Do You Have a Gym Phobia? [Plus: Rainbow Brite Shoes Explained]

by Charlotte on March 28, 2012 · 31 comments

Baffling equipment. Mean girls. Chronic cell-phone chatters. Unidentified puddles of bodily fluids. Germs. Old men on the exercise bike in nothing but tighty whities and black dress socks (true story). There are lots of reasons why people avoid the gym. Frankly, there are probably more reasons to skip the gym than to go. So when I got this e-mail from Reader M, I was sympathetic:

I keep thinking that I should overcome my fat-girl-phobia and show up at a gym, and then one of these articles come along.

The article she is referring to is a New York Times expose (side note – can anyone please tell me how to type the little accent over the e? It’s killing me. I once had to write an entire post about my awesome shiny gold leotard that I seriously do workout in, the whole time referring to it as my gold “lame” leo. That’s a crime against fashion, is what that is.) “Be Sure Exercise is All You Get At the Gym.”

Cue the scary Jaws music, here is yet another article about how bacteria at the gym can kill you. Every few months someone writes an article about MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) – an admittedly terrifying bug – being transmitted through gyms and locker rooms. While the risk is real and potentially lethal, there is a lot of selective reporting involved in this articles (cue my irritation with the NY Times, not my darling Reader M). And I’ve even written myself several times on this topic (warning: only click through that link if you have a strong stomach. I received more complaints about that pic than any other I have ever posted. Which I don’t really get since I think it’s hilarious and awesome but I’m gross like that.)

First, as the Mayo clinic points out, while community-acquired cases such as those in gyms, locker rooms and designer wedding dress sample sales (anywhere there is a lot of wrestling involved) are on the rise, “Most MRSA infections occur in people who have been in hospitals or other health care settings, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers.” Second, there is a one in three chance you already are carrying MRSA on your skin right this very second. And you are probably still healthy. Lastly, if you do pick up something nasty at the gym – and according to the NY Times 1/3 of us are carrying a contagious skin infection at any given moment – it’s more likely to be the unglamorous (but also undeadly) ring worm, athlete’s foot, impetigo or, heaven save us from thong panties on a bicycle seat, yeast infections.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m downplaying the seriousness of antibiotic-resistant germs – I had a very dear friend nearly lose her life to one – but I do wish they’d stop using it as a Get Out of Gym free card. Sure you could catch an illness at the gym. But you could also get sick any time you leave the house. I think that the benefits of consistent exercise far outweigh the risk of illness, especially if you take common sense precautions like laying down a towel between you and the weight bench, sanitizing your machine both before and after you use it, wearing flip flops in the showers and drinking Purel straight from the bottle after tongue kissing the towel boy. (None of which I do, by the way. I’m awesome at ignoring my own advice!)

The first part of M’s e-mail was what really caught my attention and sympathy though. “I keep thinking that I should overcome my fat-girl-phobia and show up at a gym.” Despite the fact that I’ve been working out deliriously happy in a gym setting for many years now, I have definitely not forgotten how it feels to be new. Whether you are gym-phobic because you are afraid of being the fat-girl freak show or because you’re afraid of burrito-ing yourself in gym equipment that has more instructions than the lathe you used in 6th grade wood shop or because you’re afraid of missing the step in step class and ending up flat on your back, it all boils down to this: we’re afraid of what other people will say (or even think about us).

Do I sweat too much? Is my bacne too disgusting to wear a tank top? Do I smell? Will they laugh at my ratty t and boyfriend’s sweat pants? Am I too uncoordinated to do an aerobics class? Will the bootcamp instructor yell at me if I can’t run a lap? Will the older women in the pool laugh at me as they pass me lap after lap after lap?

I wish I could tell you no. People are judgmental critters. I don’t know if this will make anyone feel better but it happens to all of us. You aren’t unique in your problems. I’m not overweight but I’ve had plenty of people laugh at me, talk about me, and even hawk a loogie into my hair once. I know it hurts; people will roll their eyes, elbow you out of “their” spot, mutter under their breath, giggle. But a lot of it stems from insecurity about ourselves and in my experience if you open yourself up (I know, I hate being vulnerable too!) most people turn out to be remarkably, beautifully helpful and caring. Also, I think people think about us a lot less than we think they do. Chances are that woman’s stern look is actually directed at herself in the mirror as she watches her bicep curls and not at your dimpled thighs. Give us the benefit of the doubt and we may surprise you.

And for those who really would be unkind based solely on your weight/clothes/accent/skin color/experience? I’m not going to tell you to “just not care.” I care what people think about me. It’s very hard not to. But you can acknowledge the hurt without letting it stop you or bring you down. Their negativity will corrode their soul long after you’ve moved on. Making fun of an overweight person at the gym is like making fun of a sick person for going to the hospital. Exercise is for everybody – literally, every person with a body.

Do you have a gym phobia? Any advice for M? Anyone else think this germs-in-the-gym angle is way overblown or am I being flippant about a real risk?

Note: So many of you asked about my Rainbow Brite shoes yesterday and where I got them that I’m posting the info here rather than in the comments. They are actually called the Wave Dance sneaker by Bloch. Dance sneakers (as you can see in the pic) only have a sole on the heel and ball of the foot. The midsection is pliable. There’s also a smooth patch on the ball to make turning easier. While I love dance sneaks for studio activities like TurboKick and Zumba and they’re fine for weight lifting, do not run in these. Disaster Will Robinson! Anyhow, you can buy them from plenty of different online retailers but I got mine from Dancewear Solutions . If you do order them, be sure to order a size bigger (yes, a whole size!!) as they run really small.  

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura March 28, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I’m over most of my gym phobias by now, but I still have one major insecurity – how much I sweat. There is a gentleman that likes to point it out and say “I wish I could sweat like you.” He means it as a compliment, but it still bothers me. Plus, at CrossFit I leave body prints on the floor. I know everyone else does too, but there is something so terrifying about seeing my butt-print right in front of me…

I heard some amazing advice once in a yoga class. She posed the following scenario:

You’re sitting there on your mat waiting for class to start. A young child comes in and sits next to you. They are terrified. Almost in tears. They are scared they will do it wrong. What would you say to that child? Chances are, you’d reassure them, offer advice, make them feel welcome. You definitely wouldn’t yell at the child, tell them they are stupid, worthless, and that they should just quit.

Then she asked us to do the same for ourselves as we would for that child.

Mind. Blown.


Terri March 29, 2012 at 12:15 am

That’s excellent ! I might pinch that :)


Terri March 29, 2012 at 12:14 am

I’m generally completely oblivious to what people think about me. I wear a very brightly coloured hat when I go outside at work and I noticed yesterday whilst in the lift that people were trying not to laugh. I must admit that my first thought was “What are you – 5 ?” I decided I like my hat, the sun doesn’t like me, so I’m good and my favourite hat, that was made by women who were paid a decent amount to make it means more to me than their opinion. I think if you decide that you’re fine with what you’re doing then it’s easier to ignore the ignorant :)

Question – Do those mean girls from your 2007 post still go to your gym ? Or did you outlast them ?


Carrie March 29, 2012 at 12:32 am

I like how honest this post is. A lot of times articles will say “nobody notices you, they are so focused on themselves,” or “who cares what other people think?!” The reality is that, like you said, there ARE a lot of judgmental jerks out there and sometimes just not caring what they think is much easier said than done.


Candace Jaramillo March 29, 2012 at 1:48 am

Hi Charlotte!! :0)
To do this é, just hold down ALT while typing 0233. Hopefully it will work for you!


Meg March 30, 2012 at 3:26 am

Alternatively, for absolutely any special character on the planet, has the hex code, a copy-pasteable symbol, and other goodies (need to do it in python? they can help). The entry for small e acute is here:


Shayna March 29, 2012 at 4:58 am

I caught MRSA – suckfest! My doctor told me to ditch the Venus razor, dispose of them more frequently and always shave my legs the night before I go to the gym/beach/world outside rather than right before, as this opens up little micro-skin-tears. Jeez. Also? I never wear tank tops because my arms/back break out. But at least those body parts are in shape from going to the gym anyway!!!


Naomi/Dragonmamma March 29, 2012 at 5:43 am

Speaking as a gym employee: Every morning we do a quick wipe-down of the equipment with an anti-bacterial spray, but for all practical purposes, all we’re doing is dusting the equipment. Germs are EVERYWHERE. Next time you go shopping, think about how many grubby fingers were handling that shirt you’re pulling over your head, or handled that change the cashier put into your bare hand. Good thing we have immune systems or we would all be dead from the numerous creepy-crawlies. I once heard that if our bodies turned invisible you would still see a ghost image caused by being totally surrounded by various microorganisms.

As for the gym phobia, I tell people: You don’t need to be fit to go to the gym. You go to the gym to get fit.


Patricia March 29, 2012 at 6:07 am

It is hard going to a gym for the first time. I’ve felt nervous going to a new gym even when I’ve been to many other gyms before.
For someone new to the gym, signing up for a few sessions with the gym’s in house personal trainers will make a big difference in comfort level. They themselves may or may not look super fit, but they have seen hundreds of people just starting out. A good trainer will make you feel comfortable and help you learn what that strange thing in the corner is for. And they will of course help you learn how to use equipment properly so you don’t hurt yourself.


JavaChick March 29, 2012 at 7:32 am

I thought about joining a gym for years before I finally did. I was very intimidated by the idea. When I finally did join a gym, it was not scary at all. It may depend on the gym. The one I went to was not very big (I live in a small city), they had a new member orientation where they would take you around and show you the basics. The staff were always really helpful. I mostly tried to go during the less busy times, as I don’t like crowds, but most people were friendly even during the busy times. I was a member at that gym for 4 years or so and overall it was a good experience.

My advice would be: it probably won’t be as bad as you think so give it a try. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to renew your membership. :)


Jenn March 29, 2012 at 8:20 am

If you need a special character, and you don’t know the code to type it, go to Accessories > System Tools > Character Map. It will give you all the special characters you can use, where you can either copy/paste it, or learn the alt-code like someone provided above. :)

I definitely have a gym phobia… It’s pretty intimidating. I’m on a roller derby team, and have no issues now, but had I not been able to meet my cousin in the parking lot the first day, I would have had a hard time walking in the door to begin with!

As far as the judgmental thing, I try to remember that when I’m worried about it… doesn’t always work. But most of those women are probably thinking about what you are thinking about them too. Cause I am always worried about what other people are thinking about ME, but how much time to I spend thinking about what other people look like? Not much at all. So is it really rational to think that they are spending a large amount of time thinking about me? Yeah, probably not. And most of them are probably being kinder to me than I am to myself.


Abby Anderson March 29, 2012 at 9:05 am

I totally just spent an hour trying to figure out how to get that damn accent over the e. I still can’t do it. Dammit.


Naomi/Dragonmamma March 29, 2012 at 9:22 am

lame´. Hold down the option key while pressing e.

Experiment: press every darn key on your keyboard to get the following characters:


Renée March 29, 2012 at 9:27 am

Since my name has the accent…I hold the ALT key while typing 0233 using the keypad, then release the ALT key. It doesn’t always translate in some of the email systems, so many times l just use the ‘plain’ e.


Heather March 29, 2012 at 9:28 am

For Reader M: I know how you feel! As an overweight girl who just joined a “real gym” (read: has showers and is NOT open 24 hours), I feel your pain. My trick is to walk into the place like I know what I’m going. Fake it ’til you make it! I’m still trying to conquer my fears of the heavily muscled guys in the free weights area, but I’ll get there. Best of luck to you!

As for the gym germ phobia, I think it’s over-hyped. But, this is coming from someone who doesn’t necessarily wash her hands before eating a sandwich during a trail ride, where I have hands covered in horse dirt and sweat. I’m gross like that. And I’m also rarely sick. Also, I have a thing against anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizer because I really think killing every germ is making people more sick! Stop the madness, people! Our ancestors didn’t have these things, yet they were hearty, strong people.

Oh, and yesterday after reading your post, I immediately googled your shoes and now I really want the purple and blue pair. I’ll just have to start going to Zumba more often to justify the purchase if I buy them. So much to do, so little time!


Heather March 29, 2012 at 9:32 am

Oh, and if you’re in Word, use Ctrl + ‘ + e for your accent over the E. I just tried it on the comments and it didn’t work. Neither did the ALT + 0233.


Charity Froggenhall March 29, 2012 at 9:43 am

I think this NY Times article is like the evening news stories that scream, “COULD SOMETHING LURKING AT YOUR GYM KILL YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES?! Tune in after the commercial break to find out!” I find most media to be overly hysterical about this kind of stuff.

If you’re susceptible to infections because of some other condition, you probably already know that and know what you need to do to stay healthy. Otherwise, wear flip-flops in the shower, wash your hands, try to dry your feet well, and y’know, hang in there!


skeptigirl March 29, 2012 at 9:54 am

Wait, you tongue kiss the towel boy?


Crabby McSlacker March 29, 2012 at 10:24 am

One of the most popular posts to google intomy blog is “First time at the gym? How not to make an ass of yourself.” And I think it’s because gyms SEEM like such intimidating places at first.

And I know that there are probably judgmental people everywhere, but truly I think the vast majority of regular gym goers are like me… when we see people who are new to exercise, or elderly, or heavy, or tentative… we think “aww, good for them for being here! Is there any way I could make them feel more comfortable? Or would saying something make them feel singled out and worse? Guess I’ll leave ‘em alone.” Anyway, we are thinking warm fuzzy thoughts if we are thinking anything at all.

And anyone superficial and mean enough to be judging a person who is AT the gym trying to get healthy for not looking like a fitness model already? The probably has serious self-esteem issues of their own. Plus, they are going to be judging people at the supermarket, dentist office, etc. You can’t escape them by avoiding the gym, and just be glad you don’t have to live in THEIR head all day, ick.


Crabby McSlacker March 29, 2012 at 10:25 am

Omg, could I fit any more typos into one comment? Yikes! Note to self: proofread BEFORE posting not after!


geosomin March 29, 2012 at 10:57 am

I’m a bit of a germophobe from working in the lab, but honestly – soap and water. Just wash your hands. Have a shower after…99.99999% of the time it’s all good. Sometimes if I know something has been not cleaned I’ll spray it down before I get on…I try not to worry about it. Would you eat a sandwich off the floor? No. It’s lab training for me -think about your hands touching things and then your face…don’t do it. Be mindful and you likely won’t give yourself anything. Until I started working out hard I didn’t think sweat towels were that necessary, but in a gym they really are…noone wants my sweat! :)
Other than the odd jerk at the gym, I have found people are nice. I make a habit of smiling at people when I make eye contact and tend to workout in a zone where I’m not very talkative but every once in a while I see someone new come in who is so obviously uncomfortable I want to hug them and let them know it’s all good. It’s cool to see new people get more fit and confident and enjoy themselves. Over the few years I’ve gotten into this it’s turned into this: I don’t want to waste my “me” time feeling bad about myself. The whole reason I’m there to feel better about myself. Noone is that interested in what I’m up to! :)


Stepheny @ GUSD March 29, 2012 at 11:00 am

I needed this post today. As a new gym goer, a new runner, and someone who has a lot of weight to lose, I think I am hyperaware of everything going on around me in the gym. What I need to remember most is that most people don’t care about me and they’re not paying any attention to me. Thanks for this reminder!


Kate March 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm

The gym makes me very uncomfortable as it brings up bad gym class memories from when I was in middle and high school. Plus I’m pretty sure I’ve caught gym employees staring at me while I work out, which as an overweight person, is really uncomfortable. The only reason why I recently rejoined the gym was I needed something to do after a breakup.

But here is what happened. I signed up with a personal trainer and my trainer happens to be cross fit certified. She is crazy! The workouts are crazy! I’ve never been so sore! BUT all the sudden people are talking to me about working out. Like I’m a regular who has been going to the gym for years. So my advice to M is to go to the gym, workout with your bad self, and forget the haters. Sure there are people who are going to be jerks, that’s life. But don’t let the jerks get you down, and the more you exercise the more confident you will feel. And people who matter will be the ones that will really respect that you are there working out.


Julie March 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm

As an employee of a gym, I say if you have gym phobia, check out a lot of different ones before you join. I think places that are more commercial, tend to have people who like to look pretty and stare at themselves in the mirror, but smaller gyms or your local rec recreation center have people who actually just want to work out and not be judged. I think if you do your research you can find a good fit for you. And I don’t know where M lives, but there is always “womens” gyms that are perfect for a new person to get started and over their gym phobias. Just don’t quit or give up!


Kate March 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm

I recommend trying a local cheap basic gym instead of a large trendy one – mine is clsoe enough to jog to in ten mins and super-cheap, but because of that it’s really friendly & I have NEVER heard anyone say anything negative to anyone else – if I did I’d probably be too shocked to speak, but I’d definitely speak out for them!


Alyssa (azusmom) March 29, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Just want to reiterate what Julie and Kate said: if you go to a YMCA, YWHA/YWCA, or a community center, you’re far less likely to run into the glamourpots who live to sit in judgment and workout out in their perfectly coordinated Lululemon outfits. Or the Muscleheads who do the same. Well, without the matching outfits. I’ve worked in a bunch of different gyms, and the high-end ones tend to have the more snobby clientele, IMHO. Yes, there are judgmental jerks everywhere, but seeing a 90 year-old hirsute man walking the halls in a Speedo can go a long way toward lessening the hurt of a nasty comment. (“If he doesn’t dive a darn, why should I?”)

As for germs, you can’t avoid them, just take precautions. Wear those flip-flops, wash your hands, wipe down the equipment before & after using it, and, most of all, if you use a mat, bring your own. The ones at the gym are rarely, if ever, cleaned.


Jody - Fit at 54 March 29, 2012 at 7:28 pm

I don’t know – germs everywhere! But I see some really icky stuff from other members at the gym so I just make sure I wipe down everything & have multiple towels to use & things like that. I put a towel on everything & every mat I use… but there are germs in all places including your home.

AS for the gym, it is hard to overcome what we see ourselves as in the mirror BUT in my experience, so many in the my are more concerned with themselves! Especially some guys, they might as well kiss the mirror & most times I am thinking, what are they seeing!!!


Jen March 29, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Weird. I’m probably the most judgmental person ever and I would never think mean thoughts about someone working out at the gym, even if they are overweight. I mean, hello? Isn’t that what gyms are for?

Now, the caveat is that you have to actually be working out. Talking on your cell phone? Chillaxin’ on a weight bench? Things like that, I’ll judge over. Not wearing fancy workout clothes? Getting winded after a few minutes on the treadmill? Nope, more power to you!


A-man-duh March 29, 2012 at 9:40 pm

I workout at a small, neighborhood gym where nobody seems too judge-y. But then again, I’m always sure that I’m being judged by others… What I’ve found is it helps to just face your fears and realize you’re probably thinking more about yourself than anyone else is. Humans, by nature, are self-centered. We’re so busy thinking about ourselves and what others are thinking of us, to actually be judging others. And just think, the “fit chick” in the cute Lululemon outfit with perfect hair and make-up is definitely more worried about what others think of her than she is about your raggedy sweats and ancient t-shirt. And germs… They’re everywhere! But I’m a teacher, so I’m a little more concerned about the student who narrowly missed my shoes this morning when she threw-up during the fire drill than I am about “gym germs”.


Arm Exercises For Men April 1, 2012 at 1:58 am

If you can’t get over that gym phobia, you can always just make yourself a home gym ;)

I made the switch over a year ago, and I can’t tell you how much better my workouts and my motivation has become. No more cell phone talkers, terrible music, and just general annoyances. Not to mention the amount of fuel you save by working out at home. It’s incredibly easy and inexpensive to create a home based gym. I was paying $60 monthly as well to be part of a gym to do exercises I could easily do at home.

Something to think about ;)


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