ knot in it. That led to one of the longest awkward silences I’ve ever participated in. Just… no.)

Excuse: I might get bored.
My answer: Then you’re doing it wrong.

This list is by no means exhaustive so fill me in: what are you afraid of? What holds you back from exercising? You have some good advice to relieve people’s fears?

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

L7 October 14, 2008 at 3:56 am

I like to do a couple of things when I think people are staring at me – or in my direction. I’ll either smile at the ‘fourth wall’ as in, “Thank you, thank you” or I’ll look up to my neurolinguistic corner off in the right corner of the gym – deep in thought I am. As for not doing well at things, people often tease me that I complain too much about stuff that is inconsequential. Besides, most of the time people are thinking about their favorite topic which isn’t me, it’s them.


tokaiangel October 14, 2008 at 7:37 am

I tell you one great big way to help overcome the fear of trying something new – TAKE SOMEBODY ELSE WITH YOU.

Stumbling on the street alone is embarrassing. Stumbling on the street with a group of friends is just hilarious.

Same applies to working out.

Shame I scared away all my gym buddies by being so fanatical…

TA (who still does try new things, promise! And will do even more when her back is better – Hulacize here I come!) x


Crabby McSlacker October 14, 2008 at 10:26 am

I talk a good game when it’s about urging OTHER people to try new things, but the older I get the more I find I stick to the tried and true.

I think I’m due for a shakeup before long though… I’ll bookmark this post and come back and hope it’s the necessary kick in the ass to get me going in some sort of new fitness adventure.



MizFit October 14, 2008 at 10:36 am


I heard that so frequently as people tried to transition between coming to my private studio & heading to a gym on their own.

I really did just BOTTOM LINE IT FOR THEM in the way of "we are all way to narcissistic to stare…far too preoccupied with our own damn selves!"



Shivers October 14, 2008 at 10:45 am

Brilliant post Charlotte!! I was smiling here to myself as I read it, it’s just so true! :o) So many quotable sentences – “It’s amazing what feeling like a “regular” does for your confidence!” And likewise it’s amazing how intimidating the gym can feel when you haven’t been for a while!

I’m great at motivating others, at least I like to think I am! But you’ve made me think about my own fears here, damn you and your insightfulness!! :o)


Charlotte October 14, 2008 at 12:25 pm

L7 – Hee ! You crack me up! “Look up into my neurolinguistic corner”!! Must work that into conversation today…

TA – Excellent point! Nothing makes it better like a friend. And I so know what you mean about scaring away your buddies from being so fanatical. *guilty*

Crabby – Nothing wrong with the tried and true if it is working well for you! But hey, feel free to use me for motivation anytime:)

MizFit – you nailed it with the narcissism. Chances are people really aren’t staring at you – just their reflections in the mirror behind you… Although if it is me, then I really am staring at you. I just love watching people:)

Shivers – I love that you are a motivator!! You must tell me your top tips for motivating people!


Tricia October 14, 2008 at 12:51 pm

Wow, you are far more patient than I am. I tend to do the “If you want to try it, go for it” route, then if the other person still stalls they get “Fine. Don’t. But then you have to stop complaining.”

For some reason, the thought of having something they can no longer complain about scares people into trying something new.


Dr. J October 14, 2008 at 12:52 pm

We were just talking yesterday about how can people not like to be active! It seems like it’s such a natural behavior. Your list is great!

I guess it’s all about perspective. I like the Jimmy Cliff song, “Many Rivers to Cross!” Yet it can be a sad song. I once heard a version that had the perspective, Yeah, another river! I’m crossing it!! I liked that version best!

Thanks for the list! If I see you coming in the supermarket, I”M trying that yogurt while I vote! :-)


Sagan October 14, 2008 at 1:00 pm

I love giggling. And its so much fun to stare back at people when you catch them watching you. I like making them look away first. Hehe.

This is a super post- there’s nothing to be scared of, you’re guaranteed to learn something and there’s a good chance you’ll have loads of fun! I’m game:)


Kendall October 14, 2008 at 1:58 pm

My #1 fear (in exercise or anything else) is fear of failure (I think fear of failure is the ever-present fear, and the other ones just come along with it sometimes. Like how, in European History they taught us that the cause of war is always: an upset in the balance of power AND something else.) If I don’t go to the gym then I always have the option of saying that I can lose the weight/get in shape later by working out. BUT, if I do go to the gym religiously for months (ok, more like a month, I get discouraged easily) and nothing happens, then I’m SOL and out of options.


Lethological Gourmet October 14, 2008 at 3:07 pm

Generally, I feel like if someone’s looking at you, really, they’re not going to be staring. If they’re staring either they’re not realizing they’re looking at you and are staring into space, or they have boundary issues and you turn your back. But most of the time, people have enough social decorum to at least try to hide the fact that they’re watching you. And everybody looks at everyone else at the gym, it’s one of the best places for people watching! I find that I push myself harder when other people are watching, but I know not everyone is that way.

I love this list, Charlotte! And the voting thing too – I just had a conversation last week with a friend in Missouri (a swing state) who has a license in Florida (another swing state) and I was doing my damnedest to convince him that voting really was important. I don’t hold out much hope that he actually will vote though.


SeaBreeze October 14, 2008 at 3:41 pm

Best excuse ever: I don’t have time.

Reason: You have conflicting priorities and don’t make time.


Colleen October 14, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Oh Tricia – I think you’re so right with your comment! I have a few people close to me who LOOOOVE to complain about how overweight and out-of-shape they are. I encourage them to just try to walk for 20 minutes a day, but to no avail. I think they’re happier being miserable – and that’s just sad!


Judy October 14, 2008 at 4:06 pm

Where I used to live, around every election there was a house that put out the same sign, no matter who was running: VOTE for Somebody! I loved it.

I’m with Kendall on the fear of failure. It’s why I don’t try most of the new things I’d like to. My dad also had a tendency to get completely involved in something, spend lots of time and money on it, and then quit, and I think my fear of being like him keeps me from doing things.

But on exercise: yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable at first, you won’t know what you are doing, and it might hurt and you might look silly. But you’ll get better, it’ll feel better, and you won’t remember how hard it was at first. So just get moving and give it a shot, right?!


Prof. Steven M. Platek October 14, 2008 at 4:09 pm

Charlotte, will you ever cease to amaze me… this is great and something I battle with CONSTANTLY, and by constantly I mean my bursitis…

No seriously, you nailed this one. I am one of the shyest people I know – granted I dont know many people, but isn’t that because I am shy? Hmmmm….. When I was an undergrad I was in a class on behavior modification – we were forced to do two things: 1) make a behavior modification plan on ourself and 2) present the data to the class. So I thought, what a great idea, i will “cure” my shyness. Eh hem. And then be fearless when it comes time to present the data in class. Well, not only was this the biggest mistake of my life (oh shit, no that was my first wife, ok a close second) but the professor sort of took me under her wing. In a subsequent class on psychotherapy she says, “who wants to demonstrate in class, Steve you will do great since you are no longer shy” I actually had to play sex therapist to two profs in front of the class and they were balls out (figuratively) evil to me!

At any rate, in the gym, I am afraid to do just about anything new. My wife, the greatest female I have ever met, is like my biggest fan and tries pretty much everything with me, which reduces my fear. She convinced me that swinging from a rope, yes like a primate, in the gym was cool. yes Cool! interestingly, it has done wonders for my fitness…

Martial arts training fears me – i know nothing, but continue to do it – i love to brag about ‘battle scars’ –

One fear that I think you missed: It might not work and then I will have wasted all this time. You are probably victim to this one more than any of us as you unselfishly subject yourself to a new experiment each month, sometimes gaining weight, etc. Thanks for that by the way.

Now if I can impart a touch of evolution on this. We all feel this way because evolution resulted in us having this too damned big frontal lobe for our own good. See the frontal lobe is (part) of the seat of consciousness and self-reflection. It’s a major player in your ability to say, hey that’s me in the mirror, and to also say, hey I am really embarrassed about this whole swinging around the gym in these sexy yoga pants (I don’t really wear sexy yoga pants, but feel free to fantasize to your heart’s content). See if helps us to know that we exist. Few other species have this capacity: chimps, orangs, maybe a gorilla or two, but probably not, and maybe corvids (smart ass birds like crows, magpies, and bluejays).

Interestingly these fears, because of our self-consciousness, pervert a lot of our thinking, take for example, I don’t know, sexual behavior.

I might be bad at it – may preclude you from asking a possible partner out.

I might not like it – try it twice…..LOL

People will stare at me – well, technically this depends upon where it take place….

Dont know what I am doing…

Might get hurt… (emotionally)

Get bored… doing it wrong. See you can insert just about any behavioral-cognitive-emotive action in here and the feelings can translate, at least a little. In the gym we expose our selves and our instincts kick in an activate brain processes that say “STOP, in the name of all that is HOLY STOP!!!! Or else….”

This could have evolutionary implication – those who felt embarrassed might have done less idiotic things and thus left more descendants, hence the reason most of us can relate to this blog. However, what about risk takers? Does anyone notice those people at the gym who do the “odd stuff” – the kettle balls are very unusual, non-existent at my GOld’s gym. Etc. But we all stare, don’t we in some sort of odd fascination…

Again, my apologies for this way too long a post.

Charlotte you rule!


GroundedFitness October 14, 2008 at 5:05 pm

yeah i dont do new things sometimes because i think i might not like it, thus, its a waste of my time. BUT how will i ever know?

oh, and also: dont do new things cause its too much effort. sounds lazy but its true. I need to branch out.

Kelly Turner


delle October 14, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Great post Charlotte, I love reading your blog, thanks for the time you put into it!

This one is pretty similar to the ‘I might get injured’ excuse, but it’s one I have used before and have been using lately again now that I’m getting back into exercise after an unplanned haitus: ‘I might get sore!’

Before I got regularly active this is one that would stop me, the thought of hobbling around in agony for days afterward with every muscle screaming at me, particularly ones I never knew were even a part of me! This was of course due to being so out of shape and so clueless as to how to exercise properly that almost any type of activity reduced me to such a pathetic state. I think a lot of people who are sporadic in their attempts at activity and don’t know how to fit the activity/intensity level to their current capabilities are put off by the belief that they will be sore as all heck afterward. For beginners, it can mean they just put it off indefinitely, for people like me trying to get back into an exercise routine, it means planning workouts around whether or not being sore for a couple of days will interfere with our ability to do whatever else we have to get done.


Conny October 14, 2008 at 6:34 pm

Great post, Charlotte. Thanks to Prof. Platek too for commenting and expanding further. Very interesting.

I learned from you, Charlotte, that I should try, try again. If I’m sore, I’ll try again in a few days when I’m less sore.

Your experiments encourage me to experiment on my own. For instance, these days I’m trying out the rowing machine. I asked myself, “hey, what if you like it?” Turns out I do, and I’ll try something else next month.


katieo October 14, 2008 at 8:40 pm

The lamest excuse I have ever heard is something along the lines of, “I’m just not the type.” “you know, It’s just not ME.”

that’s when I go nuts.


deprogram October 14, 2008 at 8:56 pm

I’m amazed that you didn’t include (as Kendall noted) fear of failure.

Excuse: I don’t think it’ll work. And if it doesn’t, I’m out time/money/effort/willpower.

This has to have been the biggest obstacle for me. Despite various campaigns on my part over the past decade to make a serious change in lifestyle – whether it be in diet or activity level – I’ve never experienced marked success.

It took reaching a point where I really had to make a serious decision about the direction of my life (and my health) to push me to the point of making a real effort. Then, it took results – tangible, measurable results – to keep me on that track.

Even so, I still get discouraged sometimes, thinking of past failures. I’ve realized that this attitude affects all my undertakings, not just the one where I undergo pain and looking funny in public in order to achieve some faroff fitness goal. I question every decision. Should my first house be a fixer-upper? If I start building a hydroplane, will I ever finish it? Why don’t I create an s-corporation for my business?

I think if I reach the fitness goals I have set for myself, I will reap the rewards of improved confidence.

That’s the hope, anyway.


Lauren S October 15, 2008 at 8:55 pm

“People will stare” is one of the most commonly used excuses! But you know what…people will stare for a few seconds then they will look away and stare at someone else. And for the most part, people who pay for gym meberships are there to get a good workout not to watch others workout. I think its all about your approach to fitness in a public place. If you go in with an “I don’t care about anyone looking at me attitude”, you will quickly be on your way to a great workout!


zandria October 15, 2008 at 10:26 pm

You actually summed up all of my “But I can’t try THAT!” fears quite nicely. And you gave very good reasons for why I should smack myself in the head whenever I say/think them. :)


Kara October 17, 2008 at 4:35 pm

I’m with you… I’ll try about anything. Although I fear climbing Everest (but love to read about people who do) and jumping out of airplanes. But as long as intense altitude is not involved, I’m game. And stare away.


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