Photo by Blake Cheek on Unsplash

Conquer Your Fear of the Gym, Judgement and Working Out

Stop Letting Others Hand Down Your Death Sentence

You hate yourself. You’re fat. Maybe even obese. Your family and friends are worried about you and have gently suggested you change the course you’re on. Your doctor wasn’t so gentle. His approach was a blunt, “Lose weight or die.”

You want to lose weight. You want to be the person you looked like 20 years ago. You want to make your family and friends proud. You want to extend your life. You want to be around for your kids. You want to join a gym or the YMCA/YWCA.

But you won’t because of Them.

Them are the imaginary, fictitious people who you are convinced can’t wait for you to join the gym so they can judge you and make fun of you. And because of Them you sit in despair on the couch with your package of Oreos and a glass of milk watching episode after episode of Friends, Mash or The Andy Griffith Show. It’s a vicious cycle that digs you deeper and deeper into the hole you’re literally dying to dig out of.

Muscle Heads and Suzy Spandex

The Them who you are afraid of are probably first, the Muscle Heads. These are the guys who are built like Mr. Clean and can bench press a car.

The female version is Suzy Spandex, the twenty-something in her Spandex outfit, perfect hair and makeup and not an ounce of body fat.

These are the people you believe are going to laser focus on you as soon as you enter the gym doors and then berate you for your physique and for having the audacity to enter their domain in order to better yourself.

I’m sure you’ve seen and heard the television and radio commercials of some workout chains that tout themselves as “The judgement-free zone.”

If you believe these people actually exist, you are giving them an awful lot of power over you. You are allowing these fictitious characters to essentially say, “You don’t belong here. You must remain overweight or obese. You must continue to hate yourself. You must live a life of compromised health. You will die 20 years sooner than you should. You will leave your kids all too soon. You will leave your spouse all too soon.” Why? Because you believe the Muscle Heads and Suzy Spandex will judge you.

What’s wrong with this picture? You’re going to leave this planet and your family 20 years too soon out of fear of being judged by people whose only qualifications are lifting heavy objects and working out in perfect makeup?

The Muscle Heads and Suzy Don’t Exist!

Truth be told, the imaginary judges you fear do not exist! People who are serious about bodybuilding, cardio and staying physically fit care about one thing — themselves. And that’s all they’re focused on the whole time they’re in the gym. You are not going to distract them from their ego-driven workout session.

In fact, the people you think are judging you actually admire you, especially if you are noticeably overweight or have some other physical malady. They understand the courage it took for you to come to the gym and actually do something about your situation.

You’ll also notice that in most workout facilities the workout fanatics are in the minority. As I look around the room at my YMCA each morning here’s what I see — a 92-year old woman who lifts 10-pound weights religiously just to ‘stay young’! Then there’s the 85-year-old man who shuffles in his walker up to a piece of equipment to do his leg exercises. There’s Pastor Eric who works out with his high school-aged daughter. Two 60-something widows work out together. In the summertime there will be a few high school boys working out to stay in shape for fall football.

Another group you’ll find there are people who are dealing with serious health issues. Some are seeking to control their diabetes or high blood pressure. Others have had a heart transplant. Some are recovering from a stroke.

Socialization is also a big part of the workout experience. Each morning, the same people are there — like clockwork. If someone is missing, the rest of us know it. This camaraderie is what keeps everyone coming back day after day.

If there was anybody who would be a prime target to be judged it would be yours truly — a 67-year-old, white-haired guy with wrinkles!

Deaf Dexter — The Mild-Mannered Muscle Head Who Surprised Us

One day a new member showed up at our YMCA. His arms and chest were straight out of a bodybuilding magazine. He was bald with a long, dark beard. He grunted and groaned as as he lifted super heavy weights. All of our morning regulars were watching, wondering and whispering, “Who is that guy and what’s with the grunting and groaning?”

I went to the front desk to see if any of the Y’s employees knew anything about him. They said, “We don’t know his name but we think he’s deaf.” That was enough for me to make my acquaintance with this menacing-looking, mysterious fellow.

The next day I walked up to him and said, “Hi!” He said “Hi” back. I then looked him square in the face and asked, “You deaf?” “Yeah”, he said, “ninety percent. But I can read lips.” He could also speak very understandably. We formed a fast friendship.

His name was Dexter, worked at Home Depot, had a wife and two kids (all with perfect hearing) and his kids were home schooled.

In the following days I made it a point to introduce Dexter to some of the Y regulars — the folks who just days before were leery about coming close to this man. I would say, “Scott, this is Dexter. He’s deaf but he can read lips and he can talk to you.”

The looks on the faces of those I introduced to Dexter were priceless. There were smiles, handshakes and conversation. On the faces of the regulars I saw relief as they realized this iron-pumping monster was a meek and friendly guy.

Dexter was also thrilled. He was no longer the lone stranger trapped in his silent world while those around him socialized with each other.

Dexter Gets The Last Laugh

One day I decided I was going to learn how to say “Good morning” using sign language so I could properly greet my new friend each day. I spent the weekend learning and practicing the gestures until I was sure I had it right. I couldn’t wait for Dexter to arrive at the Y the following Monday.

As I was exercising on a leg machine I saw Dexter make his way through the door of the Y. As he greeted me I proudly made the “Good morning” gesture and mouthed “Good morning, Dexter!” Dexter looked at me quizzically.

I made the gesture again. Dexter looked even more confused. I finally blurted out, “Dexter, I learned how to say “Good morning” in sign language!”

Dexter began laughing and said, “Tom, I’m the only deaf guy who doesn’t know sign language!”

Say Hello to Your Fear — Literally

It’s time for you to face your fear and do something about that person in the mirror you’ve come to hate.

Step one is to get a friend who is in the same physical and emotional situation as you are and go visit a gym, facility or YMCA/YWCA. Not only will you be given a tour of the facility, but staff members will no doubt ask you about your goals whether they be to lose weight, get heart healthy, recover from surgery or illness or maybe just to have fun swimming, playing racquetball or tennis.

During your visit look around at the people who are working out. You’ll notice no one is looking at you. They’re nice people but they’re not interested in you. They’re interested in themselves, their bodies and their health. They don’t have time to judge you because they’re too busy judging themselves!

Finally, when you do begin your regular exercise/workout routine look around and find a Muscle Head or a Suzy — people who are in great shape. People you’d like to look like. Walk up to them and ask them, “How’d you get like that?” I guarantee they’ll be flattered and thrilled to help you reach your goals.

And then think about what you’re going to do with those 20 extra years the imaginary Muscle Heads and Suzy Spandex were going to rob you of.

Tom Zalaski is a television news anchorman, speaker, emcee, author, grandpa, guitar player and #1 fan of Leslie West and Mountain.

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Tom Zalaski

Tom Zalaski

Tom Zalaski is a television news anchorman, speaker, emcee, author, grandpa, guitar player and #1 fan of Leslie West and Mountain.

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