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Gymtimidation: 2 in 5 UK Adults Avoid The Gym Because They Feel Self-Conscious

June 16 2023 5 min read

In a perfect world, the hardest part about going to the gym would be your workout. But for many, navigating unfamiliar equipment and the fear of being watched or judged can spark feelings of anxiety that make that trip to the gym feel overwhelming.

The unfortunate reality is that only some people feel welcome in fitness spaces — but we want to change that. Gym anxiety — also known as gymtimidation — is the anxiety that a person feels either going to or working out in a gym. According to research from Fitness First, 2 in 5 adults avoided going to the gym because they felt self-conscious about their appearance. 

Taking a closer look at the surveyed data, we’ve explored some of the most common triggers for gym anxiety, the top exercises people are avoiding and the helpful tips that help you overcome your gymtimidation to become your best self. 

Top 5 reasons why people avoid exercising or going to the gym

We wanted to find out why gymtimidation is on the rise and the top reasons why people avoid going to the gym or exercising in general. 

The most significant contributor to not going to the gym was that almost two in five people stated they felt self-conscious about their appearance, with more than one in four saying they were worried that people would judge their fitness levels. 

The research also revealed that 21.7% of people stated they had a lack of motivation, followed closely by a lack of time (20.2%), and 15.1% of people were unsure how to use the machines. 

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Let’s break these top 5 reasons down a little further.

1. Feeling self-conscious

Nearly 2 in 5 (39%) stated that they avoid exercising or going to the gym because they feel self-conscious about the way that they look. 

Feeling self-conscious can create a daunting cycle when it comes to going to the gym. The desire to improve physical fitness clashes with the fear of being judged by others. This self-consciousness amplifies as people contemplate stepping into a space filled with people who may seem fitter or more experienced. This inner battle can then often lead to hesitations and excuses, resulting in avoidance of the gym altogether. 

However, when we dove into the survey findings a little deeper, the research revealed that almost half of the respondents (47%) said their top reason for going to the gym or exercising was to feel better about their appearance or to lose weight. 



To feel better about my physical appearance


To lose weight


To improve my mental health


To increase my strength


To feel more confident



Half of respondents stated they go to the gym to feel better about their appearance, while over 1 in 5 said they go to feel more confident. 

The desire for personal growth and well-being can help urge people to overcome their fears and take that first step towards the gym. Breaking free from this cycle requires acknowledging that everyone starts somewhere, and embracing the journey is essential for personal growth and empowerment.

Tim Andrews (Head of Fitness Product) at Fitness First explains how exercising can help you stop feeling self-conscious. 

“The gym can be an incredibly powerful tool for building self-esteem. Regular exercise not only improves your physical health, but it can also have a profound impact on your mental health and overall sense of well-being.

Whether you want to run a mile without stopping, lift a certain amount of weight, or simply feel more comfortable in your own skin, having a clear target to work towards can give you a sense of purpose and direction. 

In addition to setting goals, it’s also important to focus on progress, not perfection. Celebrate small victories along the way, such as noticing your clothes fit a little better or you added an extra rep to your workout. Recognising and celebrating these milestones can help you build your confidence and feel more positive about yourself and your abilities.”

2. Worried that people will judge my fitness level

No matter whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, gym anxiety can get the better of anyone.

However, only a quarter of UK adults currently exercise or go to the gym at least twice a week, and only one in ten go to the gym five times a week or more. Many credit their lack of gym going to their anxiety around working out in front of other people, as 45% of adults say they currently don’t go to the gym. Remember, we all have to start somewhere! Even the most active people had felt intimidated by equipment when they started their fitness journey.

“If you want to see results”, explains Tim, “I firmly believe that consistency is the key. To see noticeable results, I recommend that individuals commit to a regular gym routine of at least three to five sessions per week. Consistent exercise not only helps build strength and endurance, but it also enhances cardiovascular health, promotes weight management, and boosts overall mental well-being.”

3. Lack of motivation

A lack of motivation for the gym can be improved by targeting specific muscle groups during each workout. When you have a clear focus on which muscles you want to work on, it helps create a sense of purpose and direction in your fitness routine. 

There are many ways to structure a training program, but many people find it helpful to target specific muscle groups when working out. 

Targeted Area










Don’t target



In fact, 1 in 7 of surveyed respondents stated that they specifically target their back, 12% focus on their abs, and 9% and 9% of people target their legs and arms, respectively.  However, over four in 10 people (46%) stated that they actually don’t target specific muscle groups when they work out. 

Tim stresses the importance of targeting specific muscle groups when exercising and how it can help with motivation. 

“While some people may be tempted to do full-body workouts or focus on high-intensity interval training, there are significant benefits to focusing on specific muscle groups.

Targeting specific muscle groups allows for more focused and efficient training. By isolating a particular muscle group, you can ensure that you work that muscle to its fullest potential. This can lead to greater strength gains and muscle hypertrophy over time.

In addition, targeting can also help correct muscle imbalances, which many people get due to poor posture, repetitive motions, or previous injuries. By targeting weaker muscles, you can improve overall muscle balance, which can help with overall performance and prevent injuries.”

While there are benefits to full-body workouts and HIIT, targeting specific muscle groups can provide significant benefits in efficiency, injury prevention, muscle balance, and goal achievement.

4. Lack of time

Finding time to exercise during a busy day can be challenging. For most of us, the “best” time of day to work out is simple: whenever we can.

When it comes to managing the anxieties around working out, finding the best time of day can make a significant difference. Working out during quieter periods when the gym is less crowded, such as early mornings or late evenings, tends to offer a more relaxed atmosphere, allowing people to focus on their workouts without feeling overwhelmed by the presence of others.

Time of Day




During lunch




Late at night



However, 2 in 5 adults (40%) said they prefer to exercise or go to the gym in the morning, while over 1 in 6 prefer the evening. Interestingly, only 12.5% of respondents said they worked out during lunch and 2% late at night.

If you find that you are lacking time, a quick lunchtime workout can be a great option to fit in around a busy schedule. Tim explains the benefits of fitting in a workout on your lunch break:

“Working out during your lunch break is an excellent way for individuals to maximise their productivity levels and reap the numerous benefits this can have on your day.

First and foremost, exercising during lunch can help combat the midday slump and boost energy levels for the rest of the day. Cardio exercises like running on the treadmill or using the elliptical machine are great ways to increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain, improving mental clarity and focus.

Additionally, lunchtime workouts can be an efficient and effective way to stay in shape, even for those with busy schedules. By integrating exercise into the workday, you can save time and avoid the potential stress of fitting in workouts before or after work.”

Take on a lunchtime workout and find a Fitness First gym near you.

5. Unsure how to use the machines

If you’re new to the world of fitness, stepping inside a gym can be intimidating when you’re presented with a wide range of equipment and don’t know how to use it. 

Out of all respondents surveyed, almost 4 in 10 people stated that they didn’t know how to use the Smith Machine, followed closely by the Assisted Pull-Up (37.6%).



Smith Machine


Assisted Pull-Ups


Hanging Leg Raises


Calf Raise Machine


Cable Machine



It’s interesting to note that Hanging Leg Raises (27.2%), Calf Raises (24.4%), and Cable Machines (23.1%) are all exercises that target the lower half of the body, such as the abdominal muscles, gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. This could suggest that most people don’t target their lower body when exercising simply because they don’t know how to work the necessary machines. 

If you’re new to the gym or unsure about using a particular machine, seeking guidance is important to avoid any injuries or accidents. Tim gives their top tips on what to do if you don’t know how to use a machine:

“1. Ask gym staff — One of the quickest and easiest ways to learn how to use a machine is to ask a member of staff for help. Since they’re trained professionals, they can assist you and answer any questions. Don’t be afraid to approach them and ask for a demonstration or advice on properly using the equipment. 

  1. Use YouTube — Another great option is to look up instructional videos on YouTube. Many fitness experts and personal trainers create videos demonstrating how to use various machines at the gym. If you’re unsure how to use one, you can pull these up on your phone before you go to the gym or while there.
  2. Opt for induction sessions — If you’re completely new to the gym or starting at a new venue, opting for an induction session is a good idea. This is usually a guided tour of the gym, provided by a staff member, and they’ll show you have to use the equipment, explain any policies and procedures and answer any questions you may have.” 

Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you’re unsure of how to use a machine but go ahead and use it anyway, you could be causing more harm than good to your muscles and end up with a serious injury.

Top 5 reasons why people exercise or go to the gym

One in four UK adults goes to the gym because it improves their mental health, while just over one in five goes to increase their strength and to feel more confident (21%). 

When split out by gender, over half of all women surveyed stated their number one reason for working out was to feel better about their appearance, while almost two in five men gave it as their top reason. 

When we exercise, our body releases endorphins. These bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, which helps to reduce pain perception and create a feeling of euphoria — which explains why we feel so good after we’ve finished working out. 

As well as helping to reduce pain and boost mood, endorphins can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, improve sleep quality, and enhance cognitive function. Exercise-induced endorphins also affect appetite regulation, which can help with weight management.

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Tackle gym anxiety with Fitness First

If you’re looking to start your fitness journey or simply want to find a new gym, head over to Fitness First to find out more.