The Introvert’s Guide to Going to the Gym
Tips for when you want to pump iron but also want to stay away from other people
Recently, I decided to return to the gym after quite a long hiatus from going. I’ll spare the comprehensive list of what took me so long to get back into it, but one of the main hiccups was that I didn’t want to be around other people. A significant part of my not wanting to be around other people is because of straight-up social anxiety, but it was also because I prefer my gym time to be a solitary activity, which can be hard to accomplish when faced with hordes of sweating, breathing, grunting people.
In the two months or so since I’ve been back to the gym, I’ve gained quite a lot of experience in navigating the twists and turns of willingly placing oneself in an environment that likely meets the criteria for torture for most introverts. I’ve also talked with a few fellow introverted gym-frequenters to gain more wisdom on the topic to impart. Hopefully, this “guide” can help you get to the gym or make your gym visits more painless (or just give you a place to cheer in commiseration) if you’re an introvert, have social anxiety, or just prefer to be alone sometimes (like when you’re sweating and lumbering around on a treadmill, for example). So, without further ado…
Get there! Rip off the Band-Aid
We’ve all probably heard some variation of the cliché “the hardest part of any journey is taking the first step.” Well, while the gym isn’t necessarily the longest of journeys, it can be quite arduous, especially for introverts or those of us who don’t like the prospect of (even potential) interactions with people we don’t know.
So, how do you get there if you’re dreading expending the energy, and not just the physical kind? Well, for starters, don’t overthink it — don’t think too far ahead or imagine scenarios like *gasp* people watching you or *gasp* people running next to you or worse, trainers approaching you. Just don’t think about it. Suppress, suppress, suppress. Otherwise, you’ll need a paper bag and you won’t go. Just focus on getting in the car and driving there. You can overthink once you’re in the building.
Which brings me to my next point:
Scope out the gym for times at which there are less people
(Or more, if you feel like there is too much attention toward individuals when there are smaller groups of people).
Finding a good time to go to the gym these days is hard. We have work or children or dogs or naps or food to which we must attend.
But good timing is even more key for the introvert, especially if you’re the type who will kindly turn around and GTFO of there if you see too many (or too few) cars in the parking lot. Look for that sweet spot.
I personally go to the gym sometime between lunch and dinner, if at all possible, or on times that I know a lot of people won’t be there, like Friday nights (I don’t have a life). People tend to come to the gym, in my experience, during these times: super early morning (5–8 am), during the lunch hour, and right around 5 pm. Now, I know that a lot of us work 9–5, but making use of the gym on say, weekends, can be good for the introvert. This isn’t to say you should always avoid people/social interactions; it’s just a suggestion for helping you get there and go inside, unless you’d like to complete a good, old-fashioned yoga session alone in the comfort of your own home, which is perfectly fine (and ideal), too.
Use headphones — the more obnoxious, the better
This advice comes from J., my gym-frequenting friend and fellow introvert. Beats by Dre aren’t just headphones for meatheads who need to look badass, my friends. They are for introverts who want to block out any ruckus or potential conversation made by our fellow species.
Wear your obnoxious headphones, and wear them proudly.
Or at least, blast the music in your earbuds so you won’t have to feel bad about ignoring people.
Locate machines that you can use in solitude
This one is probably obvious for anyone looking to minimize attention drawn to themselves, but it can be a challenge in many gyms. My advice: always have a backup plan, like a machine you can use until one frees up, or a healthy way to cope with not being able to be without neighbors during your exercise routine.
Know how to use the machines before you start using them
Read the little diagrams, or watch a YouTube video, or look them up online. This will help you avoid drawing attention to yourself in the instance that you end up like this:
Consider researching an exercise regimen yourself before seeking out a trainer
Obviously, you won’t want to do this for specialized, potentially dangerous activities like, say, aerial yoga, but it’s pretty easy to find credible information on exercises that you can do for the results you want. You can also have more “fun” experimenting with exercises/machines you might like using without someone looking over your shoulder like a hawk and assessing your every move. At the very least, you’ll have a good working knowledge of things you’ve tried that you can communicate to a trainer should you decide you’d like to seek one out.
I’ve seen a lot of success in gym-going “journey” because of this step. I’ve become interested in learning and trying new weight-lifting exercises, and I’ve become fascinated with learning how to build strength in each muscle group (including muscles I didn’t know I had! I was clearly not a science major, or I wouldn’t have to write Medium articles for extra dough). Doing brief amounts of research before/during gym visits (thanks, iPhone/Google!) not only helps me look forward to going to the gym to try the exercises, but helps me feel more confident in my fitness abilities, too. I feel good when I can feel independent (even though I am probably doing some things wrong).
The best part — it can work! I can now bicep-curl almost three times as much as when I started (don’t ask how small of an amount that was) and am generally lifting more than I did even in my fitness prime ten years ago.
Don’t focus so heavily on avoiding others that you end up ruining your workout, though
This one probably seems contradictory to all of the pointers I’ve written above, but it is important to remember that avoiding others can also be counterproductive. There have been several times when I’ve not used a machine that I needed to/wanted to use during a gym session because I got frustrated with trying to jump in the line of people waiting to use it.
I’ve also left the gym because of seeing people I know there — I teach at a university, and when I run into students at the gym, it is my worst nightmare, and I pretty much always leave. Beyond that, though, when you run into people you know at the gym, you are pretty much obligated to talk to them, which really sucks if you are a red, sweltering, introverted mess. But try not to cut your precious time at the gym short just because you’re wanting to avoid people, whether or not you know them.
You might start thinking of the gym as exposure therapy. The gist of exposure therapy is that you’re exposed to a fear in small increments until you start to fear it less, or at least until you get used to it. Sadly, for us introverts who want to use the gym, there is nothing to do besides get used to it, because there is bound to be a stressor no matter how stealthy you are.
But, if you commit enough to get used to it, you won’t regret it, as the addage goes. Stick with it, fellow introverts of the gym, and at the end of the day, you’ll end up feeling like this guy: